I went back to the place where I got my first job in fundraising last weekend. Luckily for me, it was also my alma mater.
My college degree was in English Literature and I just loved researching and writing papers. But after I graduated from Carolina I took a job with a catering company that provided low-cal meals for a clinical diet and fitness center. (To this day, I can remember how many calories are in a third of a cup of corn…half an apple…a piece of pita…)
At 22, I was still trying to work out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and since I’d been a waitress and sous-chef to help pay for college, catering worked while I figured things out.
Day in and day out, my colleagues and I stood around a big stainless steel table chopping vegetables and trimming every last bit of fat off the chicken breasts we prepped for the dinner service. The catering team was, for the most part, 10 or 15 years older than me so I mostly just listened quietly to them talking about this-and-that as we worked.
On this particular day after I’d been there about a year, my colleagues started counting up the MA and PhD degrees they had amongst them. Some of them began to talk about the dreams they’d had after they graduated, and how they felt it was too late now for them to get a job in their originally-chosen fields. That they’d squandered their chances by doing the familiar, easy thing for too many years.
There was just too much regret laid on the table that day.
I put in my two weeks’ notice at the end of that shift. I knew if I didn’t do something – even if it was scary and drastic – I’d be full of regret, too. So I signed up with a temp agency.
My first (and last) temp job was in the development office at Carolina. An hour after walking through the door, I found out they had a fundraising research team and I knew I’d found my professional home.
You can go back again
So there I was, back in beautiful Chapel Hill on a campus tour with our smart, talented and hopeful niece. Walking around the tree-shaded brick paths, I thought about the new crop of high school and college graduates and their journey ahead.
As we came around a corner to show her Old South, the stately administration building, we saw a group of kids – high school graduates – getting their picture taken on the massive granite steps. After the photo was snapped we watched them cheer and amble back to the minibus that – holy cow! – had the logo of my high school on it. Seriously, what are the chances? It’s not exactly next door. Spooky.
I saw the shadow of my younger self get on that bus and thought about what I wished I could have advised her about her career ahead. Things like…
- What you work on will work out. Just maybe not the way you thought.
- Walk toward what scares you. Getting out of your comfort zone is the best way to learn what you can do.
- If you’re miserable, do something else. Go somewhere else. Now. Life’s too short.
- Don’t stop learning.
More than 20 years later, I’m proud and grateful that I quit that job without a safety net. That experience has helped me in more ways than I can count.
What have you done in your career that you are proud of and grateful for? What would you tell your younger self? Go ahead and share it here – we’d love to hear it. To this year’s graduates: warmest congratulations. Welcome to the next big adventure!