This week’s post is unique in that I had no intention of writing this blog post until several people asked for my full career story when completing the reader survey I sent out two weeks ago. Half surprised and half flattered, I'm jumping right in. Some bits and pieces you may recognize but much of it will be new. I'm going way back, so let's go.
I’ll start by saying I’ve never been one for realistic career paths.
The first thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a mermaid. I had a difficult time accepting that when I became an adult, I couldn’t live underwater in a coral reef. I continued to swim in my Little Mermaid one-piece and put my legs together to flip them back and forth in my pool.
As you can see, I’ve always had a wild imagination and I’ll admit, a flair for the dramatic. While some kids had big dreams of being a doctor, lawyer, or architect, I switched dreams as fast as you could say hot potato, passing them to the side with full abandon.
To save us both some time (and your own sanity), let’s fast forward to high school.
As a self-proclaimed choir kid, I spent all of my free time either on stage or rehearsing by a piano. Singing was my most beloved creative outlet and it quite literally saved me from intense bullying and cyberbullying I was experiencing at the time. It was the light in my everyday life. I contemplated pursuing a career in music whether it was as a music teacher, worship team leader, or a performer myself.
While I spent several hours singing everyday as a first soprano (no, I wasn’t Mariah Carey but I wasn’t half bad!), I started to notice my vocal chords were slowly failing me. I suffered from allergies so I thought maybe it would get better after the fall but it didn’t. A few months in, my range was nearly non-existent so I went to two doctors and they both told me I had mild vocal damage from singing outside of my natural range which put an incredible amount of strain on my voice over the years.
To say I was devastated is the biggest understatement of the year. The doctors mentioned surgeries but my family and I agreed that I’d deal with it naturally. Still to this day, I can only sing for about 5-10 minutes without pain. It was difficult to let go of my creative outlet but the silver lining was that it pushed me to experiment with new creative talents I hadn’t had the time to truly cultivate.
With my dreams of a music career behind me, I found myself immersed in writing, more specifically poetry. The first time I saw my poems in a booklet was in 4th grade and the first time I called myself a writer was in 7th grade. Poetry had always been there for me and it was waiting for me to return to it. Even though I had a heavy class load my senior year, I always made the time for free verse writing.
Around this time, I had also made big strides in refueling my self-worth despite the damage caused from bullying and cyberbullying over the years. I was starting to be more comfortable in my skin and even started to take small modeling gigs! I walked around school in pretty sundresses with high heels on my feet. #byehaters
I quickly found myself entranced by the fashion industry and dreamed of becoming the next editor-in-chief of Vogue, largely due to my obsession with The Devil Wears Prada. I wasn’t quite sure of any career path at this point but this seemed to be my best bet. I decided to attend University of Wisconsin-Stout in order to pursue a double major in Retail Merchandising and Journalism to make it a reality.
After just one semester, my passion for the retail merchandising side of my education had faded and it only took another semester for my passion for fashion to fade almost completely. It absolutely took me by surprise, making me realize that I had no clue what I wanted to do. My friends joke that I lost my passion for fashion because I was introduced to yoga pants this year but of course, I knew there was something deeper.
All I knew was I wanted a career where I was able to shift along with my passions. Journalism still seemed like a relatively good fit but one night over dinner, my mom asked, “Why don’t you look into PR?” to which I said, “PR? What’s that?” This led me to be very understanding of friends who would later ask the same exact question at every. single. dinner. party.
After a month or so of research, a liberal arts degree seemed to be right up my alley so I planned to transfer to Minnesota State University, Mankato in the spring. Mind you, this was in a span of about 2 months. I’ve always had a habit for embracing change, ready or not.
My PR degree was underway and I quickly realized it was a much better fit. I got a great communications specialist job with the university’s academic program within my first month which really kickstarted my career. The job alone was a good enough reason to make the transfer worth it.
During this time, I also launched my first professional blog (besides my poetry and personal Tumblr blog which doesn’t totally count) called uPRise PR in December 2013 with a sweet gal who graduated from the same high school a year after me. She had the savviness in the event planning and networking realm while I was all about the writing, strategy, and social media campaigns.
