The Best Job I Ever Had

This past month, I edited résumés for a few folks. As I was working on the documents, I marveled at their array of jobs and experiences, the different, sometimes divergent steps along the way that led to now…and the next steps that were to come.

I thought, too, about my own professional biography—the various positions, the circuitous career path, the pauses that have come with parenthood. I’ve done a bunch of things, as you probably have too. My favorite thing? Working as a tour guide at my college, in Richmond, Va.

My official job title was “student admissions representative.” I served as an SAR from my sophomore through senior years, and I earned minimum wage, if memory serves. Something like $5.75 per tour, and each tour was about an hour, usually a little longer.

A few times a week, I walked prospective students and their families around the college campus. Showed them around, gave them local restaurant recommendations for lunch or dinner at the end. The SAR position allowed me to be with people, tell stories and spend time outside—my ideal trifecta.

Beforehand, the students and their families would have heard a presentation from the school’s admissions officers—facts such as application deadlines, number of majors and study-abroad programs, “where are they now” regarding notable alumni. Data. My job was to add the flavor, the feeling, the inside scoop…and I loved it.

I don’t know how many tours I gave in all, and I don’t know, either, if anything I ever said, on any of those tours, made a difference to anybody. I can say that parents seemed to trust me on my restaurant recommendations; I probably did drum up some business for Palani Drive, Mary Angela’s and Strawberry Street Café. Beyond that, though, I just don’t know.

It was fun while it lasted.

My job was to add the flavor, the feeling, the inside scoop…and I loved it.

During my senior year, I started thinking about what to do next, post-graduation. I was majoring in English, and had wrapped up an internship with a novelist, Erica Orloff, herself a graduate of the University of Richmond. Erica was gracious, instructive, inspiring—an amazing role model. How cool it would be to be like that, I thought.

I thought, too, about how much I enjoyed people. Being around them, hearing their stories and sharing mine, and—when I could, and when it was needed—offering a word of encouragement, some positive energy. I began researching graduate programs in counseling, and marriage and family therapy.

Every program I looked at required undergraduate courses in psychology and statistics, and I never took those classes. As much as I loved college, I didn’t want to prolong it with an extra semester (or two). So I stuck with writing.

My underlying goal with writing, though, is to encourage, as I would have done in a counseling setting. Whether through a mini essay like this, or a work of fiction, or someone’s résumé or business proposal—my hope is that the finished product is something that brings positive energy to the world.

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I happened to read an excellent Atlantic article, “What I Learned About Life at My 30th College Reunion.” Maybe you read it too. Writer Deborah Copaken notes, first and foremost, “No one’s life turned out exactly as anticipated,” and I had to smile because…#truth.

I also smiled at her second observation (teachers and doctors seemed happy with their choice of career) and chuckled at her third (somewhat the opposite for lawyers). Then I had a chuckle at my own expense regarding No. 5, “Speaking of art, those who went into it as a career were mostly happy and often successful, but they had all, in some way, struggled financially.” (I recently joked with a friend that my e-book royalties alone won’t cover the cost of the girls’ college tuition.)

Copaken’s No. 13 struck a chord too: “Nearly all the alumni said they were embarrassed by their younger selves, particularly by how judgmental they used to be.” Life is eye-opening, and humbling, and I’m a better person now (stretch marks, cellulite and all) than I was then.

Education, medicine, law, the arts and so many other fields—so much to choose from, so much we can do. After dinner one evening, Anna (age 3) toyed with some career choices, astronaut and firefighter among them. “I want to be the boss,” 7-year-old Grace announced. Stanton and I exchanged a glance: mm-hmm, sounded about right.

Life is eye-opening, and humbling, and I’m a better person now (stretch marks, cellulite and all) than I was then.

I write every day, almost. Sometimes I get paid for the work I do. Other times I don’t. Now, for example, I’m writing my first novel; my goal is to sign a publishing contract with a small press by the time Anna starts kindergarten. Along with what I take care of for our family life these days, I still try to honor my writing life. Because if you tell people you’re a writer (and I do), you should write. You should aim to get published too ( 😉 ), but you definitely should write.

Once Anna joins Grace in elementary school, I’ll be sending out my own résumé. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to find a job that’s a good fit. I’m excited to have colleagues and co-workers again. I’m uncertain (scared?) of what hiring managers will think of my current “title” of freelance writer/editor, which (not coincidentally) began shortly after my first child’s birth. I have no clue how everything will work out.

But one thing I know for sure.

College tour guide? It’s going to be hard to top that.

