Who Am I? (part one)


When the universe gives you signs about what you’re good at, pay attention.

I learned this the hard way. Or the long way. Save yourself some time and follow the mantra to do what you’re good at. What you love.

When I was five, my uncle gave me a used typewriter. It was a cherished childhood gift. I’d happily type stories, letters, calendars. Anything, really.

The same year, I started kindergarten at Crow Island School. My family had just moved from the San Francisco Bay Area, where my sister and I were born, to Winnetka, Illinois.

As my mom tells the story, I was ready to drop out of school after day one. Apparently I was disappointed we wouldn’t learn to read until first grade. (Yes, this was a dramatically different era in public education, especially given what came next.)

So my mom went to talk to my teacher, a 23-year-old named Miss Rabeiga. She hadn’t taught anyone to read before, but she said she’d give it a try.

She asked her 19 students who wanted to learn to read. Six of us raised our hands. She invited us into her office during lunchtimes to teach us. I still remember the thrill of sounding out the hardest two-syllable word in our book, “some-thing.”

In high school my mom signed me up for a career counseling course, full of aptitude and interest tests.

With my abilities in school and interest in business and the arts, the report recommended several entry-level positions, many of which did not require a college degree. I wonder if the recommendations would have been different if my name was Carl instead of Caroline.

To be fair, though, I didn’t explore the ideas that better combined business and the arts – advertising specialist, marketing analyst and employee development trainer.

Following in my parents’ footsteps (they met at Berkeley in the 60s), I went to the University of California, albeit a different campus. I was there about six weeks when I realized I’d made a mistake. The school was not for me.

So I transferred to UCLA. And I fell in love with it. There was something for every interest – academics, athletics, activities.

The lesson? Don’t be afraid to make a change if something isn’t working for you.

It was hard to pick a major. My dad suggested English. “You love to read and write,” he reasoned.

“But Dad,” I countered, “what kind of career could I have? How will I become financially independent?”

So I chose economics, the closest thing UCLA had to an undergraduate business major. It seemed practical.

And I kept missing signs along the way. My professor for the economics of entrepreneurialism said I got the highest grade in the class because I was the best writer. Same thing with a business writing course, which I loved.

After four fun years at UCLA, all I knew was I wanted to work in the business world. So I signed up with a temp agency. On my third assignment, with a real-estate development firm, I was offered a job in their accounting department.

After less than a year, I moved on to aerospace procurement. I bought hardware for satellites and worked with suppliers in exciting places like Paris, Heidelberg, Gainesville and Joplin.

When aerospace crashed in the 90s, it wasn’t like my parents hadn’t warned me not to go into it. Layoffs were announced for 25% of the workforce. Every day I wondered if I was going to be let go. If only I’d realized I was a bargain as an entry-level person.

There was a silver lining, though. I finally focused on what I wanted to do with the rest of the my life. (This phenomenon now has a name – a quarterlife crisis.)

I dusted off my copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles, which my parents had given me several years earlier.

And I actually did the exercises. Seven stories about solving problems. Then underlining the verbs. And plotting them by skills with people, info/data or things. Mine were all with people and data. Not very good with things (maybe that’s why I don’t like cooking).

This turned into a flower exercise of my favorite fields, people, skills, working conditions, salary and places to live, capped with my purpose in life.

From there I matched my flower petals with potential careers. And that was the first time corporate communications came across my radar.

Finally, a field that combined business and the arts, just like my career counselor suggested.

People would pay me to write all day? Nirvana.

But how to make a change? That’s the subject of my next post.


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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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