This blog is based on a speech given by Julie Ford at to University of Waterloo students in November 2017.
“This above all: to thine ownself be true.”
You might be wondering why I’m opening with a quote from Shakespeare. Yes, I am an English major, but that’s not the only reason I chose that quote. I graduated from the University of Waterloo Arts and Business program in 2007 with a major in English Rhetoric and Professional writing. Ten years later, as I reflect on my education and career, being true to myself has been, and still is, absolutely critical to my success and happiness. I’m going share three specific stories that exemplify this.
1. Choosing a major
I wasn’t always an English major. I originally chose economics. After failing my Economics 101 final exam I had to go to my professor’s office and ask him to give me a passing grade. Luckily he did. That was 14 years ago and I still remember that moment clearly because of how bad it made me feel. I had chosen economics as my major because I thought it would set me up for a better career, a higher salary, more success. Both my dad and my brother studied engineering at UW. I felt like choosing a major that wasn’t super practical wasn’t “good enough.”
As hard as this reality check was for me, I’m grateful for it. It forced me to come to terms with who I truly was and accept and embrace my true talents. I had always loved and excelled at reading and writing in school. Language and communication have always been my passion. I also clearly remember when I wrote English on the forms to request a change to my major. It felt good. It felt right and I was relieved. While I wasn’t sure where it would take me, I was ready to move forward.
2. Job dilemma
I had two job offers in Toronto when I graduated. One was a project coordinator role at Scotiabank. The other was a marketing communications coordinator role at a small web hosting company called Netfirms.
Which one do you think I chose? The bank job. Why? The prestige of working at a bank, brand recognition, the higher salary and a desire to prove anyone who ever said anything to the effect of, “You’re going to end up working at Harvey’s if you get an arts degree.” wrong.
I moved to Toronto and started the Scotiabank job in June 2007. I wasn’t being true to myself when I chose the Scotiabank job but this time I recognized it quickly and took the initiative to make a change.
Two weeks later I called up the hiring manager at Netfirms and asked if the marketing communications role was still available. Luckily, he gave me a second chance.
When I started there, I immediately felt like I was in the right place. Sure, I wasn’t making as much money, but I loved the small, fast-paced tech company environment. I worked with interesting and very talented people. We accomplished a lot very quickly. I had the opportunity to be on the forefront of digital marketing and launch email marketing and social media (which were new for businesses at that time). The skills and experience I gained at Netfirms were instrumental to my success in the roles that followed.
3. Corporate versus entrepreneurship
If we skip ahead to 2013, I had another significant turning point in my career. I had been with Leonardo Worldwide, a tech company in the travel industry, for 5 years. Over that time I had progressed from content marketing specialist to manager.
I left to go on maternity leave and when my year of maternity leave came close to an end, I knew I didn’t want to go back full-time. I wanted the flexibility to be able to enjoy more time with my daughter while still being connected to the working world and continuing to grow my skills. I proposed to my boss that I could come back part-time. When my boss explained that part-time wouldn’t work for the company I had to make a decision. As scary as it was, I said, “No.”
What’s different about this story versus the other two I shared is that this time, I didn’t sacrifice what I really wanted for myself in favor of money, security, stability, and the acceptance of others. I stepped out of my comfort zone. I took the road less traveled. I opened myself up to risk, but at the same time, opportunity. Most of all, I was true to myself.
I had started doing some freelance writing and social media work while I was on maternity leave, so I decided to see where that could take me. That one decision essentially led me to where I am today. I grew from a freelancer with four clients to a company of three people and almost 40 clients in four years. During that time I had a second daughter and (depending on the day you ask), I’ve created the work-life situation that works well for my family and me.
I love what I do and I feel good about it. My career reflects who I am and evolves with me.
Be true to yourself
This takes me back to the quote I opened with. What I’ve learned over the past 14 years through my education and career so far is that being true to myself is number one. I don’t regret or look negatively on the times that I’ve made decisions that weren’t true to me. In fact, I’m grateful for them because they got me to where I am today.
Be you and embrace the journey you’re on. When you do that, everything else falls in to place.
Julie Ford speaks at industry conferences and educational institutions about digital marketing and entrepreneurship.