P.S. If you’ve never been to Richmond and happen to find yourself there…go to Palani Drive, and get the Shenandoah wrap. Grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, apples, Gouda and sherry walnut dressing—one of the best flavor combinations ever. You’ll love it.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

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Do What You Love, But… Career Advice for Our Kids

I’m looking for a job. Actually, multiple jobs—freelance writing projects that I can complete when I’m not taking care of my two small daughters.

The other day I was scrolling through job listings on Indeed. Somehow I scrolled past a listing for a finance position. “$20,000 signing bonus,” it said.

I did a double-take. As a part-time freelance writer, I’m glad to earn $20,000 in an entire year.

Hmm…maybe I had picked the wrong profession.

I’ve always loved writing. I wrote my first poem, “Magic,” when I was 5 years old. Like most first poems, it was terrible—cheesy, full of clichés. I dreamed of becoming a writer, though, so I kept writing.

Then at age 9, I wrote a short story called “Boris Takes Over” for my local library’s annual fiction contest. To my surprise and delight, “Boris Takes Over” won first place in the third/fourth grade category. My blue-ribbon award was bragging rights, plus the privilege of having my story hardbound and added to the library’s permanent collection.

As I grew up, my friends spent their summers at sports camps. I, on the other hand, went to writing camp. (Yes, there really is such a thing!)

In college, I was named editor-in-chief of the campus-wide literary magazine. I began to feel some confidence, some affirmation that I really could have a career as a writer.

During the past 10 years, I’ve worked in writing positions for a magazine, nonprofit organization and marketing company, among other side gigs. I feel a jolt of childlike joy every time a publication accepts a piece I’ve submitted.

It’s “Boris Takes Over” all over again, every time.

I feel thankful I’ve been able to do something I’ve always loved. I’m also conscious, when I see notes about $20,000 signing bonuses for finance positions—as I’m trying to generate enough supplementary income to pay for my older daughter’s summer dance camps—that creative fields aren’t always lucrative.

Compare, for example, the annual salary range of an entry-level copywriter ($42,750 to $60,000) to an entry-level Web analytics specialist ($72,500 to $99,750) in the marketing industry (source: Robert Half). In terms of bigger-bucks paydays, numbers games often trump the arts.

After one of Grace’s dance classes recently, she pirouetted across the kitchen and announced, “Mom, when I grow up, I want to be a dance teacher just like Miss Phaedra.”

“That sounds great, honey,” I said. I meant it.

Dance teachers are similar to writers in that both work in creative fields. Through their work, creative professionals have the opportunity to inspire people. To recognize and encourage talents within them, as teachers do. To move them with words, as writers might.

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Creative professions, of course, traditionally pay less than their more “practicum” counterparts—medicine, business, engineering. Grace is still years away from declaring a college major, but the thought crossed my mind in the kitchen that day: Should I really encourage her to do what she loves as a profession, when that profession may not pay the bills as handily as another one?

The answer, for me, is yes. For a couple of reasons.

First, you never know where life might take you. Amazing things can happen when you’re doing something you love. As a dancer, or a writer, or anything in between, you may find yourself someday just one step away from your big break—one step away from directing a world-renowned dance program, or from garnering a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Years of practice, dedication and, yes, a little bit of luck—energized by your love for what you do—may lead you to your dream come true.

Second, we don’t know how much time we have in this life. We should spend it, then, doing something we care about.

I’m a practical person, however. Money isn’t everything, but it is important. It allows you to live in a safe neighborhood, to eat nourishing food, to give your children experiences that will enrich their lives.

Money is important. For that practical reason, then, I’ll encourage my daughter to pursue her dance aspirations with an eye toward realism, as I’ve had to be realistic.

This will be my message to my daughter, and maybe it will be your message to your kids too: Do what you love, but if and when needed, do what you have to do too.

Didn’t make the cut for the Lyon Opera Ballet? Then work in arts administration, possibly, until you’re ready to try out again, or try out with another dance company.

Every experience will make your creative passion that much richer, that much more rewarding.

Every now and then, I pull up a document I’ve been writing and rewriting, on and off, for years. It’s a nonfiction story, untitled as of yet. I want this story to be part of the legacy I leave behind as a writer.

In the meantime, I have a family to help take care of. I need to be there physically for my daughters, preparing their meals and washing their clothes and doing the millions of other little things that children need done. I need to be there financially for them too, no explanation needed.

Consequently, I gladly apply for and gratefully accept freelance writing projects related to copywriting, corporate communications and Web content development—nothing to do with the writing aspirations I’ve had since “Magic.” I do all these things to earn money to help take care of my family, while constantly doing the writing I feel meant to do whenever I can.

Do what you love, but if and when needed, do what you have to do too. Your life and your legacy will both be richer for it.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.