|Me at work, 19 years old, April 2003, 6:00 AM|
It's no wonder I became a skeptic.
When I made the decision at age fifteen to graduate a year early from high school and forgo a college degree, the teenager in me assumed that was the biggest fork in the road I’d face in my early adulthood: the decision to leave my peers, follow my passion and stumble down that less-trodden path. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I graduated high school when I was seventeen and, six months after my graduation, I moved to a small suburb of Dallas to pursue my equestrian career. My sole dream, from childhood onward, had been to ride horses professionally for a living. I figured out early on that I had to work with horses in order to be able to afford to ride them and during high school, I was taken in as a working-student by a professional rider who helped propel me into a professional riding career of my own. When I was eighteen, I moved back to Austin to help my former mentor start a new horse stable in West Austin, and helped it grow from a burgeoning business to a successful show barn with over forty horses and clients. Like any employee of a start-up, I found myself wearing more hats than I was initially hired for -- the riding I had always dreamed of doing for a living became secondary to negotiating hay and grain prices, examining profit and loss sheets, creating operations manuals and, as the company grew, managing several employees.
And so while my peers I left behind in 2001 were entering college, rushing and studying abroad, I was generating invoices in QuickBooks and learning to carry myself in a professional manner -- no easy feat for a nineteen year-old thrust into the business world arguably a bit too soon. They were not easy days and, in fact, some of the worst of my life. I was, more often than not, cold, lonely, poor and sad. But this time gave me something I think most people entering college at eighteen don't often have the chance to experience: a very good, long look at my capacity for work and my inconceivable ability to endure that which seemed unendurable.
Over the five years after I left high school, I found myself coming to a stark realization: Horses were my love, but my work was not meant to be done on the back of a horse. I found myself wondering what road I would take if I decided to get out of the horse business, trying to decide whether I should abandon the one dream I’d chased after my entire life. But in early 2006, the decision was made for me: I hurt my back and had to find a new career.
The first and only job I interviewed for was at another start-up that I found in an advertisement on Craigslist. It was for a company called PetRelocation.com and I decided to go interview for the position just to experience it -- after all, interviews weren’t exactly something the horse world prepared you for. The company was started in Austin by a husband-and-wife team and they were hiring their second full-time employee after two years of putting together a service that handled worldwide, door-to-door pet travel arrangements for people moving with their pets.
While I had very little experience working in an office (my CEO likes to joke that I came in with mud on my jeans for my second interview), I did have a strong selling point: I’d helped grow another pet-related business and I’d handled all of the logistics of deliveries, scheduling and travel to horse shows during the nearly five years I’d been working at the stables. They offered me the position as a “PetRelocation Specialist," I put in my two weeks’ notice at the horse stable and walked away from a business that I’d help grow from its inception. I also walked away from a family, thirty-seven four-legged creatures who might as well have been my own.
My favorite argument in high school, when people would ask me why I wasn’t going to college, was that “You don’t need a college degree to learn.” After nearly ten years of being out of high school, I still feel that way. In my free time, I’ve written this little blog and marketed my own personal brand, albeit one with a terrible name. A quick glance at how I used to write can tell you that, over the last five and a half years, I've honed my writing ability every time I put up a new post. At PetRelocation.com, I’ve gone from working in sales and customer service to directing the company’s marketing and public relations strategy. I’ve combined my penchant for writing with my interest in online communications to develop and build a brand. More importantly, I've learned how to communicate with my coworkers, and I'd like to think, occasionally lead them. And, with this blog post, I'm excited to share that I am moving on to a new role within PetRelocation.com as the Director of Operations. I will continue to oversee communications but will also get to pursue new challenges and strategies as we continue growing.
However, I’ve also learned where my blind spots are. I’ve learned that while I may have a strong skill set in online communications, I only have my own view of how a business structure should work. I know what I've learned by doing but I have very little frame of reference of what others have done. So I'm also excited to share another big announcement: Starting this week, I will begin classes at St. Edward's University New College, an undergraduate degree program for working adults. New College interested me because its name implies a “new” way of looking at college. It means that not everyone’s life fits a particular mold or timeline. It means that new ideas and new ways of looking at life and business are what help us build and improve upon the foundations we already have. And I have no words for how lucky I am to be employed by someone who believes in me enough to support me in this endeavor.
The best thing I've come to learn and believe in since high school is this: My education has never stopped since I finished that Senior Scrapbook. And no matter what anyone says or thinks of you or your qualifications at any point in time, the one thing we each still have left is our ability to learn. A few weeks ago I told an acquaintance I was going to college and he said "Good...I really do think that's your missing piece."
He was well-meaning, but completely wrong. That decision remains the biggest piece of who I am today and, no matter how many buckets of horse manure I had to shovel to get here, I am who I am because I took that road, and "because it was grassy and wanted wear."
Now I'm ready to walk down another one.