When you were 17, what did you want to be?
Honestly, I wanted to practice law. It was the only way I could see out of the situation I was in. The way I grew up, the options were: you could be a wife and mother and that was it. You could be a schoolteacher or a secretary before that, like in waiting to be a wife or mother.
However, I knew these Christian attorneys, and I thought, “Oh, that's something I could do that's not these other two options. I want to do that.” They had come to our church in the past as special speakers about religious rights and helping the church figure out how to advocate for themselves in U.S. and they represented pastors who were involved in scandals.
So it was very early on when I thought no, just marriage and kids – that’s definitely not for me. I actually interned at a law firm in Florida for a summer before I went to college. I thought that I could do this as a woman, even though all the women at that law firm were paralegals, not attorneys. And the two women I saw at that law firm were both single, so there was no requirement for the child and family thing. And they were all in their mid-thirties. So I thought, “Okay, maybe I could do this.” And I got to go to Florida, so that was cool.
How did you decide to attend West Coast College?
Growing up, we were pretty conservative and we went to church all the time. As I got older, it got gradually worse and the church figures were more dynamic, like the sort of figures you think of in a cult. And it was a very, very one-way street as far as education goes. Nothing was tolerated.
The school that offered the law program was Christian, but it wasn’t conservative enough for my parents. So I ended up going to a really conservative school and I just agreed to everything because I wanted to leave. It wasn't until three or four years after college that I realized I could have gone to any school I wanted and gotten a scholarship. But I had no idea that was an option.
Our dress code at West Coast was very, very strict. We had to wear pantyhose every single day in the desert. And it was freaking hot. And it was really windy, so we weren't allowed to wear full skirts. But your skirt couldn't be too tight because then it would show your form. You had to sign out every single time you left the campus and then say what time you were going to be back, and if you weren't back in time you got a demerit. And we'd have Bible study every day of the week. It was like rules upon rules.
How did you choose your major?
My school had church counseling, obviously, and missionary studies. They had a secretarial path and teaching, of course. I took a lot of counseling classes, as many as I could basically. There was one level that only men could take, so I took the three that girls were allowed to take. Those were my favorite classes. I took a lot of coaching classes like volleyball and basketball coaching. And I took a lot of electives, basically, toward a general degree in communications.
Once I got out of the house and had access to information - even though it was still very limited – I realized I had so many more options. And then I didn't know what I wanted to do, because I wanted to do everything. And I'm still like that. I still want to do everything, to learn everything. Maybe it was the result of not having options as a kid, so now I want to do all of them.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I graduated in 2008 in the middle of the crash and it was really hard to find a job in California. I looked, and it was terrible. So I went online, and I joined a nanny organization. They called me and did an interview and then sent my profile to families, and I could view their profiles as well. I got chosen to come and live with this family in New York and be their nanny. I went for about three months, and it was really terrible. After three months, the director of the agency told me to leave. And so I did.
Almost immediately, she placed me with a family in DC, and I was their nanny for a year. They have three boys, and they’re like my DC family now. While I was their nanny, I was also interning at a local magazine and at an ecommerce site. I did mostly content writing and then social media stuff.
That was right at the beginning of companies figuring out that they could be on social media and reach customers. I got into that and I learned a lot about SEO and basically taught myself my job. I started consulting, and after the year with that family, I told them I wasn’t going to renew again. I wanted to try this thing on my own.
When I first went to DC, I knew no one. I had been on Twitter very off and on. But then I realized that there was actually a really big community around social media, And it was still so new that everyone was buzzing about it. So I started going to meetups on Twitter, a tweetup is what they called them. And in the evenings, I would go into DC to networking events, not even for the purpose of jobs. I just wanted to meet people. And I think every job that I've had in DC has come out of that community.
So I ended up doing consulting for about a year and a half, and then this guy that I had met through Twitter was working for this political consulting firm, and he said, “We need someone.” So I started working with them in a regular, full-time role. doing the same thing for a company. I did that for a little less than a year, and I realized that politics is not for me.
And then again, a woman I met through Twitter was a recruiter for Marriott. She said, “We have these positions open, and they're hiring like crazy,” and it was almost double my salary, which was insane for DC. It was a totally new group that they were starting from the ground up.
So I worked for hotels in the Paris and London markets for about a year. After that, I moved on to the Middle East and Asia markets. We started small, and as it expanded, I just did the same things for each market. I would talk to web directors and marketing directors and event planners and get all of their online and offline marketing efforts coordinated. I did a lot with their SEO and their websites, a lot of recording. Now that I think back, I was doing the job of like four different teams. They've since noticed that it’s a lot of work, and they have divided that job into subject matter experts.
Then I applied to a university in Florida to study human factors engineering. Basically, it’s a way of solving problems that takes psychology and engineering and marries the two. So, a good example is when they built this plane that had two knobs. The pilots kept crashing this plane, so they brought in a human factors person who watched how people used the knobs, they observed and they asked questions, and they realized it was a simple enough fix to change it from a round knob to a square knob.
It’s solving simple problems like that but in ways that take psychology into account, considering what people are actually thinking and how they use an object or a system or a space. So I got accepted to Embry-Riddle University, but I got denied for financial aid. I thought maybe I could work full-time for Marriott so I could pay for it, but they said no. So, okay, plan B.
I liked working with the hotel. I did a lot of volunteering with Marriott’s corporate social responsibility team and the HR culture team. I did some training in the UX departments, and just kept myself busy outside of what I was doing. But still, it was so corporate, and it was not moving fast enough for me. So I asked if I could work remotely.
All of my clients were in East Asia, and I could literally go a week without talking to anyone in my office. I would work from home pretty often because I'd have calls at 4:00 a.m. I put together the hours that I worked, when I got emails, like my typical day, week, month. I laid it all out and presented it to them. But they said, “No. We need you in the office. We need to see you sitting at your desk.”
Then I found this course on design thinking at the Institute of Design in Chicago, and signed up for it with Marriott’s allotted learning budget. I had the course a month later, and then I went back to them and asked to go remote again. And they said no again. So I found this really obscure thing in Marriott's HR system, and I asked for a sabbatical, but they said no. So I gave them my two weeks notice. I found out that a year after I left, they moved everyone in my department to remote, which is fine.
And then maybe a month after I quit, I started traveling. I wanted to test it out and see if I liked traveling full time. So for six months, I volunteered at a few places but I didn't do any work work. And after that six months, I realized I like doing this, I want to travel full time.
The family that I had nannied for in DC, the mom knew I was a consultant and she was starting this new company and needed help in my area. So I interviewed and they hired me as a consultant for a year. Then they asked if I could come on full time, so I've been full-time with that company since January. So things just came full circle. And they don’t care about me working remotely – our team is so spread out, it doesn’t matter.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I always tell people to volunteer more; it’s still work, and it still looks good on a resume. And also, take advantage of all the available learning programs. Most companies have a budget for continuing education, so you can take classes or they’ll send you to conferences, things like that. Always max that out 100%. I've done that every year at every company I've worked for, and I’ve advanced my career because of that.
Like, I wanted to learn more, so I took an SEO course, which allowed me to get another job because I was certified in this specialty field. And then I took other courses at that company. So every year, learn something new, even if you’re an intern. Always take advantage of that.
Mostly, I wish I had known that there were other options. Like, I didn't have to go to this one school. And you don't have to be one thing for the rest of your life. In our society, people can have new careers every ten years. You can change fields at 40 and then again at 50 and that's okay. It sort of goes with the human factors/design way of thinking; you try something and then you come back and iterate and then you try something new and you iterate and so on. And there is merit in just trying something.