How a life without direction prepared me for my dream career.
Social media. It’s a gargantuan force in the world of politics, entertainment, personal relationships, conspiracy theories and, frankly, every aspect of modern life. I had no idea that the day I learned basic HTML in order to customize my own badly designed MySpace page, was the day I started down a rugged path that led to my dream job.
In 2007, just before I graduated high school, I joined Facebook. I had spent the last few years on MySpace, but everyone was switching, so I joined the Zucker-party. Over the next few years, I joined Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc. I watched all these platforms launch and grow (and sometimes fail), and all the while, without knowing it, I was learning something.
For me as with most people, social media started out as something I did to connect with friends. As it grew and developed, it started turning into a way to try to capture the attention of more and more people. I never reached any exorbitant number of followers, but I did pay attention to what kinds of posts garnered more reactions and engagement. In watching social media grow from nothing to the most powerful marketing tool on Earth, I inadvertently gained insight into what captures human attention.
A little about me: Between my high school graduation in May of 2007 and when I wrote this in January of 2021, I have held more jobs than I can remember. I have sold insurance, worked at a gym, managed customer service and order fulfilment for an eyeglass company, worked for an event management company, emceed running events all over the country, started an event business, worked for my parents’ triathlon and running coaching business, did freelance social media management and photography, worked in a woodworking shop, and I’m sure there are more that I am not remembering. I also spent nine years going in and out of college, finally finishing a bachelor’s degree in Exercise & Wellness in 2017. Needless to say, by the time I decided to hunker down and get a steady job, I had no idea what I was even qualified for.
While spending ten years trying things out, chasing dreams, and finding my passions is something I wouldn’t trade for anything, it left me in a state of “jack of all trades, master of none”. My resumé had to be tailored to whatever job I was applying for because there was so much experience to draw from, but it wasn’t always applicable. This led to an existential crisis of sorts. What would my future look like? What kind of job should I look for? But with the help of my fiancé, we listed all the jobs I had held over the years and looked for the common denominator. What we found was this: I knew how to get people’s attention.
Whether it was promoting events, hyping up thousands of runners, planning my own events, helping my parents with their business, trying to start my own business, and every other job in between, the common skill that I needed for every job I had had was capturing people’s attention. I quickly realized that the best way to apply that skill was in the field of marketing.
What is marketing other than capturing attention? It may be through brand management or customer service or public relations, but at the end of the day, a good marketer is someone who can get the attention of the market his client/employer/business is selling to. After ten years of getting people’s attention, I finally realized that this was my skill set and armed with that, I began searching for work.
Fast forward to January of 2020. It was the beginning of what would turn into the most consequential year of my career. I was applying for jobs, interviewing here and there and trying to be picky. That’s when one particular job caught my eye: Marketing Specialist at the Musical Instrument Museum.
Having grown up a musician, in a family of musicians, this position really struck me as ideal. The organization is wonderful, the museum is beautiful, and it seemed like a good “official” start to a career in Marketing. I applied, included a cover letter that was dripping with enthusiasm and passion, and got an interview! I learned that the position was focused on Community Relations, which I had little official experience in, but apparently my excitement for the museum and the position came through in my interview and I was soon offered the job.
I. Was. Psyched.
But this was 2020. In April, the museum temporarily closed, and I was on the furlough list. However, the two months I had spent working there had been so fantastic that I wasn’t going to abandon it, so I stuck around and got called back in June. That’s when everything changed.
My boss at the time was the Public Relations manager for the museum. He handled media relations and I worked under him, focusing on community partners and organizations. Only a couple of weeks after I came back, he put in his notice and left the museum. I had no idea what was going to happen to me, but my department director soon called me and that’s when I found out: They were giving me the PR position.
I had no experience in PR or media relations. But once again, my enthusiasm and passion for the museum apparently made an impression and they believed that I could do the job. This was one of those moments in life, when people see something in you that you might not see in yourself. I couldn’t believe the opportunity, but I was ready to take it. The advantage I had was that with the pandemic, the museum industry has been slow to pick back up, so I was able to start with a very light workload and learn the PR field. I was “building the plane while flying it,” so to speak.
Since then, I’ve realized that PR makes sense to me. At the core of it, it’s relationship management. It consists of making friends and maintaining friendships, and for an extroverted, social butterfly like me, that feels natural. What the entire experience has taught me is that, often times, our greatest skill set is not the one we study for in school, but the natural instincts and talents that we gain over the course of our lives.
My career has really just begun, forged in the craziness of most people’s hardest year of their lives. Based on everything that has happened in the last twelve months, I now know that I need to double down on the skills I’ve built organically and stop trying to create new ones or fit into some box. I attribute this exciting and hopefully long-lasting career to the fact that I finally took a step back and asked myself “what am I actually good at?”
So, I ask you: What are you good at?