When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I was in a program at my high school called KDGN, which was basically our broadcast service to the high school. We made a video every day, kind of a news program, kind of fun stuff, what’s going on in the school, on campus. My teacher, Ms. Rose, who was just incredible, was the journalism teacher. She focused on traditional broadcast journalism, while allowing us to do fun, goofy, high school stuff. I loved that. I loved creating things every day, I loved not sitting at a desk. We got to leave campus, we got to come up with really fun skits. I was always in those creative and kind of nerdy classes, and this was a way to do that and have it be cool.
I loved [Ms. Rose], and she was kind of grooming us to be journalists and producers, so I thought that was something I wanted to do. She told me that I had a curiosity for finding information and a very calm presence and people trusted me, and that I would do really well as a journalist. And I kind of took that to heart.
How did you decide to attend University of Missouri?
Ms. Rose told us all that we needed to go to the University of Missouri, which has the best journalism program in the country - she went there. Well, I didn’t listen to her. I was scared, it was so far away [from Dallas], and I was the first one to go to school for four years in my family so I was scared to make that big jump. I actually went to University of Oklahoma first, based primarily on the fact that it was only two hours away and half my school was going there. I kind of got lost in that shuffle of going the route that everyone else was going, which was a horrible choice.
I got [to University of Oklahoma] and it just didn’t feel right. The program for journalism wasn’t really developed yet. They were trying, but I felt like I’d already learned everything in Ms. Rose’s class, and they were focusing on stuff that was almost obsolete. So I made the decision to transfer to Mizzou at the end of the semester.
Transferring wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. What’s kind of funny, being so far from Texas, we had 30 people who went to Mizzou because of [Ms. Rose]. So I felt safe in that way, I knew other people who were going. But I will say, driving 10 hours by myself in my car every time I wanted to go home, that helped me grow as a person. And I don’t think you have to go really far away to experience that, but for me it really helped me do that, and I think it was because of the distance from my family and my home base.
I loved Mizzou. The campus is beautiful, Columbia, Missouri really only exists because of the school and it’s a great little supportive community. But the winters are awful. I called [my dad] my first week (because it was January), and I said, “Dad, you know that big box of ski stuff we have in the attic? You need to send that to me. I need a parka, I need a hat.” Winters in Texas are comical compared to [Missouri]. But I survived, and I loved my experience there.
How did you choose your major?
I started out as a broadcast journalist, because that’s what Ms. Rose thought I should do. And in my first broadcast class, my [professor] went up to the front of the room and said, “If you want to make any money and you want to have your weekends off and you want to not work on holidays and you want to not wake up at 3:00 in the morning, get out of my classroom.” And I took to heart what he said, which was his point – he was trying to weed out the people who weren’t passionate because it’s not an easy path.
I ended up taking the class, but at the end of that semester when we had to select our track, something wasn’t fitting with me with broadcast [journalism]. I still loved the curiosity of journalism, and finding out information, and writing, and the creative side of it. But my parents were also saying, “Maybe you should look at what you could do in that area that would serve you best when you graduate.” I decided on a marketing track in the journalism school called strategic communication. They focused on PR and content development, marketing, and little bit of finance. There were classes that were harder than others; finance in particular was difficult for me - I’m not a math person. But I loved all my writing classes, my graphic design classes, my investigative journalism classes, the history of journalism. And I took some psychology classes on the side, which I loved, and I took a film class. I did what I wanted, I found what I was interested in and made it work for my college experience. And it was great.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
So I graduated with a degree in strategic communication and a minor in multicultural studies. That was 2012, so right in the middle of the recession. That was a great time to graduate. Most of my friends had moved home, so that’s what I did. I applied [for jobs], but nothing really shot out and said this is for you.
I had done an internship with Kimberly Clark under my aunt, which was really awesome. I got to live in Houston, and she was in sales so I got to see the sales side of business. I don’t think I have the personality for that, so I learned that quickly. I also did a social media guerilla marketing campaign my senior year and that was really fun. The only thing I really thought I was good at was social media, writing and making something look pretty, presentable, tweaking images and wording, I liked all of that. And in my capstone project, I was the social media coordinator for our product. And that just fell in my lap, like, “Kaitlan, you like to write, you take pretty pictures, here you go.”
