A wave of defensiveness and nausea took me off guard as I watched Perkins fade in the rear view mirror. Was it the excessive fries I just ate or the fact that I didn’t have an answer to my dad’s question that caused me to want to jump out of the moving vehicle?
“I realize you have a lot of options with a communications degree, Chels,” he said kindly, but then he turned from the front seat to look back at me, “but can you give me a specific example of a place you could work?”
Of course, I had BIG dreams. I had careers in mind— TV reporter, book author, and movie director— but no true plan of attack.
I didn’t want to give the impression, the truth, that I was clueless, and searched my mind for a quick answer. Suddenly, I was in my childhood bedroom pressing play on my cassette player and settling in for a new episode of Adventures in Odyssey. Then, I was flipping through the pages of Brio magazine. Such good memories and good content… where did those things come from?
“Focus on the Family!” I spit out. “Yeah, I could get a job there.”
The statistics were daunting that year—from the start of the recession in 2007, to present, December 2009, the number of unemployed had grown by 3.6 million, and the unemployment rate had risen by 2.3 percent (US Department of Labor). These facts made daily headlines, and I’m sure they are what prompted my dad’s pointed question. It was a bad time to be entering the job market.
Graduation, and my inevitable launch into the real world, seemed like a lifetime away, but my dad’s question made me realize it was time to get serious. My big ideas and dreams would never become a reality without a plan, experience, and acquired skills.
Take action & be bold
I started with the first thing on my list: TV reporter.
I was living in Oklahoma City the summer after my sophomore year. Upon arrival, I punched “TV station” into my cumbersome Garmin GPS and blindly followed its robotic commands. I found myself on the doorstep of Oklahoma City’s NBC affiliate. I walked in, asked to talk to a manager, shook some hands, and left with a start date. Awesome. But, it wasn’t paid. Not so awesome. I ended up waitressing full-time between shifts at the news station to pay rent.
Then, one humid, southern day I found myself on the doorstep of a mourning widow who had just lost her husband in some kind of newsworthy incident. I felt the microphone shake in my hand as I started to cry, too. That answered that. News was not my thing.
Gain as much experience as possible… even if it’s not paid
My OKC summer was far from a failure. I realized something I did not want to do, and walked away with real-life experience, a notebook full of contacts, and most importantly, direction. Still, I knew I needed more internships to help whittle down my list of potential jobs.
That fall I asked the coffee shop where I worked if I could help with their marketing. It was a win-win: free assistance for them, and a resume- and experience-builder for me.
Be tirelessly persistent
That pivotal conversation with my dad continued to nag at me. Working at Focus on the Family seemed out of reach, but I had to try. I watched closely for their internships to come available that next spring and applied for 7 of them. I called and talked with HR and anyone that would take my call. I wanted to learn more about the positions and get my name and voice on their radar. I was eventually offered two different positions.
That summer was filled with a lot more optimism than the last. I loved it at Focus and felt passionate and driven in my work with their millennial ministry, Boundless. The experience I received was invaluable, and I knew the contacts I made would do everything they could to get me back in the doors after graduation.
Don’t get over-confident
The daunting statistics I had been trying to ignore about unemployment rates hit me from an unexpected angle. A few weeks after the end of my internship at Focus, the entire team I worked with was laid off. There went many of my contacts.
Instead of effortlessly transitioning back to Focus after my May 2011 graduation, I ended up back on my family farm… eating cereal in my PJs… at 10am… on a Tuesday. What had happened? I had taken all the right steps, and still, there I sat. Unemployed, unshowered, and underwhelmed. I sat at the kitchen table for hours searching Monster and Indeed, sending my resume out to countless companies.
My dad breezed into the kitchen that morning to grab some coffee. “Remember—It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” I wasn’t thankful for the reminder that sending out my resume to random places was as fruitful as trying to plant flowers in sawdust. But as the door slammed behind my dad on his way out, the name of a Dordt grad who had an online marketing business in Sioux Falls triggered in my memory. (Insert Holy Spirit light bulb emoji.)
Get out from behind your computer
I Googled this alumnus’s name and found his business online. After a few minutes I had some quick facts and a phone number. Within 10 minutes I left a voicemail. Within the week I was at the business doorstep asking for an internship that didn’t exist. Within two weeks I was living in Sioux Falls and working for Click Rain.
Be willing to compromise
Thankfully, this internship was paid, but it was still an internship (not what I had planned on for after graduation), and it wasn’t going to pay the bills. I had to find two other part-time jobs. It felt crazy, but I knew it was a step in the right direction.
♫ “Don’t stop believin’…” ♫
After almost a year of online marketing, I had a skill set I never planned on acquiring. I continued to watch Focus on the Family’s job board daily and sent regular emails to the few contacts that remained at the ministry. I could not let them forget about me.
Then, on a sunny, spring day, en route to Click Rain from the cupcake shop where I worked mornings, I received a phone call offering me a full-time job at Focus on the Family.
My dream had become a reality.
I thought the rest would be history—that I would work my way up the corporate ladder and retire with a big party thrown by the characters of Adventures in Odyssey. But, life and plans changed. My husband got a new job, we had to move, and I went through another season of joblessness (where I even got turned down to be a plumber’s personal assistant— true story).
This jobless season was much different. My years of internships and odd jobs to pay the bills added up to a diverse and marketable skill set. I was able to take all I had learned and turn it into my own marketing consulting and freelance business. God’s provision and guiding hand through it all was unmistakable.
My 19-year-old self would laugh at my life today: stay-at-home mama/consultant who works 1-2 days a week and lives in Iowa (not my plan!). But I would not have it any other way. My path here perfectly prepared me for now, for this dream job.
View life as an adventure, not a destination
My exodus from my “dream job” at Focus initially felt like a failure, until I allowed myself to see it as a beginning—a big step toward the next big thing.
View each job and each life stage as a learning lab. Soak everything in, learn what you can, and don’t get caught up in titles and expectations. Go where your Maker leads, and enjoy chasing the passions and dreams He has put inside of you. Following His plan is so much more exciting than our own.