My PR classes were going well and the blog had taken off but a few months in, I realized my co-founder and I had different visions for where the blog was headed. She started to wonder if PR was the best fit for her and I completely understood, seeing as I had changed my career path more times than I’d like to count. *shakes head*
We decided to dissolve the blog and work on our own projects but thankfully still kept our friendship. This experience taught me a lot about collaboration and gave me the confidence to launch my own PR brand, exPRession PR, a week later. I repeat, a week later. My co-founder and I had spent over 6 months planning our first blog but my passion for blogging was so big, I knew I had to get something out ASAP.
While growing my blog, I had two internships, a part-time job, and full-time school while also starting to write what would soon become Brave Little Bones, my first poetry collection. I had a lot of balls in the air but I loved it that way.
I also started working for a small marketing firm in Minneapolis during the summer and they hired me to work remotely from Mankato in my last semester. I got a taste for working from home and completely loved it.
Thoughts of someday taking my PR blog full-time filled me with joy while I worked through the last of my degree. Being that the marketing firm was a small business, I also got an inside look into what it could be like to own a business someday, an experience for which I’m incredibly grateful. I graduated in December 2014 and was hired full-time at the marketing firm.
2015 was a huge year for me. In January, I launched a Twitter chat called #createlounge after participating in PR and social media themed chats for a year and a half. There weren’t any at the time for creative bloggers and side hustlers like myself so I decided to launch the community I needed.
Two months after graduating, I got a phone call from a PR agency in town who had seen my blog and Twitter and liked my work. After two interviews and many HR phone calls, I was hired and left my marketing firm job. The agency was located in the heart of Minneapolis and I quickly fell in love with the city. I’ll always be grateful to the agency for giving me the extra push to explore the town, despite my best efforts to move down south after college.
As my personal brand started to ramp up, I saw an overwhelming amount of possibility with my blog and #createlounge. I knew I couldn’t keep working 70-80 hours at the agency and all nights and weekends on my brand at a sustainable, healthy pace so I started to lean more into the idea of owning a business.
I’ve always been a self-starter but if you ask anyone close to me, they wouldn’t exactly call me “business-minded.” While I’m great at marketing and creative directing, I was afraid of the business side of things: invoices, scheduling, contracts, oh my! My family and friends were skeptical and at times I was too, but I kept pushing through and pouring into my online community.
In the summer when I asked my community what they knew me for, to my surprise their answer wasn’t “social media” or even “blogging”. It was community building. I knew I wanted to focus on one-on-one work so I set out to make a community and brand coaching business plan in the fall to then launch in the winter.
I told myself that if I could book at least three months worth of coaching clients, I could quit my agency job. I was able to book that far in advance before even officially launching my sales page. I was in a pretty good financial place with a comfortable nest egg after paying off all of my student debt months before (yay!) so I thought “Why not?” I put in my two weeks notice in December the week after officially launching my services.
2016 Kayla (so far)
My agency asked if I could stay full-time with them until the end of January to get through a big event season for a client and if I wanted to work part-time thereafter. I hadn’t known that was an option but the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. The same week I started working part-time was the week we heard the client I was working 100% on had decided to take all of their social media work in-house because of company transitions. I had just warmed up to the idea of working part-time and making the transition only to make another transition. Such is life!
The absolutely incredible thing this experience taught me is that nothing is permanent. You have to be willing to roll with the punches because many things don’t go to plan, even when you choose the “safe route”. I officially began working for myself in April and it took me about a month and a half to really settle into the right mindset.
Since then, it’s been a lot of high ups, like launching createlounge.com and seeing the community grow to insane heights (even locally!) while helping my coaching clients do the same, and really low lows, like questioning why the heck I chose this path and how in the world am I going to make this sustainable long-term.
Throughout it all, I wouldn’t go back and change my decision. Self-employment has taught me more about myself in the first three months than most of my life so far.
I hope by sharing my career story, it can help you feel more confident in the twists and turns in your own. My story isn’t over yet and neither is yours.
If you’re currently thinking about taking the leap or want to create a side hustle, feel free to reach out through email. I’d love to help encourage and support you along the way. I know it can be difficult but it can also be incredibly worth it. I can’t wait to get to know you and your story.