My accidental career
“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Have you, like me, had an accidental career?
Is there something that you have just sort of “fallen into?”
Something that is so natural for you that you don’t even notice that you are doing it?
It’s like breathing. Except sometimes it’s easier than that. Breathing can be awfully hard sometimes. ( :
Something that absorbs you, delights you, and makes you lose track of time?
GoKart Labs recently shared the following piece of advice from songwriter Dan Wilson:
“Never ignore the things you’re accidentally good at, they may just be the things that define you.”
This is probably one of the most simple yet powerful pieces of advice I’ve ever come across. And it aptly describes how I came upon my chosen career.
My college degree is in languages–French, Spanish and Italian. I was a serious and organized child, qualities heightened my high sensitivity and desire to please. My creativity, though definitely evident, was underdeveloped as I focused on what I perceived to be more practical paths for my future.
I wasn’t confident in my ability to stand out creatively.
So when I thought about career, I imagined that I’d be a teacher, an administrator, or a planner of some sort. I could see the steps to get me to that outcome but didn’t have the vision for anything else. And here’s a confession I don’t even try to keep under wraps: My formal marketing training–besides on-the-job, accidentally falling into being in charge of it and finding that it was like breathing to me–is absolutely nil.
Yet there were signs early on, if I had only known to pay attention. If I had let my mind play with the possibility of something different, I might have had a glimpse of my future journey. I was the “poster person” for Student Council in high school and for my Inter-varsity group at university. My father was in “commercial art” and advertising and I loved using his Letraset and Pantone marker supplies to create pieces here and there. I also enjoyed drawing and writing poetry. But mostly these activities were relegated to hobby status.
A few years after university graduation, I was in a job that had reached a dead end. I felt unappreciated, underutilized, emotionally and creatively stifled, and so I became very ill. I was diagnosed with lupus and could barely walk 2 blocks without being exhausted. The prognosis I was given was sobering: More of this pain and fatigue and physical deterioration for years to come. I was 25. Something deep within me rose up to shout “no!”
This gave me the permission–a golden opportunity for someone as duty-driven as me–to leave my job and take some time off. I woke each day and tasked myself with one goal: To wander freely, follow my heart and pursue a more well me. I began to pay attention to what I truly loved, rather than what I felt obligated to embrace. Those jobless months coincided with a creative awakening and emotional and spiritual breakthrough that enabled me to see new options. I began to improve physically and energetically.
As I began to face going back to employed life, I practiced keeping my mind open. I shared out loud my new goal: Some kind, any kind of job that would allow me to be creative in some way. While looking through the newspaper classifieds–that was what one did in 1994–a posting jumped off the page: CREATIVE ASSISTANT. God had decided to make it extremely clear for me that I should apply by putting the word creative right into the title.
The position description was essentially that of a marketing assistant, a jack of all trades for the marketing and sales departments of a rapidly-growing hair care products manufacturer located in Vancouver, British Columbia. Rather than focusing on the fact that I had no relevant formal training–or even any significant work experience–I applied for the job, tailoring my application to amplify my natural interests and skills rather than specific work experience or education.
I got the job. And this position is what set me on the path to my life’s work. My new employer was dealing with massive growth–the 5th fastest growing company in Canada that year–and I was the right hand to the former graphic designer-now-owner. She and her husband had created their business from the ground up and were incredibly passionate entrepreneurs. The 2.5 years I spent with them easily qualified me for a Bachelor’s Degree in Entrepreneurship + Marketing. I was promoted from Creative Assistant to Marketing Coordinator to Public Relations Director during my tenure.
What followed next was the arrival of my first baby and a move to Minnesota for a Director of Marketing position with another growing small business, this time in the gift and paper products industry. A few years later, I decided that I wanted to work in an environment that would enable me to more directly fulfill my desire to give back, specifically to low-income families and single mothers. I chose to work for a non-profit organization as Director of Communications and soon was put in charge of all fundraising, grant writing and events as well.
I continuously learned new skills, acquiring new expertise and experience in each setting. I found myself taking on new responsibilities and getting promoted accordingly. In response to new opportunities and challenges I always said “yes.” Soon I acknowledged that not only was I enjoying my work; I also must be pretty good at it!
Most importantly, I let my decisions be driven more and more by what I was “accidentally” good at and loved to do. My confidence and clarity increased.
I began my consulting business in 2004, with the arrival of baby #2. Eight years later, I moved from my home office to 48th and Chicago in South Minneapolis. Between 2010 and 2012, I accepted a contract to lead a brand new organization for women small business owners in the Twin Cities. This experience fueled my passion to support women in a number of ways as they pursue their own life’s purpose. Today, I continue to fine tune the type of work I do, who I work with and how I can bring what I am “accidentally good at” to my business and life.
And that is how someone with no marketing degree becomes a marketing + business consultant to small business owners. I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to discover and make a living via my natural gifts and interests. Many of my clients have their own, incredibly inspiring accidental career stories and I never tire of hearing them.
Do you have an accidental career story? I’d love to soak it up if you care to share in the comments below!