How I Found My Voice + Restarted My Career
Written by Erin McClure
Since a young age, writing has been my go-to coping mechanism. When I was frustrated with my two younger sisters’ insubordinate behavior (they refused to stick to the script for the specific Wizard of Oz characters I had assigned them— Toto and a flying monkey), I unloaded my grievances in my upholstered, floral-patterned journal, venting for pages and pages in a wide, unhinged scrawl. When I was in fifth grade, I was homeschooled and had very few friends. I created an alternate universe in my black and white marble-covered composition book where I went to a ritzy private school, was the popular girl in a large group of friends, and had a killer Saved by the Bell-esque wardrobe (think midriff-baring tops, acid-washed jeans, and white Reebok hi-tops). Even though I still have a habit of retreating into my writing, I like to think it’s for less bizarre purposes. After all, writing helped me uncover my voice and restart my career.
When I attended the University of Georgia, I had high hopes of graduating with a degree from its esteemed Grady School of Journalism. I’d wanted to work in advertising since a seventh grade teacher (an actual teacher, not a fictional one that lived in my journal) told me I should go into marketing.
“You’re strategic, and very perceptive. You also know how to use color and design very well,” my teacher said.
“I think you should be a writer,” my mother said.
#1 Listen when people you trust tell you what your natural skills are.
A career in marketing made sense to me. Until I received my rejection letter from Grady, and had to improvise. I decided to promote my French minor to a major, hoping I could parlay it into some sort of international business job. I liked to travel. “I am NOT going to be a teacher, though,” I told anyone who asked.
After graduating in 2005, I spent a year flubbing interviews and getting passed over for corporate jobs due to my “lack of experience.” In the fall 2006, I finally landed my first real job. As a French teacher, I taught middle school French for six years before my husband took a new job in Idaho and we moved across the country.
After we moved, I tried to restart my career. I Googled every advertising and marketing agency in town and spent hours crafting specialized cover letters and altering my resume to include different companies’ objectives. Only one agency agreed to meet me, but I was ecstatic and immediately went out to buy a new outfit for the meeting at a chic boutique downtown. When the agency’s CEO said they’d be interested in having me do some copywriting for them, I was elated, and even bought champagne on the way home. When my husband asked what the champagne was for, I told him I’d gotten a marketing job.
“That’s amazing! What happened?” When I elaborated on the details and told him the whole story, his face changed. “It doesn’t really sound like you got a job...”
He was right. I never heard from that agency again.
#2 Be confident, just not overly confident.
A few weeks later, a friend told me that a receptionist position was avail- able at the local Chamber of Commerce. Admittedly, answering phones for a low hourly wage was not where I wanted to start out, but I hoped to work my way up into a salaried position over time.
After working at the Chamber for over a year, I started to feel like my wheels were spinning again. I had yet to be promoted when the marketing director asked me to help write posts for the Chamber’s blog, I agreed. The blog added an interesting distraction to my somewhat mundane workdays, and I enjoyed working on it. My blog posts (and the Christmas card I had distributed to staff members) got the attention of a director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership (an affiliate company of the Chamber), and he hired me to write a feature article for their website and newsletter.
#3 Remember the people that took a chance to help you, and remember to do the same for others.
I spent a month writing my first article for BVEP. Since I was an hourly employee, I wasn’t permitted to take work home, so I had to write it at my desk between answering phone calls and welcoming visitors. I conducted interviews and did library research on my lunch hour. I poured my energy into writing that article because some- one was finally taking a chance on me and I didn’t want to be a disappointment. When it was published, I shared it on social media, emailed links to family members, friends, and former co-workers. Entitled “Boise Foothills: A Backyard, Not Just A Backdrop”, it’s still one of BVEP’s most-read feature articles to date (even if half of those views were my mom).
#4 Don’t be shy about promoting your work if it demonstrates your capabilities.
Three months, two feature articles, and one newspaper guest opinion column later, I decided to leave my job at the Chamber of Commerce and pursue a job using more of my talents. I worked as a freelance writer for a few months, contributing stories for local NPR and writing copy for businesses’ advertising campaigns. I started listening to podcasts for tips on growing a business, and took certification courses to learn more about social media management and content strategy. I joined a business mentorship group and adopted strategies to help me communicate and implement my skills more effectively.
#5 Take time to sharpen your skills — there’s always room for improvement.
This past fall, I filed paperwork to officially list my business, EM Dash Creative Media, as a Limited Liability Company. I joined the Chamber of Commerce as a member, and went from going months without projects to having a client wait list. I’ve definitely had missteps, and I’ve learned from them. Not every day goes smoothly, and not every project is trouble-shoot-free. The digital marketing landscape changes every day, but I’m quick to adapt. For the first time, I’m happy in my professional life because I found my voice, and I’m getting to use it.
Find more of Erin at emdashcm.com
This story was first published in Issue 6: Style