When I was 21 years old, I graduated with a B.A. in English literature, with a minor in journalism. I was as green as they come, with a new engagement ring on my finger. While I was walking across the stage to accept my diploma, the rest of my friends were back our shared townhome, cramming for exams. You see, I graduated in only three years, in a mad rush to begin life on my own as quickly as possible. My then-fiance was a year ahead of me in school, so I took on extra course loads and attended summer school twice so we could graduate at the same time. It was a challenging and overwhelming season of life in so many ways, but looking back, I wouldn't change a thing.
Before I graduated, I'd already secured a job with a government defense contractor back home. It wasn't a glamorous position by any means, but it meant a steady income and the chance to hone my craft. The only issue? I didn't exactly know what my craft was. I knew I loved literature, but my speech impediment and general anxiety prevented me from following a traditional teaching career path. I also knew that while I enjoyed writing, the feast-or-famine nature of being a full-time writer wasn't attractive either. So, I compromised, found a position as Technical Writer 3 at the firm, and went to work.
I showed up on the first day dressed in my favorite vintage sundress. I sat through meetings, checked emails and attended training, all the while wondering what in the world I was doing. The technical jargon was foreign to me, the people, albeit kind, were way more advanced than I was, and I was beginning to doubt my competence and ability to perform. And, this was all before lunchtime.
I don't think a day went by during that initial month when I didn't find solace and solitude in the bathroom for a few minutes each morning, gathering my thoughts and my composure so I could appear at least somewhat put-together. I drove home every day defeated, wondering if I'd made a mistake by jumping headfirst into a career I knew nothing about. I was used to studying Chaucer and Shakespeare. I wasn't cut out for translating engineers, creating proposals and editing technical manuals.
Then, something somewhat miraculous and completely unexpected happened. I started to get the hang of it. I grew in confidence and responsibility and before I knew it, I was managing and training two technical writer interns who wanted to learn from me. The concept was laughable, but I was up to the challenge.
That was 10 years ago. The connections I made at that first job, the skills I developed and the people I worked alongside all worked together to carry me through my next series of professional endeavors. I stayed on as a technical writer for that same firm for close to seven years. Then, I had my first child and left to pursue a freelance marketing gig that would afford me the opportunity to stay at home with my new baby.
The hours were unnatural, as I would start on my work around 10:00 p.m. when she went down for the night. I'd work until 2:00 a.m., feed her, then catch a few hours of sleep myself before we both woke up and the cycle began all over again. I was walking through those first few months very much like a zombie, not sure if the sunlight peeking through the blinds meant it was dawn or dusk. I was in over my head, challenged to the hilt and unsure if I was doing any of it, both my professional and parenting work, correctly. I'm sure when I was just starting out, I made many of the novice marketing mistakes that we're told time and again are things to avoid. It wasn't that I was ill-trained for the job. Rather, I was slowly navigating my way through a new path, and learning its intricacies and idiosyncrasies along the way.
In many ways, this season of life wasn't dissimilar to the one I experienced when I first dipped my toes in the corporate waters. I had a few more years on me now and I'd grown in my confidence both as a person and an employee, but I was still miles away from knowing all there was to know.
That's the beauty of it, though. I'll never catch up. I'll never reach that capacity where I've learned all there is to learn or completely aced every challenge thrown my way. My children are two and five now, and I'm still discovering new surprises about the way I manage my time, prioritize, step up to the plate and pursue new opportunities. There are many days when I still feel like that same 21-year-old in a thrifted sundress, my hand shaking as I reached up to ring the bell at the towering office building.
I hope I never lose that sense of being overwhelmed. I hope I never reach the point where challenges don't scare me or I don't feel at least a little out of my comfort zone. I believe that's where real life happens and where real growth occurs. We'll fail time and again and make more mistakes than we'd like. But there's something to be said about showing up anyway. About pushing through the murk with the knowledge that something greater is on the horizon. I'm actively in pursuit of that progress and I'm grateful every day that I said "yes" to the first job offer that came my way. Was I ill-prepared and unequipped? Certainly. Are those the very elements that propelled me to expand my potential? Absolutely.