This is what I want to tell my daughter. Why? Because I am what I wanted to be. I am proof that you can be anything you want to be.
I’ve crafted out the lifestyle I want to live, to love. Not one dictated by others, by a 9-5 office, or by mundane, uninteresting work. I wake up everyday and do what I want. How? Because I made it happen. I am what I want to be.
My daughter is struggling with today’s typical college student dilemma – what do I want to be? She wants to do what I do – build a career around her passion. For her, that means a life that centers around making and photographing great, pretty, vegan food and inspiring others with her passion for healthy living. And yes, like me, exploring the world has to fit in there somewhere. Unfortunately, there’s no college major for this.
I’m lucky. I’ve managed to create my own job – one that gives me a little income to fuel my passion for travel, coupled with the flexibility to spend time with family, while keeping a little bit of intellectual skin in the game. It didn’t come easily. I’ve been very strategic in doing what I love. It’s been full of ups and downs, tears and frustration, feast and famine.
But, dear daughter, you CAN be what you WANT to be.
I’ve paired my marketable skill, PR, with my passion for food and travel. One pays, the other doesn’t. It’s a 50-50 balance of work and fun. But it’s all very strategic as a means to an end. Here’s how I made, and make, it work.
Quick background: It started in 1996 when my son was born. I was in a demanding corporate job and knew I wanted to be home with my kids and have some flexibility but I also knew I needed a little income to support my (ahem) wanderlust lifestyle. Just a quick shoutout to my husband who has always been very supportive of my freestyle “career”, both financially and emotionally. I quit my corporate job and, using my background in PR, began networking with every contact I had to stir up enough freelance work to bring in some income. And through the next two decades, I’ve always managed to keep freelance work on the side to help pay those travel bills. Taking it one step further, I knew I wanted to work with PR clients in the fields I love – food, wine, travel, lifestyle – so I have actually sought out brands in these categories and boldly put myself in front to them with cold calls/emails and by asking contacts for introductions. I’m shameless, yet professional, in my networking skills. I meet someone at a party who might be a connection for me? I follow up. Read about someone in a magazine I want to work with? I email them. Find a possible local connection? I send an email and invite them to coffee. I ask friends to introduce me to someone I want to meet for professional reasons. If I see a brand I want to work with, I’ll boldly reach out and make a connection. Sometimes, rarely, it pays off. But given the choice of doing publicity for a winery or a hospital, I’m going to have much more fun working with wine so that’s what I go after.
The second part of my self-fulfilling “career” is experiencing the things I love – food, wine and travel. My ultimate retirement goal is to travel the world and enjoy these passions with my husband. Without the need for a steady income. So I’m working towards that goal now. I’ve managed to brand myself (somewhat) as a food, wine and travel writer which gives me opportunities and experiences at low or no cost – the caveat being, I have to publish articles when I’m hosted. I’ve taken some fantastic trips, dined with some great chefs and enjoyed fabulous wines that I never would have been able to conceive of or afford on my own. Next week, I’ll spend three days touring California wineries/resorts at their invitation (they graciously invited my husband too). I’ll soon head to Atlanta to cover the opening of a new luxury hotel on behalf of a magazine and interview a James Beard award-winning chef. My pay is in the experiences themselves. And hopefully I’m building on that brand reputation that will carry me on those retirement dreams.
And that balance I mentioned? I might have to write a press release on a new surgical procedure on the airplane but that’s the “paying the bills” part of my life.
I’m not going to lie and say this is grueling. Getting to this point was grueling. Again, it didn’t just happen. I had to MAKE it happen. I joined writers groups and networked my heart out. I stayed up countless nights and invested significant dollars to create my brand. I volunteer my writing/PR skills for opportunities that may pay off down the road. I’ve experienced rejection that’s scarred me to this day. But I keep going. THIS is what gets me to my ultimate goal.
So I would tell my daughter, be what you want to be. Your dream life isn’t going to come to you. Not even with a college degree. You have to go find it. Tenacity is key. As is confidence and boldness…and charisma certainly helps. You want to be a food blogger? Do it. Connect with every other contact, food blogger, and brand out there and introduce yourself. Offer to do things for free – baking, photography, writing. Write to brands and introduce yourself. Offer to bake cupcakes for that friend’s wedding. And shamelessly promote yourself. Take advantage of opportunities, and yes, occasionally connections. Ask for that introduction to that vegan chef. Ask to shadow him/her. Give free cooking lessons in exchange for recommendations. Offer to write an article for that health magazine. Ask that hotel if you can stay for a night and interview their chef for your blog. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. I constantly have a food or travel magazine with me with the pages crimped with story ideas, people to introduce myself to, and brands to pursue. Be confident in your passions – if you love something, you will be good at it and neither a textbook nor a professor can teach you that.
You can be anything you want to be.