I graduated from college during the height of the Great Recession. Then tornadoes devastated my community. With a degree in hand but ill-equipped, I stumbled into disaster relief work. I had no idea that a trend had just started.
After spending a month helping the community, I began my career search. And I couldn't find anything despite going on numerous interviews.
Soon, I found that hiring managers were looking for experienced candidates or for a specific skill (e.g., the Adobe Creative Suite). It reinforced what my internship supervisor had told me. She recommended two things: learn Adobe Flash and postpone graduate school. Her concern was if I pursued grad school directly, I would be overqualified for entry-level jobs.
Unperturbed, I enrolled in a career institute to learn digital multi-media design (ostensibly, the Adobe Creative Suite). It would complement my public relations and mass communication undergraduate work perfectly.
Everything was great for a time. I was learning what I wanted: graphic design, photography, video editing, and web design. Towards the end of the program, I built a cool Flash portfolio website that I was sure was going to land me an exciting job. Then Steve Jobs released the iPad, igniting a sixteen-month cold war between Apple and Adobe. With a now useless portfolio, I was left reeling. That’s when things got worse.
One sunny afternoon, during my last week, I drove to school only to discover that it failed to make payroll and was going out of business. I may have gained valuable experience but received no credential.
So, I resumed searching for a job. Surprised, I gained traction. I was one of four finalists for a technical writing job for a Department of Energy (DOE) contractor that worked with Nuclear Submarines. In the interview, the head writer told me he liked my resume and my experience with XHTML (something I had learned at the career institute).
Unfortunately, I didn’t land any of the jobs. I was discouraged. I needed that certificate taken from me when the career institute went bust. I enrolled in a web designer program at a community college. Immediately, I was frustrated. Enrolling in the program would delay me a year. Twelve months before I had the credential that I might need to convince an employer to hire me. Now, the college wanted me to take a redundant computer literacy class that taught Microsoft Office.
After I earned my web designer certificate, I was confident things would change for the better. Almost immediately, I landed a contract at an insurance company because of my Microsoft Office experience. The project manager needed someone to edit and reformat every procedure for the launch of an internal website. The useless class had given me the training needed to complete the job.
Afterwards, the insurance company offered me a contract for a different job. I turned it down. Instead, I became a one-person marketing department for a strategic acquisition firm. Now, my Adobe training paid off as I designed flyers, brochures, case studies, and service offerings for the launch of the firm’s new website. I was improving at my craft every week.
Soon things changed. With the new website complete, work slowed, and the firm suspended all marketing.
Within a few weeks, I secured a job as an Email Marketing Specialist for a compliance training service provider. The Web Designer certificate I had earned at the community college and the WordPress sites I had managed as a one-person marketing department helped me land the job.
After nearly three years on the job, I felt unfulfilled. It was time to resume my education. I enrolled in a program to earn an MS in Interactive Media and Communication. Then I was laid off. My employer expanded too quickly, and the market dived.
In under a month, I was moving 100 miles to start a new, better job in a different state. The website I had built to get into grad school had—by chance—convinced a digital marketing agency to hire me and led to a new experience, business to consumer (B2C) marketing.
Now, I've earned a master's degree. A recession, tornadoes, a school bankruptcy, and layoffs led to valuable experience and unanticipated expertise. If my not uncommon story illustrates anything, it’s that misfortune and mishaps often mask growth opportunities. Even without luck—and through mishaps—a person with a healthy work ethic will find opportunity.
I don’t know what will happen in the future. But I know as long as I take that first step, it doesn’t matter if I stumble.