I have always found writing to be a great way to make meaning of my world. As an introvert, I tend to live a lot in my head asking questions like, “Who am I, really?” and, “Am I living out my true purpose?” It only made sense that I used writing to help me identify and grow my career as well.
I studied video and film in college. After graduation, I was ready to take on the world through producing important documentaries about refugees in middle America and demonstrating how youth were taking the lead in the green movement. Instead I found myself in a year-long job running errands for big TV executives in New York City. On the days I felt I didn’t have enough energy to make yet another coffee run, I got back in touch with my desire to travel, learn a new language and culture, and serve in some meaningful way. I put that desire to action when I found a local paper advertising the next recruitment meeting for the Peace Corps. Every cell in my body screamed YES to the opportunity to spend 2 years abroad immersed in anything that was a far cry from my boring life in America. I successfully applied and was assigned to work in a remote village in French speaking Togo, West Africa where I supported women owned shea butter cooperatives with basic business and literacy skills.
How your heart, experiences and voice can help change the world
Returning home shortly after the 9/11 tragedy was quite a shock because I was forced to pick a career based on all that I had experienced living in a remote West African village. Teaching women how to make cookstoves made from sun-baked mud just wasn’t as marketable as, say, website design. I turned to writing in my journal as a way to deal with the culture shock and depression of the realization that a “regular job” could never be as fulfilling as what I had done in the Peace Corps. For 2 to 3 years, I floundered between dead end temp jobs still looking for “my thing.”
One day I ran into another Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who told me all about a graduate certificate program focused on adult education at a local university. It was all about teaching un- and underemployed adults the skills they needed to be successful in the modern workplace. This included basic literacy, preparation for the high school equivalency exam, job training, parenting skills, etc. I was all over it! I had no idea that I could do work in the US that was so similar to what I had done as a volunteer in Togo. Shortly after enrolling in the graduate program, I found a job teaching literacy and tech skills to homeless adults in Washington, DC. It felt great to finally have found purpose in my work after several years of feeling like I was meandering nowhere fast.
I discovered blogging around 2005. I started blogging on a whim because I had read somewhere online that it could help me gain a professional identity. All the online career advice I read boasted about the benefits of personal branding and doing what you loved. While I clearly loved my work as a teacher, I wanted to be a stronger voice in education, not just in DC, but around the world.
I found that blogging was a great way for me to hone my voice, craft my message, and really get into the specifics of what impact I wanted to make in the world. If you want to know how to use writing in your search for meaning in your career, here are my top 3 suggestions.
1.) Go where your heart is drawn to serve.
The first step to finding a career that will change the world is to get involved in places where your heart is drawn to serve. While working as an adult educator was not the most lucrative profession, I had a deep passion for working with adults who were ready to change their lives with literacy and new job skills. Their decision to change their lives had a profound impact on their children and future generations.
Remember to keep your heart and mind on service when “saving the world” seems to be a bit too much for even the strongest social justice warrior to handle. We all play our part in making the world a better place, however if you are looking for a quick fix, you will be quickly disappointed. What got me through tough times like budget cuts, government red tape, and organizational policies that just didn’t seem fair was the people I connected with. There were so many other people who were clearly not in this work for the paycheck. My students were the greatest shining light. Many of them battled unstable homes, illness, depression, child care problems, and more, all while insisting on getting the education they somehow missed in their youth. If nothing else, I showed up everyday ready to serve them.
2.) Don’t be shy about having a strong opinion about your work experiences.
The second step in finding a career that can change the world is to be boldly opinionated when writing about your experiences. As far as my blogging was concerned, all the setbacks and incongruencies in policies in education, housing, health, and other areas made for great content matter. I used blogging because I wanted to be able to share my thoughts with decision makers — government officials, other teachers, education administrators, media, etc. Sure, I could have written about my frustrations in a personal journal, however I never would have had the opportunity to use my blog posts as inspiration for testimonials before the local council, meet other teachers in other states experiencing many of the same issues, or connect with other education reformists. Sharing my writing on purpose started to break me out of my introverted shell. The more I wrote online, the more people saw me as influential.
3.) Focus on high quality writing, not going viral.
The third step to finding a career that can change the world is to focus on high quality writing. Nowadays the blogosphere is chock full of how-to content on making your blog posts go viral. While visibility is important for any writer, your focus should always be on providing great content on a consistent basis. This starts with having something interesting to say. Don’t be afraid to applaud the underdog or tell the truth about what everybody is getting wrong in your industry. Show commitment to your craft by creating a regular writing schedule. The right people will notice you when you make a commitment to honor your writing with the attention it deserves. Be adamant about asking how you can use your voice and your blog to serve.
Blogging has changed a ton since I began in 2005. Social media, in general, has grown to a point where you are inundated with new tools and platforms everyday. However I still believe in the power of creating a simple blog and writing your way into a career that will change the world. There is something about writing that gives you authority in the eyes of those making hiring decisions. Not only was I able to find jobs, but I was also able to find short-term consultancies, speaking engagements, and even used my blogging to start my own writing and consulting business. None of these things would have happened had I not taken the first steps to blogging. So go on! Be bold in declaring what it is you want out of your career. The whole world is waiting for you to find the nerve so you can start making the difference you were sent here to make.