The Upside of a Non-Linear Career Path
I’ve had some of the most wonderful experiences in advertising – meeting interesting people, staying in 5-star hotels and enjoying elaborately catered meals. On the flipside, I’ve stood in a bathroom stall choking back tears between meetings and nursed my neuroses with alcohol and excessive workouts.
I think it’s safe to say nothing about my career and my experiences have been linear in nature. I’ve been fired, laid off and quit more than one job. I’ve been tossed under buses and publicly humiliated. No matter the circumstances, I have always wholeheartedly believed I am stronger than any of it. I will not be broken.
How I got where I am now, is a bit of a wandering tale.
Some people are born knowing exactly what they want to be when they grow up. Some discover it somewhere in middle school, meticulously choosing a high school, college and post- grad program that aligns with their plan before they’ve even hit puberty. Others discover it somewhere in between bombing Biology 101 and discovering that lab rats are, in fact, terrifying.
Mid-sophomore year of college, I stumbled, most likely hungover, into a Journalism 101 class when an old ad guy was talking about copywriting. Radio scripts and throwing the rules away and a completely absurd sort of process sounded closer to my cup of tea. He became my mentor, faculty advisor, and the one single person who made me feel I had something to offer the world.
And so off I went. Armed with quite possibly the worst excuse for an ad portfolio and a mission to land a job as a copywriter. Meetings with creative directors went something like this: “Did someone tell you this work was good?” “Yes,” I’d reply, defiantly. A little fake self-confidence never hurt anybody. Especially when you’re 22 and completely naïve.
After not landing a job as a copywriter, and about three years of working on the account management side of the industry, I sucked it up and went to portfolio school. Quit my job and joined the Circus. As in, The Creative Circus, located in Atlanta, GA. It’s a two-year advertising portfolio program where aspiring creatives go to put together their portfolio and get a job.(It’s great — tell them I sent you!) My parents were outraged and probably pretty scared I’d just ruined my life. At 25, I was about as defiant and determined as they come.
The Circus proved to be two of the hardest and most rewarding years of my life. I found my voice. I landed a killer internship at the venerable Wieden+Kennedy right out of school – which proved to be the foundation for all my future creative endeavors and laid the groundwork for how I have worked since. When you start high, your bar is forever raised.
In 2003, I more or less lived in five cities, interviewed at over 30 ad agencies on both coasts and in the middle, and existed on Luna bars and cans of soup. It was totally worth it. Since then, I’ve lived in four more cities, worked in conventional and unconventional advertising settings, and continued to fight to have my voice heard at every point.
It’s the rollercoaster that keeps most of us hooked. As creative types, we crave the rush, the undeniable highs. We weather the lows – and they can be low. I lived that rollercoaster for over 15 years – addicted to that rush – and had grown so used to the lows that they seemed as normal as breathing. I had no idea how to get off that ride.
In 2014, about five months before my wedding, I was laid off – again. My work life had gotten so stressful, so unbearable, I was so tightly wound I barely slept. But let me be clear: This was a very good thing. Those five months were maybe the most frightening of my life, as I was about to enter a completely new chapter in my personal life and quite honestly wasn’t sure how I’d deal with a new job on top of this major life change. But the most wonderful thing happened. I re-found my voice.
I ended up taking a full-time job that started right after our honeymoon. The job wasn’t great, adjusting to a new life was challenging, and I ultimately left within a year. It took another year of soul-searching to figure out what was next. And along a long, super winding road, I found a different path. After swearing I’d never work in corporate America, land of questionable fashion choices and ‘90s hairstyles, I took a job in an in-house creative department. And to my extreme surprise, I love it. (Oh, and by the way, no one has ‘90s hair.)
One of the things I’ve so firmly believed in always is that being open and willing to try different things is what often leads to the most rewarding kind of success. The kind that follows no particular pattern or linear path. The kind that allows you to discover things about yourself you otherwise might never unearth.
So if I could offer even a morsel of advice for those looking for what’s next, it’s this: Keep looking. Keep your eyes and ears open. Listen more than you talk. Listen a shit ton. Because underneath all that talking is a path you’d never notice otherwise.
Take that path that feels slightly uncomfortable. You’ll be amazed at what happens. I can’t even begin to tell you what’s next.