Four Years and 60 Days (July 10, 2013)

Although the seeds began to germinate long before, the title reflects the exact length of time it took this blogger to realize her fullest potential.

It was May 2009, age 30, when I finally located the chutzpah to relinquish a stable career in corporate operations to strike out as a professional writer. Three people who knew me intimately enabled this Great Leap Forward: my beloved sister Jenny, well acquainted with my bookishness and passion for social issues, as well as a frustrating tendency to play it safe; the tireless Dr. T., my longtime shrink, who patiently retrained me to believe it ok to want for myself; and my ex-husband, who provided the financial safety net without which I could never have considered the risk. Two of these three people are still very large parts of my life, and while the ex is now past, I am forever grateful to him for believing in my talent enough to temporarily underwrite it.

Those first efforts at professional writing were low paid, plentiful, and in retrospect, somewhat embarrassing. There wasn’t a job I didn’t say “yes” to, and apparently, no such thing as a run-on sentence. I stumbled upon an amazing female mentor, the Editor-in-Chief of StreetWise, a local Chicago newspaper, who trusted me with six feature stories that year, despite a wholesale lack of journalism experience. She also introduced me to the accomplished ladies of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, an organization of communication professionals founded in 1885. Upon joining the group, I enjoyed regular fellowship, networking opportunities and lo and behold, state and national awards for the urban agriculture pieces Suzanne challenged me to write.

As the demands of a nascent career expanded to include Chicago theater criticism, a weekly political column and achingly confessional blog, my profile began to rise, spare time began to fall and my marriage started to unravel. My version of Sophie’s Choice became clearer: relinquish heretofore-inexperienced professional satisfaction or the love of my life. Gut wrenchingly, painfully, debilitatingly, I opted for the latter. To say I never looked back would be a colossal lie. For the better part of a year after the initial separation, my head turned in circles with alarming speed, like the possessed child from The Exorcist. Alone, broke and panicked, I waited for someone with authority to bless me, to provide reassurance that I hadn’t thrown it all away for nothing.

Two and a half years of progressive responsibility followed: a temporary resume writer, an entry level web content production and project management position at a small publishing firm, culminating in a Head Writer role at a successful Direct Response TV marketing company. In the latter two spots, I became a better communicator. I learned to craft marketing content with succinct, actionable clarity (run-on sentences, never a solid sales pitch make). I learned to edit and revise not only my own work, but that of others. I found my voice and learned when to say “not yet,” beginning to trust my skills and experience. I felt it slowly, in increments. Yes, I was born to do this. I was in the right place.

Until I wasn’t. Until I found myself suddenly and spectacularly unemployed 60 days ago and I worried that the incremental growth of my career might come to a screeching halt. Hadn’t I spent hours reading anecdotes and talking with talented, amazing friends who’d been out of work for six months, a year or more? Didn’t I know a plethora of fascinating people who struggled to have their resume viewed? I was no different from any of them, and in many cases, far less accomplished.

I did have one advantage. After just three years of regular membership and two years of serving on the board as the group’s Newsletter Editor/Social Media Strategist, my fellow IWPA colleagues saw fit to elect me as the Association’s 47th President, a stunning development I have yet to fully comprehend. Though the work is volunteer in nature, work it certainly is: administrative manager, cheerleader, public relations, recruitment and retention, strategic planning. Sworn in just days after I lost my full-time job, the IWPA promotion seemed to lend a legitimacy I struggled to feel. I’d been vetted and verified by the vaunted.

I filed for unemployment insurance. I applied ad nauseum. I temped. I took to the bed a couple times, unwashed, unfed, existentially haunted. Planning is impossible for those waiting in the crosshairs.

Then yesterday: the phone call. The Human Resources recruiter I’d been working with sounded stern and serious. Like a World War II widow shakily opening a telegram with Earth-shattering news she can already sense in her marrow, I braced myself to hear that I’d be the bridesmaid again. Stoically, I uttered the one word question: “Yes?”

This time was different. I was chosen. No screw that. I’d made it happen. Three interviews, one personality test, a nationwide background check, written references and a credit report later, I’m the new Marketing Manager at a multi-billion dollar, privately-held company. I’m President of the IWPA and in late August, I’ll travel to Salt Lake City to pick up an award from the National Federation of Press Women – Best Personal Blog of 2012. At this very instant, I find it difficult to believe it gets any better. It was all so worth it: the loose ends, the divorce, the ensuing depression, migraines and cancer, the poverty, the estrangement, the obscurity, the lost health coverage, fear and shame.

Four years and 60 days of doubt and recrimination. Four years and 60 days of “You’ll never make it. You’ll be sorry. Who do you think you are? How do you dare? (a voice that sounded remarkably like my own).” Four years and 60 days of introductions, writing samples and oh so much rejection. Four years and 60 days of growing-pain filled evolution that makes today a brilliantly lit vindication of a neurotic 30 year-old’s wonder. “What if there’s something else I’m meant to do?”

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