Some things I love: Oysters with champagne, 10-mile walks, traveling without reservations, having time to read and paint, my family, my work. I’m certainly not doing what I expected to 10 years ago. But I think I’m much happier because I found a way to make money doing something that people seem to appreciate; something I feel is making a difference in some way.
Speaking to a college hospitality class last week, a student asked me about my career path. Recounting it, I was struck by how absurd it sounded. When I graduated college, I only wanted to act. Out of necessity, I learned the basics of graphic design to support myself and landed a temp job customizing sales presentations for a ladies’ magazine. After meeting Oscar-winning actress Joan Allen and being told she’d been a temporary secretary until she was 35, I went on kind of an anti-theater bender. I took up improv, performed in comedy festivals, started playing rugby.
I landed on the injured list pretty fast, but a story I wrote about why women play the sport was purchased by NY Sports Online. Suddenly, I was a professional writer. That story was given to the editor of Rugby Magazine, which had never covered women ruggers. He commissioned me to expand my 500-word blog into a 5,000-word feature, which made me quasi-famous in that world. Shortly after, I landed my dream job — improvising at Boom Chicago Comedy Theatre in Amsterdam — and assumed that after I finished there, I’d follow in the footsteps of fellow alums Seth Myers (Saturday Night Live), Jordan Peele (Key and Peele) and Ike Barinholz (The Mindy Show) to become a famous actor/writer/comedian.
But life doesn’t follow a straight path. After my time in Amsterdam, I stopped in Atlanta, where my family is, to prepare for a move to LA. I took a job as an assistant editor to make some gas money, lined up some theater jobs … and fell in love. Needless to say, I stayed. From an assistant to associate to director, I found myself advancing in an accidental career that I really enjoyed.
Now, I spend about half my time on the road, talking to meeting professionals about where the industry is going, sharing my insights about technology that can help them save time, money and create more engaging experiences. But that, too, was an accident.
Six years ago, our VP of Sales came into my office after attending an off-site sales training. “We need a representative who can be the face of the company and raise awareness of who we are by educating people,” he said. Because I had a performing arts background and had been interviewing meeting practitioners for years, he felt I was the best candidate. “What would I speak about,” I asked. “How to prove your worth,” he said, “that’s what people are worried about right now. I’ve already booked you a gig in Houston. You leave in five weeks.”
I was terrified, but I loved it. As the years passed, it became just one more thing I did. Every year, I developed something new to share, something built to address current industry challenges. Eventually I discovered my sweet spot: Technology. I became the gatekeeper and ideation manager at my company — the person who evaluated what we needed to build, what it should look like, how we wanted people to feel when they engaged with us, nurtured our online and face-to-face communities, and explained to sales why we shouldn’t indulge in random acts of marketing.
I took a deep breath as I finished the story of my crooked career path. In the heavy pause that followed, the professor spoke up. “They moved your cheese,” he said. I’ve never read that book, but I think I know what he was saying. Shift happens. And your happiness depends on your ability to pivot with or without warning to reposition yourself and find joy in what it is you need to do to make a living.
My father is fond of saying: “You want to live to work, not work to live.” As years go by, you will end up spending more time at work than you spend with your family or friends. Your work will take up more time and energy than anything else in your life. So why waste time? I ask you: Do you love what you do? If not, maybe it’s time to move a little cheese…