Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. It has been more than two years since my last post. But, fear not! It is all part of the journey.
In part one of this post, I reflected on the role reading had played in my formative years; starting with being read to, learning to read and, eventually, loving to read. This love of reading went hand-in-hand with a knack for writing, though I never considered writing as a potential career. Instead, I enrolled in college as an “undecided” student and eventually declared aviation as my major. I wanted to do something unconventional. I wanted to fly planes. I wanted to live in a big city and travel the world. I had no idea what I wanted.
But what if I couldn’t fly? What if an accident or some other unforeseen circumstance caused me to lose my medical license and rendered me unfit to fly? Alternate aviation-related careers didn’t appeal to me, so I decided I needed a back-up plan. Journalism was it.
Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism was one of the top journalism schools in the country. My plan was to major in aviation and minor in journalism. But that idea went the way of most best-laid plans. An associate’s degree in journalism was not an option. In the School of Journalism, it was the full bachelor’s degree monty or nothing at all. Conversely, an Associates of Applied Science degree in aviation would provide all the credentials I needed to become a licensed commercial pilot and flight instructor. A plan began to take shape. Maybe I could be a flying writer? Maybe I could fly myself to a specific event or location and write about my experiences there?
Students in the journalism school had to choose a specific focus area. I chose advertising. Professors enlightened us on the economics of advertising and subliminal messaging. We wrote copy for imaginary products and created jingles. We learned how to trick the general public into thinking they needed to have something that, in reality, they did not need at all. I was good at it. I hated it. (This theme would rear it’s ugly head in the future when I began my first job in sales. But more on that later.) So I switched to public relations. To which my father replied, “You have no idea what it’s like to work with the general public.” Wise words spoken by a wise man. Yet heed them, I did not. I proved reasonably adept with public relations–writing press releases, cultivating media contacts and creating newsletters, brochures and press kits–and I liked it better than advertising, so I forged onward. Eventually, I secured internships with a fitness center, a jewelry store and a real estate company.
The internship I did not secure, however, was with United Airlines. Half way through my senior year, three of my fellow aviation students and I were flown to Denver to interview for the highly coveted internship. I loved flying but I didn’t live and breath aviation. The internship went to the guy that lived and breathed it. I was disappointed but not devastated. In my head, it was a huge loss. In my heart, it was a win because, at the time, I was only a few months into a new relationship with the man who would become my husband. We both knew, instinctively, that if I’d gotten the internship and relocated to Denver for the remainder of my senior year, we likely would have parted ways. But, since I didn’t get it, we stayed together. We now have three daughters and have been married for more than 22 years. Sometimes things happen for a reason.
Instead, I landed an internship with DHL Airways. After graduation, I moved to Cincinnati to begin the next part of my journey: learning the nuts and bolts of how an international transportation company operated. A perk of the position was getting to fly “right seat” on any of the overnight transportation flights. As such, I routinely took advantage of this opportunity to act as the unofficial co-pilot on the flights to Roanoke, Virginia, where I could then visit my future husband at Virginia Tech where he was pursuing his master’s degree in engineering. I was learning a lot, but writing only a little.
At the conclusion of my internship, DHL offered me a position as a sales representative in their Richmond office. My alternatives were to work for a small marketing company in North Carolina–in what would have been a rare combo of writing and flying, as I would have transported the small four-person marketing team to various events in the company’s Cessna 172, but my direct report was a chain smoker and I likely would have succumbed to second-hand smoke by now–or return to Maryland to resume my position as a flight instructor, working a lot but earning only a little. I accepted DHL’s offer.
DHL then surprised me (and not in a good way) be relocating my position to Baltimore. As my start date approached, I was involved in a car accident that left me with a shattered left foot and a sprained right ankle. It would end up being one of the worst years of my life. No offense to my parents (who are the most wonderful, loving, supportive parents a girl could wish for), but I was 23-years-old, living at home, hobbling around on crutches, and working as a salesperson in Baltimore, a full five hours away from my soon-to-be fiance. How had I drifted so far from my love of writing and my dreams of becoming a jet-setting pilot?
As with my academic foray into advertising, I was good at sales but I didn’t particularly like it. While DHL was hands-down the best international shipping option, our competitors had the clear advantage domestically. My attitude was this: if people want to use our transportation services, great! If not, that’s okay, too. I despised trying to “convince” businesses to choose DHL for their shipping needs. But this attitude didn’t hold me back and, by my second year, I was ranked as the number two sales representative in the entire Southeast Region. I felt like a superstar. I was promoted to sales executive. I was offered the larger, more lucrative Norfolk territory, which meant my husband and I could relocate to Virginia Beach if we wanted to. I’d always dreamed of living on the coast, somewhere I could walk or ride my bike to the beach. (Had I done so, I probably would have succumbed to skin caner by now.) But I missed flying. And I missed writing. I did not like sales and I was not pursuing my passions. I’d started reaching out to public relations firms in the Baltimore area and was shocked to learn that I was already earning enough in sales that switching to PR at that point in my career would have been a huge financial step backward. And so, I reasoned, if I was going to take a pay pay cut anyway, it might as well be on my own terms.
To be continued . . .