So I was applying for jobs and I was having a really hard time finding anything, like a lot of people were, and I ended up being a substitute teacher for half a year. I actually really love middle school, which is usually the grade people are afraid of. They’re so vulnerable and sweet and awkward, and middle school was really hard for me so I just related to them. But I didn’t go to school for that, so it was really just a way for me to work and apply and have a flexible schedule.
My aunt heard of a job opening for a marketing-related position at a company in Houston called iOFFICE, and asked me if I wanted to apply. They called me in to interview, and I did a presentation for them about social media. I had done a couple Prezi presentations [in college], which are really visually stimulating. So I created a Prezi for them on my capstone and the product I did the guerrilla marketing for to show them my expertise in getting a brand out there and creating awareness and cultivating a voice in the market, and they loved it.
So I took the job in Houston, and everything was going fine. I was given free rein to take over all our social media. And I remember, it had been a couple months and I was sitting at my desk and I thought, “Is this it? Am I going to sit at this desk forever?” And I kind of had a panic moment. I had really liked teaching, and I missed the kids, I missed the variety of my day, being in a different classroom, not being at the same desk, the same everything. So I had this grand idea and I approached my boss and said, “What if I did both jobs?” Do this job part-time, and still substitute teach back in Dallas. I thought she was going to laugh, and say that was ridiculous. But she said, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
I moved to being a contract employee. I got to see all the students I had developed relationships with, and all the teachers. I was actually a long-term sub for one school, and they kept me in the same age group and I bounced around. I think the best thing for me was the variety. It was a challenge every day, it was different every day. I usually worked morning shifts there and then worked for iOFFICE in the afternoon. It was so stimulating to be doing something that was so different.
But I had an obsession with California. I went out there when I was 19 and we did Highway 1, flew to LA and drove to San Francisco. And I thought, “Oh my god, is this a place where people live?” It was so amazing. So I told my company, “I’m moving to San Francisco, and I understand if I can’t stay with the company, but this is just something I have to do.” And they said, “Just work from there.” So I moved and I worked from home, and it was great.
I loved San Francisco. I was in San Francisco for a year and a half, and now I’ve been in Orange County for two years. My company has been so wonderful because they trusted me, and they’ve given me this opportunity to travel and live in different places and not have it affect my career. I’ve been given so much freedom and I’m so grateful for that.
I didn’t know that this job existed, I didn’t know you could work away from your office, I didn’t know you could do two jobs at once and it would be okay. And I travel back to Houston quite a bit, so that’s nice, and we have conferences that I attend. It gets me out of a desk, which is what I think I needed this whole time. And it all happened in a wonderful way.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I think I’m glad I didn’t do everything as I was told. At first I went to OU because everyone else was going and it was an easy choice. But I realized it wasn’t for me. A lot of people would have said, “Oh it’s fine, it’s too hard to move.” But I didn’t just brush off that feeling of this isn’t right.
And then again when I was sitting in my office and I was going to the same place every day and I was doing the same thing every day, something just didn’t feel right. I was longing for something else. And even when I was living in Orange County, I was longing to travel, longing for this experience of living in another country and We Roam came up. So listen to what you want and don’t be afraid to ask for it is what I would say. Never be afraid to ask for what you think you deserve.
Some people go to school right away, some people take a gap year, or go to a couple different schools, or change majors halfway through. And everyone looks at this and says, “Oh, you’re not doing the four-year program you’re supposed to do.” But I only know two people who did that four-year program, who are doing what they decided to do when they went to school freshman year. And I’m happy for them. But that’s not the rule, that’s the exception.
When you graduate from high school or college, you’re left with this big choice to make, and it’s easy to just follow the path of what everyone else is doing. I don’t want to be corny, but listen to what you want and what makes you excited and what speaks to you. It’ll eventually fall into place.