As MPLS MadWomen continues to grow, we look forward to bringing more original content to our community. Our blog has always been an important part of our organization, and we’re excited to be able to feature more stories, articles and insights than ever before. To make this happen we’re relying on a number of women in the community to lend us their thoughts — and their pens. You may have seen some posts from Eliza Green over the past few months. Now she’s taking a moment to share some more about her background and five lessons she’s learned in her decade-plus in the industry.
My path into advertising was a pretty straight shot after college graduation. I had worked through my dreams of being a singer when I realized I couldn’t sing at five years old. The acting bug bit me in high school and then skittered away by my freshman year of college. My aspirations of being an attorney disappeared by sophomore year after speaking with an actual attorney and finding out Gordon Bombay hadn’t accurately portrayed the path.
Then it was lobbyist, which seemed messy and a little too dodgy for my Midwestern sensibilities. So I finally landed on public relations and that’s where the circuitous part of my journey began. It’s not a terribly interesting story. I sought work in PR and landed at a series of small agencies that required me to take on a number of roles to fill in the gaps. Slowly, I narrowed in on something that allowed me to use my love of words and my love of structure and planning: a combination of copywriting and content strategy.
It’s not earth-shattering. I’m not a terribly impressive human. But I have learned a few things that may or may not make your path a little bit easier. Or at least feel a little less like you’re traveling alone.
1. It’s Okay if Your Career is a Winding Road
I wasn’t totally transparent in my introduction. There was a bit of a left turn early on in my agency journey. In my second job out of school, I was doing internal communications for a larger corporation. On my way, I thought, to some big deal corporate title at the top of the ladder.
But three months in I realized the only things I actually liked about my job had nothing to do with my job description. I had been looped into helping with the company’s website redesign, which meant I actually got to write creatively again. Something I hadn’t done since I had left the agency I had called home for three years post-college. Outside of that work, the culture was cut-throat and stressful and I quickly realized the corporate ladder wasn’t exactly for me.
I went running back into the agency world, but, at one point, I did land a corporate gig I rather enjoyed for a couple years. I just learned that you don’t always know what you want until you’re in it, and, even then, it could change. Give yourself permission to zig-zag your way to your happiest spot.
2. Your Resume isn’t Going to Look Like Your Parent’s
This builds a little on my last piece of advice, but even if you know exactly where you’re going and never stray from The Plan™, chances are you aren’t going to end up retiring from the company that hired you out of college. When I first started changing jobs every few years, my dad was horrified. He told me no one was going to hire me when it appeared I couldn’t be loyal to a company.
He was wrong (for probably what was the first and only time in his life). I had no major issues getting a job or explaining each move to prospective employers as long as I was intentional about my next step. I worked hard in each position, gained valuable experience while contributing a great deal to the team during my tenure and then moved on when there was no room left for me to grow.
I found, especially in the agency world, this type of movement was almost expected. It keeps the work fresh and forces you to become a quick learner, which is absolutely essential when you have to go from writing about directional drilling equipment one day to writing about beauty products the next.
3. Layoffs Happen—It’s Probably for the Best
Not all of my moves were entirely voluntary. I have been laid off and it crushed me at the time. I was early in my career and had never truly failed at anything. Sure, I had screwed up before. But a layoff felt like a blanket statement about my inability to thrive in the workplace. Yes, a layoff is different than getting fired, but to me, the difference didn’t matter. It was a rejection of the highest order.
It turned out the layoff was one of the best things that could have happened. I was miserable in the position but felt I needed to stick it out lest it look like I was a flaky job hopper (see item 2). I wasn’t unemployed for more than six weeks before I found a position that set me more firmly on the path copywriting and content strategy.
The hiccup made me realize that a missed paycheck or two didn’t automatically mean I was thrown out of the game completely. A valuable lesson for someone who ended up on the freelance track. Plus, the gig following my layoff led me to some lifelong friendships with people who inspire and encourage me more than almost anyone else in my life.
4. One Mistake Will Not Break You
As a first-chair flutist, 4.0 student, editor of the high-school yearbook, I grew up a perfectionist. (And a completely helpless dork.) But I also grew up in a pretty small pond, so it was fairly easy to rise to the top. Stepping outside that world was a little overwhelming and I wasn’t entirely prepared for how much room was left for mistakes in this much larger pond. Not to mention that in the smaller achievement pond, the only fish truly impacted by my innocently negligent actions was me.
When you screw up in your career it impacts your coworkers, your company, your clients. It’s a domino-effect of shame. I still remember the first time I screwed up professionally. And I mean really screwed up. I had placed the wrong ad for a client (told you I had to fill a lot of different roles) in a relatively expensive publication. The ad that ran was for a product that was completely out of season, so I had essentially flushed the client’s money down the drain.
I had no choice but to fess up. Apologize to my boss and to the client and move forward. I think the most surprising thing to me was that not only was I able to move forward, but my boss and client were able to as well. It didn’t take long for them to trust me again and they both still hold me in the highest regard professionally.
5. Your Career Can be Fulfilling but it Won’t Necessarily Complete You
I think this is the biggest piece of advice I am still learning to accept myself. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s important enough to really bring home. When you have to fight so hard to build something like your career, it can be hard to focus on anything else. I’ve never been one who takes pride in working an 80-hour workweek. Of course, you have to roll up your sleeves from time to time and really muscle your way through when the project at hand calls for it. But I don’t think this should be the norm. There has to be room for something else.
And I don’t just mean we need to make room for family and friends. Naturally, those aspects of a person’s life are incredibly important, but beyond that, we have to make space for other interests. To support organizations doing good things in our communities. To embrace our more artistic sides. To turn off our brains and put together a damn puzzle once in a while.
These are the things that make us complete, multifaceted versions of ourselves. And they’re the things that keep us sane when our careers take unexpected turns or when we make that mistake that seems like it’s going to end us.
/written by Eliza Green
/photo by Dennis Brekke