Beyond the #Girlbossmoment: Kelsey Nelson Lands Her Dream Writing Gig
“I once had a friend stop me on the last day of high school and say to me, “Kelsey, if you end up at a cubicle job, I’m going to find you and slap some sense into you.” This was a common sentiment amongst my friends and teachers, as I had spent my high school career doing talent shows, fire hula-hooping, directing plays, and putting creative energy into anything I could get my hands on. A cubicle just wouldn’t be a fit for me. I wasn’t worried, though, because I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. I thought I’d somehow magically escape the rat race without any work. But somehow at age 22, after four adventurous and travel-filled college years—years filled with testing my limits and expanding my skills—I ended up with my name on a cubicle in a government office.
In college, I had traveled to France, Portugal, Costa Rica, and Panama. I had started as an intern at Go World Travel Magazine (an online travel magazine) and worked my way up to an editorial assistant. I absolutely loved this job, but it was part time and the end of college was rushing forward. I couldn’t work at my school’s newspaper long after graduation, and I needed something to supplement it. On the recommendation of a professor, I applied for an internship as a publishing technician with the federal government. The internship ran every weekday for a year like a normal office job, and at the end you were granted a stipend to use toward school. It seemed like a perfect fit—a year-long placeholder doing what I majored in while I settled into the real world. It was sold to me as a service position; I would be helping the community by writing and editing important information about our public lands. It looked great on paper.
Instead, I ended up with piles of busy work on a desk in a room where the rush of the fan was a welcome break from the silence. On my first day, I was making spreadsheets and checking tables of soil reports to make sure the math added up. My boss would print my personal emails and copy-edit them with a red marker. I love a tough boss, don’t get me wrong, but it felt more like an exercise of putting me in my place instead of helping me grow. I put a symbol on my work calendar 3 months out. In my head, it was my safety-net. If I wasn’t happy by then, I would leave. As someone who experiences anxiety, I couldn’t tell if I really hated my new job as much as I thought or if it was just a big change.
Each day grew worse, and I was struggling to accept being so unhappy at work. I came in every day with an open mind and left each day wishing I didn’t have to come back. Unlike my work at Go World Travel, where I got to learn every day and grow, where I got to take chances and work on real projects, I was only given busy work. After asking for more work, the only things I got to work on were ‘practice.’ Basically, if I was writing an article, someone above me was also writing one and theirs would be used. Mine would go in the looming folder of similar work on my computer that no one had time to look at.
I was told I needed to prove myself, but I couldn’t get my hands on any real assignments. Then my supervisor told me he didn’t ever ask to have an intern. It was that moment that I realized I was in a position where I wouldn’t have room to grow. Most people around me told me to stick it out, that this was just the way of the world, and that I was lucky to be at a government job. Some told me they’d love to be paid to do nothing. I didn’t feel lucky. I felt miserable.
So, I started applying to jobs I would actually love. I scoured listings every day after I came home from work until I was exhausted. I was barely sleeping, applying sometimes for four places a day, writing cover letter after cover letter. I applied for a job as a staff writer at Bustle in their Fashion and Identities section because it was one of my dream jobs. I figured so many people would apply, but every time I got a step farther in the application process, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
When I hit the three month mark I had set for myself on my calendar, I was startled at how comfortable I had gotten with the idea of not moving forward. I got an email about scheduling an interview for the job at Bustle, but in order to apply for the job, you needed open availability. I said I would have open availability in two weeks, did the interview, and quit my government job with only hope and confidence that I had done everything I could to get an opportunity I dreamed about.
After a little bit of time, the thought that I wouldn’t get the job creeped into my head. Had I quit my safe job to end up with nothing? This thought threatened to buckle me, but I realized I would much rather have gone after something I wanted and failed than watch it pass me by.
And then I got the offer letter. It made me realize that even if I hadn’t, I still would have been happy that I went after what I wanted. Now, I’m working at Go World Travel Magazine and Bustle, getting paid to write about things I am passionate about, see new perspectives, and push my limits. On top of that, I’m looking forward to starting a website and a podcast with my best friends in 2017."
Three pieces of advice for those looking for a career change:
1. Put in the work. If you come home from your day job every day and don’t put any work into your dreams, you can’t be surprised when they don’t happen. I know there will be days when you are so tired and feel like you can’t. But make time for your dreams and take steps forward, no matter how small, because your dreams matter.
2. Find your people. No one can do it alone, and if everyone around you is telling you not to take those big chances, you need to find some people that will encourage you to chase your dreams. Network and meet creative like-minded big dreamers like you. They’ll push you forward when you can’t push yourself.
3. "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room." You can look at this internally. If you really don’t feel like there’s anything left to gain in the room you’re in, you need a new room.