When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I feel like I've always wanted to be a lot of different things, I've never been able to pinpoint exactly one thing that I wanted to do. I did write all my college essays about how I wanted to be an engineer. I thought that I wanted to go into underdeveloped areas and help build their town and cities, so I thought civil engineering was my path.
I was really involved in my church, so I did mission trips to Mexico and around the US, but the big one I did was to South Africa. That was my first time in Africa, and we went to the outskirts of Johannesburg, and it needed a lot of work. Their water and trash systems were all government regulated and not done properly. For me, I thought my future was was going to be in helping to develop these areas and put together a better infrastructure.
How did you decide to attend Virginia Tech?
When I was originally applying to schools, even when I was just touring, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I didn't know whether I wanted to go to a big school, a small school. I went to a very typical public high school. It was as average I feel like of a high school as you could have gotten. I ended up applying to schools in Vermont, Maine, Michigan, Ohio. I thought I really wanted to be in the Northeast. I did apply to some in-state, too, including Virginia Tech, just for the sake of being the oldest child and wanting to be close to my family and younger siblings. I actually applied to Virginia Tech before I had even visited. It was more my backup school.
The first time I went, once I got into Tech, I remember walking onto the college campus and seeing everyone in maroon and orange T-shirts and pants. It was the most school spirit I had ever seen. I could feel the energy, and I just got so excited. It was also a year after the shooting, and I think that brought the school together in such a positive way. A whole bunch of my friends went there, too, which helps, I think. It went from being my backup school to my top choice.
How did you choose your major?
I was looking at engineering, but engineering at Virginia Tech is super hard to get into. In high school I was a very solid B student because I probably didn't put the effort in to be an A student. So I ended up going a different route, and got in as an undecided [major].
When I started really thinking about what I wanted to do, I came across the communications major. I had done newspaper all four years in high school. I was the editor-in-chief and I loved it, which is also how I got into design further down the road. I loved always being the first one to know everything, I loved being able to put something out to people. And I loved the design portion of communications. It felt like a great route to go. I did probably two semesters of [communications] and then they make you choose your specialty major. I remember looking at the curriculum and all the classes that you have to take for all the different options, and I hated every single one of the classes. That's how I realized it wasn't for me.
So I ended up switching over to marketing management, which is in the business school. My dad has always said my entire life that in order to make money you have to be as close to money as possible. He wanted me to do finance; I decided on marketing. I loved it. And then I ended up having enough credits to do a real estate minor. My family moved a lot, so I spent a lot of time with realtors, and I thought, "Oh, flipping houses is something that could be a useful skill."
How did you get from college to where you are now?
During my freshman year, I needed a job, and Cutco Knives had these billboards and flyers up all over the place. I called them up, and ended up working for them over winter break freshman year. I just needed money, something to keep me going. I lived next to a Burger King, and I ended up putting more money into Burger King than into my dining hall. So I sold Cutco knives, and I was really good at it.
I graduated with no idea of exactly what I wanted to do with my life, but I didn't want to jump into sales. I wanted to do management, because I thought that I would be good at bringing people together and working out issues.
I started at Kroger, the grocery store, and I stayed there for three months. It was a rotation program where you do every single job. I stocked shelves, I was a butcher, I drove the little cart in the back, everything. I was on a staff with three other managers, and me, a little 21-year-old, in charge of 600 people. It was such an interesting experience, but I realized it wasn’t for me. Three months in, I quit.
Then I started looking into the sales route. Once I really started looking at my resume, I realized it lined up perfectly to go into real estate, kind of oddly even though I didn't plan it that way. I’d had two internships, both in real estate. One was in residential, and one was in commercial real estate. And with the minor in real estate, it was pretty obvious that that was something I was interested in. I found a company that I loved, CBRE, and I applied to them in every office that I had any interest in living in, because they're a huge international real estate company.
I applied to this company obsessively, but I didn't get anything so I ended up taking a job as an associate at an apartment building where I would give tours of the apartments. All I wanted at that point was to get up to DC, move out of my parents' house, and have something to do. I was there for three days. I was still in the training program when CBRE offered me a job and I quit immediately.
I started as a client services coordinator, which is a fancy name for an assistant. I was doing a lot of graphics, making flyers, which I had learned from high school actually. It was an interesting blend of all the skills I had, but I knew I wanted to be a broker in the end.
I moved into the downtown DC office, and joined a young team with only three people on the team. I was doing all the sales, I was negotiating, I was giving tours of office buildings. For example, you know LivingSocial? They were in one of my client's buildings. I would do a tour with LivingSocial, walk them through the space, show them how many people they could fit on the floor. A lot of times they were companies who weren't familiar with DC, so I'd talk a lot about the location. DC's very historic, obviously, so there are stories behind why the streets are named what they are, and the history of all the buildings. I'd dive into a lot of the fun facts. I won a few awards at CBRE, and we signed the biggest lease in commercial real estate history, so that was really exciting.
I did that for four years, and then I got bored. I've never lived anywhere for longer than four years, so I was itching for something new, ready for a new challenge. Something to give me a new spark. Then I heard about We Roam, and here I am.
One of the things that I really missed when I was in real estate was the creative side. For me, it was pretty obvious that I wanted to get back into the more creative side of marketing, and once I talked to my parents about it, they actually had a spot as marketing director in their company that they needed someone to take over and do all the graphics on their website for them.
I've never really been taught graphic design outside of working on the newspaper in high school and exploring all of the Adobe products myself. It's been fun to really dive into this new stuff. Like I made a movie for the first time the other day about office furniture.
Now that We Roam is ending, I think I'm ready to move on to the next thing. I love graphic design and I think I'll continue that forever, but I think it would be really interesting to get into event planning. I've done a lot of events this year that I really enjoyed putting together, and I found a new form of creativity in that. That might mean going into a more solid marketing role, maybe with a startup. That's what I'm looking at now.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
There are so many ways to get where you're trying to go, and I love that. I wish people would be more thoughtful about their own path, because there isn't just one.
When I went in to do engineering, it was so based on the experiences I had had right at that time when I was applying for colleges. I went on that big mission trip right in the summer of my junior year. It was so fresh in my mind, and I really thought that that was what I wanted to do, and it couldn't have been further from the truth. I’ve found plenty of other ways to volunteer and make a difference in the world without having to build cities in South Africa. For me, I couldn't get past what I had seen at that one moment.
If I had spent more time volunteering or trying out the journalism side or the engineering side, I might have figured out earlier on what my path should have been. I think it's so okay to not know. I think back to myself at 17, and I think of how absolutely clueless I felt, and I'm still as clueless probably as I was back then about my next step, but I think that's totally okay. Looking around, I felt like everyone had it together, but it's okay to not know what you're doing.
I also think you should take advice from people around you, too. I remember talking to my journalism teacher, and she talked about marketing at one point in time, and I brushed it off and didn't really think much about it until I ended up in marketing. Listen to the people around you, because they might know you better than you know yourself.