In which I unabashedly toot my own horn.
I’ve been called an overachiever my entire life. Sometimes it’s a compliment, often it’s not. Sometimes I’ve wished I could be satisfied with underachieving, for once.
But I’m not, and I never will be. That’s just not how I’m wired.
For over 10 years I worked at a California State University. It’s a gorgeous campus, all green grass and waterfalls and cobblestone paths. There are worse places to spend eight hours a day.
But for all its aesthetic beauty, it also had its difficulties, if you’re an overachiever. It’s a state school. It’s all the bureaucracy of government layered into all the politics of academia. Red tape is the name of the game. Things move slowly. Or sometimes not at all.
I like to move.
I stuck with it, for a few reasons. One, because where else am I going to be paid to write in this town? Short of relocating to the Bay Area, this has been my best option.
But I also stuck it out because I’d built something there. I started at the age of 22 as a receptionist. But I was one overachieving receptionist. After answering phones and opening mail in the Office of the University President for a week or two, I saw a need: her writer was busy writing speeches, and her correspondence was falling behind. I offered to write a letter or two, flashing my hot-off-the-presses B.A. in English. Very quickly, I was ghostwriting all of the President’s letters, as well as editing some of her high-level publications.
I spent the next several years working as a secretary in several different offices, but I maintained the connections I’d made with C-level executives, and I built a solid reputation as a flawless writer, editor, and communicator. I did side work for everybody from the President to individual faculty members to the University PR office.
When I was hired as Assistant to the Dean in the Graduate School in 2005, I performed all my Executive Assistant functions beautifully. But I also combed through the School’s publications and web site, offering suggestions, until finally the Dean asked me to rewrite and redesign them all. Within a few months of hire as an Executive Assistant, I was promoted to a position created especially for me: The Graduate School Communications Coordinator.
I held this position for 5 years, and I built an entire marketing, recruitment, and communications plan from literally nothing. I hired an assistant. I attended conferences and made connections. And I wrote. I wrote everything.
At the same time, I took a side job as a Thesis Reader, responsible for proofreading master’s level theses just prior to their publication. I made myself the best Thesis Reader on staff, and eventually another position was created just for me. I became the Thesis Reader Coordinator, and my job was to hire, train, and supervise the staff of readers. I instituted staff-wide workshops, training, style guides, and an email list, bringing 8 Readers who had previously been fully independent (and wholly disconnected) together to form a cohesive team. And I personally read every thesis written on campus that first year, to be sure my staff (and the training I’d provided them) were up to par. The crop of master’s theses that year was widely recognized across campus as the best-written and cleanest copies in recent memory, and I learned so much about the writing and reading process that I was able to further improve the work of the Readers the following semester.
Eventually, a victim of budget cuts, the Graduate School was reorganized and disbanded, and I was reassigned to the Admissions and Outreach office. This was 2010, and I walked into an office whose social media efforts were stuck somewhere around 2006. The Admissions office had a dusty, silent Facebook page boasting 30 fans. So I took over. I opened Twitter and Instagram accounts. I created an editorial calendar, a social media marketing plan. I grew the Facebook page from 30 to nearly 500 fans. I took countless online courses and attended every webinar I could cram into my schedule, to teach myself the art of Social Media and Content Marketing. I hired another assistant. I incorporated social media into every aspect of our recruitment and publication efforts. Every event had a hashtag. Every web page had social media links. Most of my superiors were not on Facebook or Twitter. For the most part, I don’t think they had a clue what it is I did. But it brought in traffic, and it attracted students, and it increased engagement, and so they let me do it.
In 2012 I took it upon myself to start a Student Blogging project. This was an ambitious undertaking for a little rural state school whose administrators barely accepted Facebook and pretended Twitter didn’t exist. Nobody wanted to let me do it. Student bloggers? Uncensored? Unmoderated? Right on our website? Was I insane?
Probably. But I was determined to drag this school into the 21st century, so I did it anyway. I did it responsibly, but I did it, without the support or even the knowledge of many of my higher-ups. I hired 4 bloggers, students I knew and trusted. I trained them, and I set them free. Then I marketed the crap out of them, and I tracked their analytics, and I submitted a report to my manager. Here, look what I have done. It’s already in motion. Try to stop it now.
They didn’t. Because it was awesome. Because it was innovative and unlike anything any other campus in the 23-campus CSU system was doing. Because other, larger campuses took notice. And because it worked. It brought in the kind of students we’d
always had trouble attracting: high-achieving, highly engaged students who had choices, who were looking for something special. We showed them the only story that matters, the student story. We let our current students do the talking and the recruiting, and it worked.
Two years later the blogs were the cornerstone of our social media and content marketing efforts. Incoming students loved reading them, and current students loved writing them. I had dozens of applications each semester; they were only paid $18 a week to blog for us, and I was only allowed the budget for 7 of them at a time, but those 7 spots were coveted.
From an outside perspective, from the real world, our blogs and our social media profiles were not much to look at. I know that. I’m proud of what I accomplished there with very few resources and with roadblocks at every turn, but I’m not deluded. I may live in this small town, but I live on the Internet, wherever I’m learning and growing and readying myself for something bigger.
The world has changed in 10 years. A lot. And the Silicon Valley is calling my name. I love tech, I love communication, I love social media and content marketing. Above all, I love writing. But I also love living where I live. I want to work where I live, so I made the most of it for 10 years.
I was bored.
I was hungry.
And it was time to break out, because the remote work movement is real, and it’s happening, whatever Marissa Mayer might tell you. And for the first time in history a talented person can live where she wants to live and still work on the cutting edge. Tech like HipChat and Dropbox and Trello make it possible. Teams like Buffer, Automattic, and Zapier are leading the way. Remote work has the Richard Branson Stamp of Approval. It’s the future. I wanted in.
So at the beginning of 2014, I took a risk. I made a leap. I quit my steady, stable job and took a position with a very small software company located in Poughkeepsie, NY. UserScape was a team of only 6 people, and I was their first hire outside of development and support. I was tasked with building a content and marketing plan.
In my time there I established and managed the company blog, wrote long-form content like email courses and ebooks, and grew the company’s social media accounts. I built and furnished a home office that I love and proved to myself that I can not only survive in a remote environment, I can thrive. I grew tremendously in my time with UserScape, and while we’ve parted ways now, I am forever grateful for the opportunity they gave me.
But it’s time for a new chapter. I’m not afraid of risk; I know how high the payoff can be. I’m ready to jump again.
Image credit: Buzznet