One of the rewards of working in the William Jessup University Learning Commons is working alongside two lovely career counselors, who are always down to “talk about life” if they aren’t already networking in the community or slammed with student meetings. More than once, they’ve looked over the latest version of my resume and introduced me to personality assessments like StrengthsFinder. Because of people like them, as well as a myriad of other surrounding mentors and pro-D opportunities, I feel set up to flourish in my professional life.
But it wasn’t always like this.
For 12 confusing years, I walked in and out of open and closed doors, wondering what in the world I was doing with my life. All the pieces seemed disparate and unlikely to lead me forward, even though each was a result of following my interests. My problem has never been discovering what I’m interested in. It’s been narrowing those interests down to one or two, in order to focus and excel.
My first job was working for Hotshot Imaging, a whitewater rafting photography company in Coloma, CA. I wasn’t a photographer. I was a customer service rep, who worked in the humid shop and drove out to the rapids 1-3 times a day to pick up flashcards. But I loved the outdoors and especially water sports, so working here wasn’t drudgery but an adventure. Sometimes I brought sliced watermelon down to my favorite photographer, Dennis, and had deep conversations perched on the rock outcropping, while rafts slipped in and out of the rapids. Unfortunately, though, a seasonal minimum wage job just wasn’t going to cut it.
When I was 19, I explored the field of massage therapy. After a year in community college, the prospect of sitting in a classroom for the next eight years of my life (which, at the rate I was going, was not an exaggeration) was suffocating. Because I struggled with some pretty intense social anxiety, I actually decided to drop out of school because of a required speech class and all those group presentations. Around that point, I found out that my best friend and her sister were enrolling in a local massage therapy school, so I researched the base certification program and was thrilled at the idea of working out of my home. In a relaxing, therapeutic environment no less.
After getting certified and working as a private contractor semi-consistently for a year or two, I realized my body couldn’t sustain it. Even with proper body mechanics, my own chronic pain stopped me from continuing since I needed as many massages as I was giving. Selling my turquoise massage chair, I quit the idea, even though learning about the complexities of the human body was fascinating for my own health and faith journey. As it turns out, Eastern healing practices are a lot more biblical than Western ones in many ways. (And hey, my best friend and I got to massage the Hillsong United band when they came to the Sacramento Community Center!)
I finally became a full-time student, supplementing homework with part-time tutoring in the Writing Center, housesitting, making video slideshows for outdoor adventure camps, and being a substitute pianist for outdoor adventure camps. It was kind of ridiculous, actually—and a whole lot of fun.
Once upon a time, I had one music student named Delight, who was also my 55-year-old neighbor. After our first couple of lessons, she moved away, and my calling as a piano instructor ended. But I loved to play. One day, a friend asked if I’d like a music gig for Jeep Jamboree’s international off-roading trips to the Rubicon Trail. This basically meant I’d play background music during meals, then get the rest of the day to play along the river before coming back for Australian folk songs around the campfire. You can imagine why I said yes. For pretty much the whole month of August, I did just this. And it was one of the most incredible seasons of my life.
As far as writing went, my publishing credits were few. I published three articles and one very awkward interview in the monthly newsletter of our local Patti Smith Realty. I also created two family newspapers over a span of about eight years (An Editor’s Standard and Wet Cobblestone News) with around 25 paid subscribers. And this was pre-Mailchimp!
The Writing Center
Eventually, I found my niche in the WJU Writing Center, starting as a tutor and working my way up to Director. But my long-term goals are to write and publish, as well as work within the intersection of wellness and the arts, whether that’s in a therapeutic retreat environment or somewhere else. And going through massage therapy school, as well as managing my own pain, were vital for the development of that vision.
It’s Okay to Date Your Career
These, my friends, are the messy stories you don’t talk about. The “in-between” years that make for good anecdotes but lousy resume bullets. But you see, it’s all an intrinsic part of the puzzle. Finding the right career is much like finding a healthy relationship.
It’s taken 10 long, confusing years to finally arrive at a job that’s a good fit. And it takes courage to keep going. Still not quite where I hope to be one day, I’m using my gifts both to earn income and pursue passion projects, which is pretty cool. I’m confident that each time we pursue a God-given interest, it’s a building block toward operating within the fullness of our vocation.
But this doesn’t mean we don’t strive for focus. In a world of (seemingly) endless possibilities, we must listen to the soft whisperings of the Spirit to lead us forward. We’ll want to shave off options that may be great opportunities, so we can step into God’s best. It took me 12 years to move from a customer service rep to a Writing Center Director with a book manuscript, and part of that stretch—even though I believe God uses everything—was due to a lack of focus.
From the very beginning, I wanted to write stories. But I never believed it could happen. And that was the whole problem. It doesn’t just happen. You have to make it.
Once I took time to consider what steps were necessary to get me where I wanted to go, it’s amazing how much progress was made. Here are some of those steps:
- Created an online platform
- Attended grad school to earn a degree in Professional Writing
- Collaborated with other writers to dreamstorm ideas, as one friend put it
- Guest posted for other websites/blogs
- Started a monthly creative writing group with a few lovely ladies
- Visited a vibrant creative community in Nashville (The Rabbit Room)
- Taught my first college English course
- Participated in workshops, conferences, and events centered around writing
All this has taken a very, very long time, but once you have focus and start honing your craft, nothing can stop you. Because life is also about growing up. And that just takes time.
Just Keep Going
As Frederick Nietzsche said, life is a “long obedience in the same direction.” Careers allow you to grow in professional skill sets, but your vocation centers around mission and community and maturity, and some of those puzzle pieces are a little out of your control. So if you’re still in the middle of the journey, take heart! You can only do what’s in front of you, while still dreaming every step of the way.
And you’re doing great.
. . .
Bailey Gillespie works as adjunct faculty and Director of Academic Engagement at William Jessup University. She lives near Sacramento, California and loves connecting with people over wellness, faith, and the arts. Her writing has appeared on Voice of Courage, Real Hope Rising, and The Rabbit Room. Read more at baileygillespie.com or follow her on Instagram and Goodreads.