My Road Not Taken

Rewind four years ago. I’m one year out of college. I had taken the LSATs. I was accepted into law school and getting ready to start my first semester as an evening student with a full-time job in communications during the day.

Rewind two years ago. I reach the halfway mark. I’ve been working 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and going to school from 6 – 9 p.m. I’m not happy. I’m weighing a choice in my mind but haven’t spoken the words out loud to anyone.

And then I did it. I quit law school.

Back to present day. Today, Tuesday, July 30, 2013, is the day that I would have been joining my fellow law school grads to take the bar exam. It’s given me the chance to reflect on how much has changed in my life since then. 

At 23, you don’t know as much as you think you do. I’m actually finding that as I get older, I know even less. I went into the whole thing blind. I was smart. I liked to read. I loved school. I thought that was enough.

Despite the lost time and money, I wouldn’t change a thing about the past four years. (Okay… maybe the loans. Yes, definitely the loans.) I learned a lot, not only about myself, but about how the world works. I notice myself reading every word of any legal document set in front of me. I look at news stories about legal proceedings differently.

In school, while I was learning to look at the world with a more discerning eye, I also looked at where my life was heading. I realized that this degree wouldn’t give me what I wanted.

I didn’t want to work at a law firm. I didn’t want to put in long, horrific hours. I wanted to work an eight-hour day doing something I loved, with time and energy leftover for my family. And thankfully, after two years, that’s where I’m at.

I’m building a career for myself as a marketing and communications professional. I’m sharing my passion for health/fitness with the Columbus community as a barre3 instructor. I’m married to my best friend and we’ve started a strong foundation for a life together.

While law school wasn’t for me, I’m happy for those who have found their passion in it. I’m grateful for the time I spent there and for all that I learned. I’m especially thankful for the friendships and the amazing people I met.

Today is a huge day for those taking the bar exam. It’s also a huge day for me. I get to reflect on how proud of myself I am for realizing I wasn’t on the right path and for getting myself to where I am today. It’s been a long road but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m doing what I love and I get to share that with the people I care about the most.

If you don’t like something about your life, change it. It really is as simple as that.

Tame the Ping

Last week I attended the American Society of Association Executives’ Marketing, Membership and Communications Conference in Washington, D.C. It was a great two days, and it still amazes me how the association world differs from other types of marketing and communications. The breakout sessions were helpful and insightful, but it was the general session held on the last day that struck a cord with me.

Todd Henry, founder of Accidental Creative, and author of Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, spoke on purposeful practices to support your creative process, which include developing stimulating relationships, curating an environment that helps you stay focused, and leveraging your hours wisely. He then gave us this statistic (from Merlin Mann):

If you glance at your phone to check email every 5 minutes, you’ll check email 24,000 times per year. That’s 66 hours of doing nothing.

He wasn’t talking about diligently checking and responding to emails. I know too well exactly what he means: the idle time when we grab our phones while waiting in line or when we’re sitting on the couch just to refresh our email to see if anything new pops up.

We don’t do this because we think something life-changing is waiting for us, but because we think something might come along that’s better than what we’re doing. There is rarely a time when you absolutely need to be checking your email (substitute: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc….).

Todd encouraged us to “tame the ping” and become aware of this. By ignoring that little voice in the back of our heads when we’re tempted to waste time, we can spend more time (66 hours a year to be exact) doing purposeful activities to better ourselves. By creating a more focused environment, whether it’s at home, at work or at school, we can be 100 percent in each moment.

I can multi-task with the best of them. I can write a newsletter, read an article and update social media accounts all while eating lunch and listening to music. But I’m not saving time. I’m actually cheating myself by not giving each task the correct focus it deserves. That focus is where a lot of really great ideas come from.

Along the lines of my June resolution to “save”, I’m going to diligently use the rest of this month to save time and energy. It will require constant attention and mental reminders, but my goal is to tame the ping. I’m going to bring my attention to what’s in front of me, and harness my creativity both at work and in the every day.

The Short Guide to Finding Your Passion

“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” – Arnold Toynbee

I came across the above quote while reading a blog post by Leo Babauta, journalist and author. I’ve taken his list and added some of my own commentary.

I’m on a mission to be a better, happier and healthier person. I’m dedicated to finding and doing what I’m passionate about every single day. My goal for the next year is to literally leap out of bed every morning because I’m so excited about the life I’m living.

Of course, I’ll need to break that down into smaller chunks… but I think I’m off to a strong start!

The Short Guide to Finding Your Passion

1. What are you good at?
Sometimes the most obvious isn’t always the answer. As years pass, it can be easy to forget what you were good at 5, or even 10 years ago. Was it writing? Drawing? Organizing? Dancing? Teaching? Spend at least 30 minutes thinking back on old jobs and hobbies. Create a list of possibilities.

2. What excites you?
This can be anything. A small part of your job, something you do on the side. Do you volunteer and enjoy spending your time there? Do you like cooking for your family or thinking of fun activities for your friends? Again, this could be something you haven’t done in awhile so THINK! Don’t shortchange yourself. Keep adding to your list…

3. What do you read about?
If you spend time reading it, chances are it interests you. What do you read online? What’s the first website you visit? What blogs do you follow? What types of books do you read? Again- add them to your list!

4. What have you secretly dreamed of?
I know there are several ridiculous dream jobs I’ve always imagined myself doing. Think of a job you’ve always wanted but thought impossible. A novelist, an artist, a designer, an architect? For me, it was usually fear and self-doubt holding me back, causing me to dismiss the idea. Even if it’s unrealistic, continue with the list.

5. Learn, ask, take notes
Look over your list and choose what excites you the most. Read about it and contact those who have been successful in the field. Most likely someone has found a way to capitalize on it. Connect with them through their blog or send them a quick email. Make a list of notes of things you need to learn and improve on to take the next step.

