Friday, July 26, 2013

Life: The Outtakes Reel

Photo by David Clifford
This week, as I was reviewing photos from my recent "work" trip to run trails in Iceland and write about them, I couldn't help but think, Damn, my life is freaking awesome.

... a sentiment which was immediately swallowed by my ongoing fear that I was once again contributing to that everyone-else's-life-looks-better-on-the-surface phenomenon that I feel, more and more, I want to devote my creative energies to squashing.

Truth be told, following an admittedly amazing week in Iceland (which was on top of an equally amazing long weekend in the Pacific Northwest for the wedding of my wonderful friends, Kate and Jeff), this week, my heart has been heavy. A number of people in my life, both dear friends/family as well as several close acquaintances, have been grappling with tremendous personal challenges, including, but not limited to: cancer, depression, divorce, unsatisfying marriages, corporate layoffs and other assorted rejections.

Thinking about these people I love and care about so deeply has made it difficult to concentrate on the regular, day-to-day aspects of my life. I hate feeling helpless. The ongoing question, for me, seems to be: can I somehow help people feel less alone in their struggles? I've had so many people hold my hand through the darkest periods of my own life in the past; I want to pay that forward. We all deserve to feel as though we are not alone in chugging through this life.

Perhaps it's the only child in me, but there's something especially terrifying to me about the concept of alone-ness. Not solitude, which I consider something different entirelya proactive choice to spend quality time with oneselfbut the case of having alone-ness cast over you, like a cloak. Isolation, alienation. Feeling a lack of connection to others in the world.

With all this in mind, I think I'm finally ready to share a blog post I wrote seven months ago, immediately after I accepted the job as Associate Editor at Trail Runner, but have left hiding in my drafts folder ever since (and, at the time, spun into this one instead ... )

See, one of the things I've felt sad about this week is some "restructuring" at REI's headquarters, through which several friends have lost their jobs, some of whom have been with the company for decades. Despite the fact that I never officially transcended my role as a temporary employee at REI Corporate, I felt very much a part of the family there. So, my heart hurts for them.

On the other hand, in many ways, I feel a lot of hope for those who will be leaving the company, willfully or not. Change, when thrust upon us, is never easyyet it nearly always leads to growth, to some recognition that, in the long run, the change was for the better. I spent a year and a half trying very hard to earn a permanent spot at REI Corporate, certain that being a copywriter there was my ultimate dream job. Maybe, if I'd gotten it, it would have been. But sometimes it's easy to get so wrapped up in the immediacy of our own lives that we fail to recall the big picture of what it is that will really make our souls sing. Not ever being offered a permanent copywriting job for REI is probably the best thing that's happened to me ... after all, I wouldn't have been getting paid to run around waterfalls in Iceland last week if REI Corporate had ever made me a permanent employee.

So, in my effort to remind my friends that change, loss, and not getting what you hoped for can actually turn out to be amazing in its own way ... here's the unpublished blog post from seven months ago:


While I've had a number of really fabulous opportunities come my way over the past few years, there have been many disappointments and heartbreaks along the way, too. Today, I feel like writing about my behind-the-scenes, my outtakes reel, if you will, along my convoluted path to my dream gig.

Before I went to college, I had some illusions about becoming a published novelist upon graduating with my creative writing degree. Then, toward the end of my time at Oberlin, I got it in my head to apply for the Watson Fellowshipa $25,000 grant to travel the world for a year and focus my energy on a single project. My project proposal was to travel to Malaysia, Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa, and Suriname, and look at the intersection of long-distance running and humanitarian projects. I wanted to be inspired by the amazing ways that people have used the simple act of running to accomplish so many thingsto spread joy, to supply neighborhoods in need with shoes and other resources, to empower women and kids throughout the world, to raise money for villages and schools and water wells, to bring disparate communities togetherand I wanted to write about those efforts, as well as develop the skill set within myself to launch my own running-based, global nonprofit.

But alas, I bombed my interview with the fellowship committee at Oberlin. I was rejected at the first level of evaluation all Watson proposals undergo. It crushed me.

By the time I graduated, I'd adjusted my ambitions to what seemed like more practical pursuits: getting involved in the publishing industry, copywriting for a marketing team, or possibly working in corporate communications.

But even those jobs were hard to come by, in the midst of a difficult economy. My liberal arts degree  spun me into a poet, but left out the bill-paying kinds of skills that most of us need to survive in the big, bad "Real World."

