When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I thought I was going to grow up to be a lawyer, potentially a judge. I was always really fascinated by the process of social justice. I wanted to be a lawyer for the Department of Health and Human Services and try to find healthy placements and prevent children from going back to abusive ones. That was the end goal; where that stems from I can't really pinpoint.
I had enough credits that I didn't have to transfer to another high school. What I did instead was take two college classes per semester, and interned full-time for a law firm in downtown Staunton. So that was my senior year. Very nontraditional. My graduating class was three people. The three of us graduated with the last-known Guardian Angel Regional Catholic diplomas.
How did you decide to attend The University of Georgia?
It was down to Sewanee, The University of the South, in Tennessee and the University of Georgia, which, if you've been to either of those schools, could not be more polar opposites. One is a couple thousand people, really small, rural, and then one is 30,000 people in Athens, a traditional, Southern football college. I think coming from such a small high school and such a small town, I was really drawn to the idea that there were more people on Georgia's campus than in my whole town. It was entirely different, completely out of my comfort zone, so I think that's what drew me there. I remember walking onto Georgia's campus and looking at my parents and, saying, "This is it. I love it. We don't have to look anymore."
How did you choose your major?
I was a double major in political science and history, with a minor in English and that lasted about three months. I was doing fine in my classes, but I realized I didn't like poli sci. I didn’t think it was interesting. I thought that it was a lot of perspective on things rather than actual facts, and I struggled with that. And I realized that what I wanted to do could be inserted into so many other things. I could help in so many other ways. As I started digging through the different majors that Georgia had to offer, social work just kind of jumped out.
So three months in, I decided that I was going to change my major. I called my parents and told them that they were paying to send me to an out-of-state school and I wasn't going to be a lawyer, but I was going to be a social worker. That went over well [laughs]. No, they were fine, but it was a definite path of transition, from being a lawyer which is typically deemed a place of power and success, to social work, which is often deemed as a lower-priority job, less important,
less well-paid, and almost to a certain extent less educated, which is completely wrong, but that's fine.
I stayed with social work for the rest of my college experience, but I was figuring out what I was going to do with it from that point forward. Social work is such a broad field. That was one of the perks of getting the degree, but I was trying to figure out how that fit into my long-term goals, where my heart was and my passion was. I mean, I was 18, I thought I was going to change the world. Don't we all?
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I graduated with a bachelor’s in social work, and I went straight through to the University of Kentucky and got my master’s in social work. I graduated in May, and I started my master’s classes in June.
At 21, I had no idea what I was doing with my life, and the only thing that felt secure, whether it was the right or wrong reason to do it, was to continue school. I also know my personality. I like to see things through to the finish line, get it done, check that box. I knew If I stopped, I wasn't going to go back and get [my master’s].
The other reason I decided to go straight through is because it was an accelerated program. I graduated college at 21 and had my master’s at 22. I think growing up in the South and being female, sometimes there's this perspective that things are handed to you. But this was something I achieved. I couldn't have paid someone to do it. I couldn't have cheated my way through it. It was mine, and I did the work to get there, and it's not something someone handed me on a silver platter.
I applied to the University of Kentucky, which, at the time, had a [professor] who was leading a program in forensic interviewing and working with children that had been sexually abused. I had decided my emphasis was going to be sexual exploitation and children that had been sexually abused. I thought, "I need to go learn from this person. " So that's why I chose UK. Well, I got there, and that professor was no longer at the College of Social Work, so that was that.
While I was in undergrad and grad school, I did support groups with kids who had been sexually abused, and eventually worked at an advocacy center and a juvenile delinquent center. So this all happened from the time I was 17 until I was 22, and by the time I graduated with my master’s, I had dealt with CPS and I had seen all of these horrible things, and I couldn't let it go anymore.
It started to impact me emotionally and physically. It was one of those moments in my life where I had to figure out how to fill up my cup in order to help others. I didn't want to do social work. I didn't want to do anything sad anymore. I wanted to play with glitter paint and I wanted to do hand prints, and I wanted to sing the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and tell stories. And that's exactly what I got. I ended up moving to Louisville, Kentucky and taking a job as a toddler teacher at a preschool.