6. Experiment, try
Here’s where the learning really takes place. Start to do the thing you’ve chosen. JUST DO IT. Make it public however you can. This motivates you to improve and gets you feedback. As you continue on this path, your reputation will improve. Blog about the experience. Pay attention to how you feel doing it and ask yourself if it’s something you look forward to and want to share.

7. Narrow things down
Pick three things from your list and do steps 5 and 6 with them. Which one gets you the most excited and produces something people will pay for and get excited about with you? Which one can you see yourself doing for years? Don’t necessarily go with the most traditional career path. Make it into a career if possible. If that doesn’t work out, try the next thing on your list. Failure teaches valuable lessons that will drive your success in the next attempt.

8. Banish your fears
This is definitely my biggest problem: getting rid of self-doubt and fear of failure. It helps to acknowledge it rather than ignore or deny it. Feel it and be okay with it. Even if the worst possible scenario happens, know that it won’t be the end of the world. Prepare yourself and then do it. And my favorite part: celebrate your successes, no matter how small!

9. Find the time
If you think you don’t have time, you’re wrong. Make the time, darn it! If it’s a priority, you’ll rearrange your life until you do. This might mean waking up earlier, canceling commitments, simplifying your work routine or doing a lot of work in advance. Whatever it takes, do it.

10. How to make a living doing it
This doesn’t happen overnight. It requires doing something, succeeding at it and being passionate about it. Having fun with it is the most important part. It’s at this point where you are so invested and so great at what you’re doing that others are willing to pay you for it.

It won’t necessarily be easy. It will require a lot of reflection and soul-searching. And after, that a lot of courage, learning and experimentation. Lastly, but most importantly, it will take a lot of commitment.

But it’s all worth it. Every second, every ounce of courage and every bit effort. In the end, you’ll have something that will transform your life, giving you that reason to jump out of bed. 

When Enough is Enough

I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to write this post. I want to share one of my past experiences with other job seekers looking to break into the PR/media world. Or any job world for that matter.

I am generally an upbeat person, which works well because everyone says to focus on the positive and forget the negative. But I don’t think that’s always the case. If this post can help just one person, then it’s doing more good than harm.

In November 2011, I left a position at a company I loved. However, I recently transitioned into a non-communications based role and I missed the writing, talking and, well, communicating! So when an opportunity came along at the Columbus-based emerging food brand advertising/PR agency, RMD Advertising, I jumped.

During the interview it seemed like a great place to work (friendly interviewers, a dog in the office, couches to work on, music blasting) and I didn’t see any red flags. However, a quick Google search would have helped raise some for me ( reviews, two blog posts [one and two] from former employees.) The negative reviews must have been brought to their attention, with a recent influx of positive reviews. It’s easy to see the glaring differences between the two. Nobody speaks negatively of a company just for the fun of it.

Below, I will describe what I encountered there. Every day was a struggle, everyone was talked about behind their back and nobody was treated with any ounce of respect. It was unethical, immoral and awful behavior that no one should ever have to deal with.

  1. Lunch break? Think again. You ate at your desk (if at all) while working.
  2. The expected hours were Monday through Friday 7 a.m. – 7:15 p.m. You were then to go home and get online. And work over the weekend.
  3. Interns were not there to learn- they were there to clean the kitchen and office mess, and it was normal to hear “I want (fill in food/coffee choice). Intern, go get it for me.” They were talked down to constantly by owners and employees alike.
  4. You were required to listen to religious and motivational speakers on your iPod on the way to and from work, in addition to going into the office early on Fridays and listening as a group.
  5. The owners constantly berated and put down the people who worked for them. It was normal to hear crude jokes, screaming, swearing and yelling multiple times a day.

Here are a few specific events that opened my eyes, and ultimately led me to quit:

  1. One of the owners was late for a media segment I secured for him, after he spent the day before reminding me over and over not to be late. I spent 45 minutes calling him with no answer, and he arrived 50 minutes later. His wife (the other owner) blamed it on me.
  2. We were told to “watch” as one of the owners embarrassed and berated an intern in front of the group. After the intern left the office, the owner smiled at us and said, “That’s how it’s done.”
  3. I watched a co-worker break down in a meeting after we were yelled at for not attending a 5K run that the owners decided the company would participate in (not sponsor, not for one of our clients.) Through tears, a co-worker explained she had family obligations that weekend. The owner gave her a dirty look, told her to “stop being a baby” and said “bring your family with you next time.”
  4. They unfairly docked my paycheck during the holidays, claiming I was new so they didn’t pay out for holiday time-off. I was (a) on salary and (b) had worked through every holiday anyway. After I let them know I was quitting, the owner then told me I would be paid for that time. A huge red flag.
  5. I received a call from my mom one morning on my way to work, letting me know my uncle had unexpectedly passed away. When I built up enough courage to ask my boss for two days of unpaid time off to attend the calling hours and funeral, the owner lectured me on professionalism. I had to beg them for unpaid time off.
  6. On a related note, that same day one of my co-workers, when referencing the situation, told me to “suck it up.” This still makes me sick to my stomach.

I can’t believe it took me 3 months to say “enough is enough!” I resigned in January 2012, with no job offer or at that point solid prospect. It was the smartest decision I have ever made. It wasn’t easy, and I can’t thank my husband enough for supporting me in that decision.

Nobody is going to look up to you for sticking out this type of job. And nobody will want to hire you for having these people as “business contacts.” If you find yourself in that situation, get out while you can and never look back. It’s just not worth it.

Special note: I’d also like to thank my old employer, who provided me with a contracted position on an interim basis after I quit until I found something permanent. Which I did! And it’s amazing.