We were two weeks into the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, I had just graduated from my software engineering immersive, I was unemployed, and I was panicking. How could I, a newcomer to the field of web development, possibly outcompete tens of thousands of people with far more experience who had just been laid off from their jobs? I spent the day emotionally distraught, wondering how I could have let myself hit this new low.
It’s Only Up From Here
I’m no stranger to rock bottom. When I graduated with my nutrition degree, for example, I was working in the dietary department at a hospital doing a job I had grown to loathe. It wasn’t the hospital, and it wasn’t the job- it was me. I was unfulfilled by the work I was doing because I felt I had gone down the wrong career path.
It took one long and hard day for me to realize I needed to find a new job. I went home, sat at my mother’s kitchen table, opened up my laptop, and got to work. I scanned through hundreds of job listings related to nutrition and realized I wanted none of them. I didn’t want to be a dietitian, but there really weren’t many options for people with nutrition degrees.
Lost and without a course of direction, crying over a bowl of cereal at 2am, I realized I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do. In a moment of faith and desperation, I opened a new tab and googled “nutrition + travel”… and just fell down the internet. I clicked from one sketchy website to the next until I landed upon a job listing that felt like my ticket out of the life I was living and into the one that I wanted. I took the leap, applied, and then spent the next four years of my life doing something I loved: traveling all over the United States and talking to people about food (seriously) as a nutritionist on the National Health Examination Survey!
Acting out of desperation and leaping in sheer faith, I had fallen down the internet and into a job that exceeded my wildest expectations, which brings me to lesson one:
Rock bottom can be depressing, but it can also bring you to your own attention and help you spring into action in ways you’d never before imagined.
I was nearing the end of my third year on the road when I realized it was time to reinvent myself. I had to ask myself a very serious question: Who did I want to become? I loved my job, I loved my work family, and I loved the travel, but there would never be space for vertical growth if I didn’t go on to receive my Dietitian Credentials.
I knew only two things:
The first was that I wanted to do something I enjoyed and I wanted to become an expert in that.
The second was that I had only a vague idea of what that might be: web development. I had grown up alongside the internet, manipulated HTML and CSS in its early days on Nickelodeon forums, Neopet shops, MySpace, and Tumblr. I was excited about the possibility of using both left brain and right brain, as well as helping people and organizations through the use of these skills.
So I leapt again, this time by leaving my amazing job while ignoring the usual career advice to have another one lined up. I could finally attend that full-time software engineering immersive course I had wanted to take since I nearly dropped out of my nutrition degree in 2015. To most, this seems fool-hardy and slightly insane, which brings me to lesson 2:
Your path doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s. Keep an open mind, and don’t be afraid to take risks.
Which brings me back to that fateful day in June earlier this year as I cried not into a bowl of cereal, but into my husband’s arms. I thought about how every single great thing to have ever happened to me came by way of taking risks and trusting that there would be a net to catch me. It’s how I got my last job, it’s how I left that same amazing job to reinvent myself and learn something new, and now it was going to be how I would get where I wanted to go career-wise.
Instead of looking for jobs that everyone was trying to get, I decided I was going to try to get the job I wanted and that NO ONE was looking for. While my recently graduated peers were trying to compete with those who had experience, I realized there was a way to compete only with myself. I went over to my computer full of faith that the universe would unleash a blessing and googled “How to get a job at a digital agency with no experience.”
I didn’t have to fall far down the internet. Just four google results down the page was a blog post by a Kia Farhang titled “How To Get A Job At A Digital Marketing Agency With No Experience.” BINGO.
The stars began to align.
Kia wrote that he was transitioning from a career in a different field to a career in code- so was I.
Kia had very little experience in code when he started looking for a job in the field – so did I.
Kia was in sunny California- so was I.
On and on the blog post went and the similarities kept piling up. That was when I decided- I was going to become an web design intern at Lemonade Stand, just like Kia had. So I submitted an application and sent off one of the wildest, most spammy emails I had ever written in my life.
I was momentarily terrified that I may have been too bold, too forward, too ME – That letter certainly wasn’t like any other cover letter I’d ever seen! That terror dissipated when I realized that if I didn’t get a response, it just wouldn’t have been the right fit. The fact that John Rowa, President of Lemonade Stand, did respond to me after that insane email was evidence enough that there might be a place there for me because of who I am, not despite it.
All of this brings me to lesson 3:
Don’t be afraid of not knowing it all, of starting over, of making a fool of yourself. As Cynthia Heimel said, “When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.”
So why am I telling you all this?
Greg Trimble, Lemonade Stand’s founder, asked me to write my story for you in the event that you are in a position similar to the one I was in. It’s not uncommon, especially in these trying times, to feel lost or uncertain. I’m here to tell you that I’ve been there – more than once in fact. I can confirm that the hardships are temporary if you actively focus only on what you can do.
If you’re feeling stuck in your career, if you’ve just graduated, if you’re looking for a job… I hope this brings you just a dash of hope and a sprinkle of faith. You’re going to make it because it’s only up from where you are.