The Vastly Different Paths We Take

May 15, 2011    /    my location-independent career

It’s been a few days of resting, sleeping in, eating grilled cheese sandwiches made with truffle oil and watching copious amounts of the old TV shows. In other words, playing major catch-up from the fast-paced days of conference volunteering, exploring Minneapolis and meeting all my industry heroes.

One of the things the conference had me contemplating was this: the vastly different paths we take to our careers. From this large sampling of content strategy practitioners and enthusiasts, you get backgrounds in writing, technical writing, design, user experience and information architecture. You get people who fell into the career accidentally because they could clearly see problems that no one else was willing to address. And people who fought tooth and nail to get into the industry–having to sell their bosses, clients and the senior management every step of the way.

And in thinking about this, I’m grateful.

For every step in the journey. Everything that seemed frustrating and pointless at the time–but has made me better now.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve started and ended in similar places. My first job in high school was as a webmaster for a church. Because I coded and managed the youth group’s website pro bono. And the pastor liked the work.

It was the first time I was paid to code and edit. And I loved it. Granted, I spent a significant amount of time clocked out and hanging out with the youth pastor. But still.

Then I went to college and got a creative writing degree. Amidst the “would you like fries with that” jokes.

And then I went into sales for a short time. Selling high-end furnishings and then managing the sales team, U.S. marketing materials (coming in from London and requiring some language shifting), customer service. Then the ad agency world, where I ran the customer support department for a content management system and wiggled my way into writing and auditing and editing and strategizing all content and social media.

It’s the sales and customer service roles that I look back on with a surprised gratefulness. Because what I do no– developing and improving the ways companies communicate online–benefits every day from the perspective of the customer. Those customers whose concerns and desires and hopes and frustrations I was so deeply involved in. Those customers who taught me to ask and test instead of assuming. Who taught me to put integrity and clarity before the pitch. Who taught me that the end of the world is usually fixed in less than an hour…so never panic.

So…to the companies that hired me to do sales and customer service: thank you. To those who turned me down for early writing jobs: it’s okay. Because all of it came together to make me a better content strategist, a better writer and a better entrepreneur.

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