Let’s Rewind to Oct. 2016:
My colleagues hovered around, congratulating my 5 year work anniversary. I felt a tinge of awkwardness. What were they congratulating? Me not getting fired? I mean, at that time I suppose it was a bit of an accomplishment considering that 7AM texts to my work bestie, “I think I’m still drunk from last night :P” were a common occurrence. I was just out of a difficult job assignment, struggling with depression and the subsequent drinking of my sorrows away.
I finally quit drinking and started taking my job “seriously” I gave it a couple of years of real, honest to God trying. I even got my MBA with a marketing focus. But the problem was this: I didn’t care about some big corporation’s goals and also, the insurance industry is boring AF. And trying to market a product that’s boring AF is, well, boring AF. Try as I might, this wasn’t my passion, even though I kept telling myself it should be.
Fast Forward to Feb. 2019
Years sneakily went by, as they do when you get older. And time seemed to speed up faster as I got sober and took a serious look at my life and career projection My ten-year anniversary was creeping closer and every quarter I watched colleagues congratulated for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years at this company. Each time I had only one thought: “Carolyn, you cannot let this be you.”
This might ruffle some feathers but: Why do we congratulate people on staying with a company? Congratulating their accomplishments at the said company? Absolutely! But surviving corporate America? Surviving another layoff? To me, that was compliance, that’s staying in a comfort zone and that’s luck. I intend no judgment if you’re a 9-5er and have been with your company many years. If this makes you happy, great! It just wasn’t for me. I’d disliked corporate America since the day I got my first job out of college and cried the whole way home from the interview. 13 years later, not much had changed. I knew if someone said those four words to me: “Congratulations on 10 years!” I’d be failing myself.
No, I wasn’t about to be congratulated on 10 years of surviving measly bonuses, one single promotion, and being relegated to posting stock photos of people happily smiling at a screen exclaiming, “Take the newest car insurance quiz!”. This, alternated with motivational quotes from Confucius and Ben Franklin set over pictures of sunsets and rainbows meant to motivate other people stuck in jobs they probably hated also. Anyway, I knew deep down I could do more than this, and spinning my wheels in legal reviews and spending hours on powerpoints to present in a Zoom meeting to leadership more interested in eating lunch than my PowerPoint wasn’t getting me there.
Just days shy of my 9 year anniversary, almost as if I manifested it, I received the news my job was eliminated. After the initial shock wore off, I started receiving condolences from my very sweet colleagues. But to be honest I was ecstatic about a new opportunity and grateful for the generous severance that comes with being with a company for 9 years. For me, this was the gift of time.
I stood at a fork in the road: Go look for another “J-O-B” or embark on a journey making my own income. It only took about 30 seconds with a job-search coach assigned as part of my severance package to cement my decision.
I knew 4 things:
- I wanted out of the insurance industry
- I love marketing
- I needed to rediscover my passions
- I must have a flexible career that matches my lifestyle, allowing me to make my own schedule and work from anywhere.
“Do you help entrepreneurs or small business owners?”, I asked Mr. Job Search Coach. “Erm… that’s not really our forte”, he replied, but supportively followed up with a LinkedIn article about starting a business anyway. So with that, said adieu to Mr. Job Search Coach because nothing made me want to dive headfirst back into a bottle of Titos mixed with soda more than being told to update my LinkedIn and apply for jobs in insurance.
I wished him well and gave him back his hours of coaching and started brainstorming all the things I could do.
Excitedly, I wrote down all the things I love: travel, photography, writing, and helping people through marketing. After all, I had this shiny new MBA, I might as well use it.
As my final day on the job approached, I decided that a travel blog would be a way to encompass all the things I love to do, practice my passions and have fun learning at the same time. I created a WordPress site, an Instagram, a Pinterest and learned a ton from taking a course on blogging.
I invested in camera equipment and rediscovered my love for photography. In my early 20s, I loved photography. But the fear that I wasn’t good enough kept me from pursuing my dream. With so many editing apps and opportunities beyond what existed when I got my first Nikon DSLR in 2007, the possibilities are now endless. I posted my first Reel on Instagram and fell in love with the video editing process. I loved that I can take viewers on a journey just through a short video.
It wasn’t easy. I went through every emotion possible: hope, disappointment, feeling of failure, rejection, excitement, sadness, empowerment. This was all so far from my comfort zone.
I thought to myself, “Is anyone even listening” “Do people think this is dumb?” “You’re a fake, a phony, people are laughing.” But I kept going.
I recognized the only way to get better was to keep trying, and the only way to keep trying was to be kind to myself.
Towards the middle of 2021, things started looking up.
- Others saw my travel account and I started offering consulting sessions on how people can improve their social media presence and marketing for their small businesses.
- A friend hired me to run her social media for her book launch.
- Thanks to my friend, more potential clients started noticing the impact of social media marketing. Her glowing referrals have brought me 3 additional ongoing clients.
- I’ve been hired as a photographer on multiple occasions.
- I’ve appeared on a Podcast sharing my story of travel and sobriety
- I’ve had a (paid) feature story on Bumble’s website
- I have had travel photos and videos re-shared on multiple occasions bringing me more connections.
- Clients share with me how their business has improved just through social media marketing!
Now, as I close out a year of rediscovery, I have absolutely no regrets. Escaping corporate has allowed us to travel the world without asking for time off. I’m more confident in my skills, and I’m free to be as creative as I want to be.
I’m now designing a career that fits my lifestyle and talents, not searching for a job that requires me to sacrifice that for a regular paycheck and benefits.
I still shed the occasional tear, but usually, these days they are tears of joy when a client tells me something like “You’re so talented! “ I love your ideas!” and “Thank you for helping me with my marketing”!
So, that’s a wrap on 2021. I wrote this mainly to reflect on my accomplishments. But, if you’re feeling a little lost, I hope my story inspires you to never be afraid to go for your dreams. You’re worth much more than you think you are, and more than that corporate job and salary pay you. Trust me. The sky is the limit for you, believe in yourself and go out there and get it.
Thank you to friends and family who have supported my new ventures. Even if they didn’t make sense at first.
Thank you to Prashant Gupta for tolerating all the photography on our trips. You’ve been so patient with me as I’ve learned, allowing me to get better and better. Thank you for never pressuring me to go back and “get a real job” just to make money. Thanks for trusting that I’d figure this out and giving me the time and space to do just that. It’s not lost on me that this journey would have been much more difficult without your support, emotionally, financially, and otherwise.
Thank you Sarah Alaimo for your unwavering friendship and faith in me. Thank you for connecting me with so many amazing people and potential clients. Thank you for seeing my talents and putting your faith in me.
Thank you Amy Liz Harrison for the opportunity to b featured on your podcast, coordinate your book launch and be your occasional family photographer.