So I chiseled away even more at my dream, began applying feverishly for jobs that I only sort of wanted, in any part of the country I could even vaguely see myself living. Still living in rural Ohio at the time, uncertain I had the money to move to a new place without securing a job first, I felt scared, and increasingly desperate.

Reed College, in Portland, interviewed me for a job in their admissions office. They turned me down.

When I applied for a one-year communications fellowship position with the Oberlin Office of Communications, I didn't get offered an interview.

YES! Magazine wouldn't even entertain my application for an assistant editor position.

Brooks Running didn't want me.

A marketing agency called Merkle interviewed me for an editing job and I never heard from them again. There's nothing worse than getting rejected from a crappy entry-level job with a marketing firm that's light years away from your true passion. But, that happened. A few times.

Heck, I couldn't even get Road Runner Sports to talk to me about a $10/hour "Running Specialist" job hawking shoes.

I was spiraling to the bottom of my dream funnel.

The day Reed rejected me for the admissions job, I hit a pretty bad low. So I took a step back and asked myself, "If I could have any job in the world right now, what would it be?"

... and found that my answer, at that time, was, Writing and editing for an outdoorsy magazine in Seattle. So I decided two things: One, I was going to move to Seattle, no matter what. Two, I was going to reach out to Carolyn, the editor of a magazine called Outdoors NW that I knew was published in Seattle. Their website didn't even have a section for jobs or employment, but I figured I could learn a thing or two from someone who'd been in a pioneer in the world of outdoors journalism for decades.

The next day, my dream funnel began opening back up: Carolyn wrote me back and offered to meet me for coffee and chat. (I hadn't even moved to Seattle yet!) When I did finally move and meet up with Carolyn, we hit it off instantly, and she gave me my first freelance writing assignment, putting together some book reviews. So began my own fledgling career in outdoors journalism.

(One more "rejection" worth noting: I wrote to the magazine Northwest Runner around the same timeThey never responded to my email.)

Small successes began building: 24 Hour Fitness hired me as a front-desk minion (which I quit after one week with that horrible company.) REI hired me to work part-time, seasonally, in their flagship Seattle store as a sales specialist in the footwear department. Outdoors NW magazine eventually brought me on as an assistant editor. I made it through an "audition" with Kaplan Test Prep to work as a private SAT tutor for high school kids in the Seattle area, and survived four weeks of intimidating tutor training, designed to weed out anyone who was too nervous or insecure. I couldn't sleep at night for a whole month, I was so terrified of failing ... but I made it.

Yet, the stumbling blocks were far from over. The next year, I landed the temporary copywriting gig at REI, but was sent back to work retail at the store when the team's freelance budget for the year ran out ... invited back to the corporate offices at the beginning of the following year, but nevertheless strung along as a temp for another full year.

I applied for a digital content manager position with the Washington Trails Association, my favorite nonprofit in the Northwest—and though I was fortunate enough to be one of only a few people interviewed out of the nearly 100 who applied, ultimately they went with someone else as well (though, notably, offered the nicest rejection ever, which left me feeling warm and fuzzy about the whole experience, and equipped with honest, helpful feedback on why they'd gone with another candidate.)

But it still hurt. I can't tell you how many times that week I reread the words of Max Ehrmann from his 1927 Desiderata poem: "Whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should."

Fast forward a year, and after all that, I've finally landed the gig I always wanted in the first place.

Career musings in my personal journal, circa 2011

The experience of failure, by the way, does not go away with earning a job title. This week, even with the best intentions, I managed to do a disservice to an amazing athlete by writing a headline that felt too much like a "bait and switch" to several disgruntled readers (including several folks in the greater trail-running community whom I've long looked up to), who didn't waste a moment letting me know in the comments section they thought my headline was lame.

One stroke of acceptance does not insulate us from criticism. But, with criticism come lessons, and with lessons comes growth. At least that's what I keep telling myself, anyway ... :)

Ehrmann's poem concludes: "With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
Watching sunrise from the summit of Mt. Sopris (12,966 feet) this week

1 comment:

  1. Hey Yitka

    I am going through a similar phase right now, and it's really helpfull to see how everything worked out for you. I was rejected at the one place I really wanted to go, but after a few days of frantic searching I've made new plans that will probably bring me just as much joy and opportunities as the other. I know I'll be fine eventually.