It happened, kind of, by fluke. My boyfriend at the time, his mother was on the board of a couple of different organizations and the Jewish Community Center, of all places, was hiring. She sent me the ad and I applied and did a phone interview while I was in Virginia, and I got a job offer over the phone.
It was perfect. Some people do a gap year of traveling; I did a gap year of hanging with toddlers. It was so much fun. And then from there, everything else launched. I was an actual teacher in the classroom for nine months. Then I was ready for more of a career. Out of the blue, one of my co-teachers sent me an ad on Craigslist from a school that was looking for directors in the area. I checked all of the boxes other than the experience factor. I was a little nervous being 23 and applying to be a preschool director, but I applied on a Wednesday, Thursday I had an interview, and Friday I had a job offer. And that has launched everything else.
The school that I ended up getting hired at was under the parent umbrella of Never Grow Up, which is the same company I work for today. I got really blessed to fall into a company that was not only a good fit for me at that time, but who also saw something in me, and I've gotten to grow with them.
When I took over that school, it was a predominantly subsidized preschool, which was the perfect jumping off point. Coming from a social work background, I felt like 30% of my job was still social work. Working with the mothers helping them get their certificates, taking that childcare subsidy and helping them get resources. A lot of it was just being there and showing them that I cared.
The business side I fell in love with, watching the numbers and watching enrollment coming up and managing the labor and profit and loss of a center. Part of it is sales. It's convincing someone to give you their most precious possession for 10 hours a day. And I'm good at sales. I was at that school for eight or nine months and I doubled enrollment, and then they promoted me to a bigger one that was struggling with enrollment. I was there for about nine months, and I also doubled enrollment there. And then I quit.
I was about to turn 24 or 25. I thought, "I can't do this anymore. I'm stressed out all the time. I'm too far from my family." My family was in Virginia and some of the reasons that I had moved to Louisville were no longer there, and it was time for a change. I was struggling with that and my parents were raising my cousin, so I wanted to be closer to them. I decided to go home, move to Richmond, and start a life there.
I lived at home for about four months, and I got a business-to-business sales job. Cold calling selling T-Mobile cell phone contracts. I was actually really good at it. I made good money. But I hated it. I always felt like I was swindling someone. I did that for about two months, and I couldn't do it anymore, so I quit. I was on the phone with Brenda, my [former] COO in Louisville, and I said, "How's everything going in Nashville?" Nashville's the headquarters. I connected with the owner of the company, who I had a good working relationship with, and he had an analyst job opening up, looking at the numbers, looking at labor production, and figuring out where we could be more efficient and where we could save money without compromising brand quality.
So I ended up moving to Nashville. I did the analyst job for eight months, and then they transferred me to an academy in Nashville. There were some enrollment issues and they wanted to see if I could spike it up, but I was not as successful there. And I am so glad to be with a company that was supportive enough to say, "Okay, we still value you as an employee." So I came back up to management, and now I do process improvement and quality assurance. The position that I have now was actually quasi-made for me to be able to go on this trip. I was really blessed that they gave me this year to travel.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I've actually mentored a few social work students, and as odd as this sounds, I tell them not to jump in with both feet. Doing all the different support groups and the volunteer groups, working with the domestic violence shelter and volunteering with the Family Advocacy Center really kind of ended my career. It was too much, too soon, and I had no outlet.
I do wish that I would've felt comfortable earlier on trying more Excel work and more numbers production - numbers is a large part of my job, and that's always been a weak point for me. But I take it as it comes and luckily I have an amazing company that's willing to walk me through those steps.
I am very Type A, very perfectionistic, and I just wish that I could let that go sometimes. To this day, I wish that I could let it go because I think that I would enjoy things so much more. I don't know where I heard it, but there was a quote, something like, "The beauty is sometimes in the attempt, not the success." And that's exactly what we've been talking about, right? That's all there is to it. It's okay not to know. It's okay to fall down and fumble and fail, and it's okay to change your mind 1300 times. Don't feel like you have to have it all figured out. Some of the most interesting people don't have it all figured out.