Author: Caroline Peterson of Not Your Average Gal
So often, I view the choices I need to make in a strictly formal capacity. Even the ones that don’t have a direct impact on my day-to-day life. When I’m choosing a place to travel to next, there’s a formal process of researching the options for flights, dates and times and what type of aircraft is flying that route. Then I consider what season it is, mixed in with looking at the best places in the best parts of that city and heck, let’s throw in how that all may align with the moon cycle and if there’s a Chipotle nearby. Neurotic? Me?
Being married to a physician may have played a role in my mentality. There’s an explicitly formal path to that career choice: get your undergrad degree in biology or public health and if not, go back to school to earn those credits, apply to med school, go to med school, match for residency, go through residency and then—BAM—welcome! You’re one exhausted doctor.
So when I chose to become a copywriter, I never quite felt I measured up to other writers because my path to this place certainly wasn’t a formal one.
I hope my story shows you those formalities are, very often, bullshit.
I started my career as many did graduating college during a recession, grabbing any job that would take me so I could pay back my student loans that weren't exactly panning out as a wise investment in the job department. I graduated with a BA in Communication from Michigan State University after wandering aimlessly around campus hoping the Declaring a Major Gods would share their infinite wisdom with me one day. I ultimately decided on Communication as that would give me leverage to pivot whenever the heck I wanted to instead of feeling pigeonholed into Economics or Telecommunications or Art History. (All of which were contenders.)
Early on, I was a project manager at a small, local ad agency and then climbed up the ladder by going to a more well-known national agency. Which, of course, is now defunct thanks to that beautiful 2008 financial crisis that eliminated most jobs in the automotive ad world.
I went back to school during this time and got an additional paper to add to my growing collection of expensive decisions with a new video broadcasting certification. Once again, I found myself looking for jobs and thought the best way was to create a website where I could show off my shiny demo reel.
What was supposed to be a space to showcase my broadcasting talents turned into a fun way to express myself in writing with my blog. And some people (very few at the time) enjoyed the knack I had for boiling down everyday occurrences into witty life anecdotes.
That writing was something that helped me land my first official copywriting job. I am sure it helped that this boutique ad agency was expanding and they were desperate for anyone who could coherently string together a sentence and show up to work on time. But, when I saw the job posting that a copywriter was needed to help write and create content for emails, blogs, social media and various ad hoc ad campaigns for clients, I thought—hey, I’ve already done that!
If I look back at my fondness for writing, the dive into copywriting made sense. I truly enjoyed what some deemed tediously annoying by reading and writing poetry in AP English and writing content for clients myself in my project management roles—before content writing was even a thing.
I eventually became Senior Copywriter and even created a Copywriting Department before I left the ad agency world. Like most things in Corporate America, agencies are sometimes run with bureaucracy and favoritism and what was once my favorite job had rapidly changed enough for me to hand in my resignation and leave after over 6 years. I didn’t have the desire I once did to climb the corporate ladder.
Praise baby Jesus too!
I stepped out of this-could-have-been-an-email meetings and into my sweatpants to begin running my own copywriting business from my home office nearly 5 years ago. (I did this before being sequestered to our homes and hoarding towers of toilet paper was a universal thing.)
I’m now using my writing to pivot into even scarier realms: writing my first memoir! I also decided to really listen to my gut and lean into the wonderful, kind community I’ve cultivated over the years by sending out newsletters. Consider it a safe space to share tips and encouraging laughs about the shenanigans that happen with personal growth.
It hasn’t been a linear path, but the best thing I learned in all of this? I decided to trust myself.
Never, ever doubt your abilities or skills just because you didn’t follow the formal path. (Except for becoming a lawyer or doctor and such. I think we can all agree we’d rather be taken care of by someone who took the formal educational path rather than the “I did my research on the internet” route.)
Each step of my career actually involved writing. But without the formal English degree or career in teaching or journalism, I didn’t consider myself a writer. How many authors or screenwriters or producers or copywriters would not have created their bevy of imaginative work had they followed that notion?
It makes my heart sink a bit to even think about.
There’s a writer in all of us. Trust yourself enough to believe it.
Caroline Peterson is a copywriter and consultant who annoyingly lives in Hawaii where she runs Not Your Average Gal, a creative writing studio. You can find her knee-deep in book edits, constantly rearranging her office, (literally) hiking across England, or rolling her eyes at your judgement of her Real Housewives viewing habits. Sign up for her newsletter if you like to giggle: Not Your Average Newsletters.