How I Got This Job: Director of Strategic Communications

Photo credit: Sholeh, CC BY 2.0.

When I graduated from high school, I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I would major in English, then go to law school. From there, I’d probably enter politics. But sophomore year, in an Intro to New Testament class, my professor gave a lecture entitled “Jesus was a bastard. So what?” That sealed my fate. I was going to be a college professor and expand young minds the way this professor had expanded mine.

That’s how I became a director of strategic communications at a boutique health communications firm.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After that lecture, I declared as a religion major (and, of course, asked this professor to be my adviser). I went to grad school to study religion. I was on my way to expanding young minds!

Fortunately, I started with a master’s program, rather than going the combined MA/PhD route. Why fortunately? Because I was immature. I loved the coursework, but I couldn’t concentrate on my thesis. For the first time in my life, I was truly on my own—not in a dorm. I made new friends. I fell in love a couple of times. I finally lost my virginity. I took road trips. I didn’t work on the thesis.

Turns out if you don’t work on a thesis for long enough, you stop being a graduate student. (Funny how that works…) This meant I couldn’t be a graduate assistant anymore, which meant I had to get a “real” job. 

I started looking for a job worthy of my gifts. I was in for a shock. I quickly realized my only marketable skill was writing. A chance encounter with a friend of a friend at a bar led to an interview for a local community paper. You know the type: they throw it in your yard whether you want it or not.

But it was a newspaper. A newspaper!

There was one problem. (Okay, there were several, but…) I had no clips. So I presented my best writing samples: academic papers, of course. I don’t remember them all, but one was entitled “Deconstructing Jesus in A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Just the thing to show off my reporting chops, right?

I got the job anyway. I stayed about three years, advancing to news editor along the way.

The leap from academia to journalism isn’t a big one, if you think about it. When you study religion, you study psychology. Storytelling. Conflict. Competing belief systems. History. Politics.  You also read and write unceasingly. All of those skills came into play in my role as a reporter.

The pay was hideous, and the environment borderline abusive. But I have no regrets. The job itself was an education. I learned journalistic writing. I learned to edit the work of others. I polished my research skills. Covering school board and city council meetings taught me how deeply human and fallible governmental bodies are. As a feminist, I believed the personal was political; in these meetings, I learned the political was personal.

My subsequent jobs included managing editor for a state dental association and writer/editor for tax newsletters (a subject I knew nothing about when I was hired). Meanwhile, I finally finished the thesis and got some more letters behind my name.

Then I was hired, at almost twice the pay, to work remotely for a small tax-consulting firm. The job lasted a year before they realized they didn’t really need a writer or want an editor. To compensate for luring me away from a secure job, they gave me six months’ severance, at half pay.

And that was, if you’ll forgive the cliché, the golden ticket. That gave me the cushion to launch my freelance career. For about 13 years, I built the business. I loved it.

Then, one July 4 weekend, one of my clients called to offer me a full-time job. This was actually the second time this client had tried to offer me a full-time position. This time, I accepted.

“So, what will my title be?” I asked. “How about director of strategic communications?” she responded.

And that’s how I became a director of strategic communications at a boutique health communications firm.

No, I didn’t have the skill set for that title. But I grew into it quickly and, when I left earlier this year, I had indeed become a director of strategic communications.

Today? I’m back to freelancing, and my former boss is once again my client. Business is good, and I love being my own boss again. And I’ve added another marketable skill: “communications strategist.”

I often think about how that sophomore-year New Testament lecture changed the course of my life. I look at my aging car and modest house and wonder if I made the right decisions. But dwelling on roads not taken isn’t really my thing. Here’s what I do know: Nothing is ever wasted.

As for what it all means? I’ll figure that out later. As my old friend Søren Kierkegaard said in several different ways, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Roxanna Guilford-Blake, still a freelance writer, lives in the Atlanta area with two neurotic dogs and one supportive husband.

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