How Did I Get Here? Navigating a Career in the Association World
No Career Path Is a Straight Road
“Be a writer,” they said. I didn’t listen.
At a time when all signs (and trusted confidants) pointed me toward journalism, I marched straight for technology, earning my degree in management of information systems. This chatty, reluctant extrovert emerged from the halls of higher learning fresh faced and writing, of all things, computer code.
My shiny new career took right off, but in about 10 minutes, my new employer plucked me from my cube, popped me in a client meeting, and I never wrote code again. I spent the first part of my career leading teams of clients and IT professionals to develop and deliver software-based solutions.
Then, well, babies. Three to be exact. I was lucky enough to take a few years off with them, but by the time my youngest was 1, I knew I needed to determine the next step in my career.
“Be a writer,” they said again. This time, I listened.
I started a blog, soon had a parenting column in our local paper, then a syndicated column for a news service, and finally, some regular content-writing gigs in the business world. A love for voice and understanding audiences landed me in client marketing meetings and before I knew it, I had my own business providing full-time content marketing solutions for clients in numerous industries.
A cherished mentor lured me from my freelance world for a 2-year stint as the director of marketing communications for a national chiropractic chain. I learned so much and the role solidified my love for strategic marketing rooted in meaningful and useful content. Some serious stars aligned to make this all happen and I’m forever grateful.
Thanks to the referral of a freelance colleague, I was able to join AMC client, the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), filling a temporary marketing need. When the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) called a few months later, I was delighted to help them make a difference for neonatal nurses, patients, and their families. For me, nonprofit marketing just feels right.
What I’ve Learned
Fast forward 4 years and I’m thrilled to be part of the AMC team and share a few things I’ve learned along the winding road that delivered me here.
Zero in on your strengths.
Your strengths enable you to make an impact, so it’s important to know what they are. I was initially blind to my writing ability, but in the end, it has served me more than any other skill. If friends, family, or colleagues tell you you’re good at something, listen! They sometimes have a better vantage point than you. Better yet, enlist the help of something like StrengthsFinder to dig deeper. Once you know your strengths, set yourself up for success by seeking out ways to share them regularly.
Choose purpose over passion.
There’s a lot of talk out there about pursuing passion, but maybe we should consider following our purpose instead. I’m passionate about cooking and gardening, but I find purpose as a communicator and storyteller. It’s through communication skills that I make a difference for others. More importantly, my purpose provides me with a living so that I can spend time enjoying my passions. The real trick is making time for both, but that’s another blog post entirely!
Don’t fight the flow.
I have a senior in high school who doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, and I think that’s just fine. I know firsthand that we may not work long, or at all, within the confines of a degree. Being open to opportunities and allowing yourself to try, be exposed to all sorts of work experiences, and even fail, enables you to grow and discover what you really want. Don’t cling too closely to one role or one dream. Say yes and see what happens.
Connect whenever you can.
Myers-Briggs says I’m an extrovert, but I’m not so sure about that. I prefer smaller groups to larger ones, need daily downtime to recharge, and always choose writing over speaking, when given the chance. Despite my need for occasional solitude, I get so much from developing relationships with my clients, coworkers, friends, and family. My most cherished activity is having long dinners with my husband and three teenagers. I need to really know them and what’s going on in their lives; it feeds my soul and readies me for whatever tomorrow brings. The same goes for teams at work; they need regular connection time, too. Strong connections simply make work—and life—better.
Molly Anderson is the director of membership, marketing and communications for the National Association of Neonatal Nurses.