As a reporter, I was never an expert on the sports I covered — not even softball or volleyball, which pretty much consumed my life throughout my teens — but I was at least present and (mostly) paying attention at games. So, in addition to recording hits and runs and yards and points, I could observe actions and reactions. I could absorb emotions. I could pick up on body language and facial expressions and all the little details that come together to make a compelling story. And then, I could (nervously) walk up to the players and coaches and ask about their experience, adding an extra layer of depth to my understanding of the event and empowering me to tell people all about it in the newspaper or an online video.
Switching from journalism to marketing in mid-life has been an incredibly tough transition, and after two weeks in my latest new job, I think I’ve identified the root of the struggle.
My whole life, one of my biggest fears has always been not knowing — the answers, the way, what to say, what to do, what to expect — because if you don’t know, what use are you to the world?
So far, my entire marketing career has been a whole bunch of not knowing. I seriously feel like I’ve been in a constant state of confusion for three straight years. In trying to stay afloat financially after my journalism job dead-ended in 2018, I basically dove off a cliff — it was a precarious perch, but I’d grown somewhat comfortable there — into an ocean of uncertainty.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll ever learn to swim. All this furious paddling and kicking to keep my head above water can get really exhausting.
My job now is to promote a brand and attract customers online. Similar to journalism, this requires reaching people with words and pictures. Except now, I attempt this while sitting alone behind a computer. I attempt this with very little authority, possessing limited insight into my subjects’ emotions and experiences.
Let’s face it: I possess very little authority on the actual product they are experiencing. I’ve only been in marketing as a whole for three years, and half that time was spent at an agency where I touched more than 100 different accounts. I emerged from that quagmire with an intimate knowledge of water heaters and air conditioners, only to start working for a company that made dance costumes. Now, it’s shutters and garage doors.
And I’m not there with the customers, seeing how the design of their home, with or without said shutters and garage doors, impacts their daily lives. I can’t just walk up and talk to them about their “pain points” and preferences, their joys and frustrations.
Of course, I realize the problem is me and not my profession. There are plenty of successful marketers sitting behind computers and telling stories that reach people, armed with the authority they’ve earned using search engines, social media, email outreach, data-driven strategy — and yes, plenty of trial and error — to effectively observe and interact with their target audience.
I feel a disconnect because this is a different world, and I haven’t been doing this for very long. I feel frustrated because I don’t always understand the way things are done. I feel confused because my instincts about what I “should” do sometimes seem a little off. I feel inadequate because despite my age and everything I’ve been through, I’m still very much that little kid who felt she needed to know things — just know them, inherently, not have to fall on her face repeatedly to learn them — in order to be worthy of taking up space on the Earth.
You guys, I seriously think a fixed mindset is one of the worst traits a person can be born with. It’s a BITCH to overcome. Learning new things and venturing out of comfort zones does not have to be as hard as I always make it seem!
To be sure, it took a shift in mindset to quit drinking and a whole lot of discomfort to stay sober for 22 months (and counting). If I am an authority on anything at all anymore, besides the f*cked-up psychology of a firstborn Type-A control freak trying to reinvent herself at age 43, it’s that change is possible when you find the courage to take that first step and then commit yourself to doing whatever it takes, day by day, to keep moving forward.
Sobriety has taught me to keep pushing and keep growing, despite all the pain that goes with it. Sobriety has prepared me for what I now must do.
I say “must” like my job is the most important thing in the world. Is it really? Do I really want to become a master marketer? I mean, I want to make a positive impact on my new company. I want them to be glad they hired me. Simply put, I want to be “good” at all the things I do, to be able to sit down at my work computer and write with the confidence of an expert, channeling experiences and emotions that come from a place of authenticity…like I did (at least occasionally) as a journalist. Or, like I do now every week when I sit here on my couch and write in this blog.
Here, I never feel like a dumbass who’s unworthy of taking up space. 🤣
You know, I understand it will take a lot of time outside my comfort zone to succeed in my new field and earn that sense of authority that comes with trial-and-error experience. And I understand that being confused, frustrated and uncomfortable is necessary in order to grow. But it sure is nice to have this one little island in that big, uneasy ocean, where I can stop kicking and struggling for a while and rest assured, knowing in my heart that I’m right where I belong.
I am, at the very least, a reliable authority on how I want to live my life and what sort of person I want to be. And I could not have said that before I found the courage to take that first step toward recovery.