There’s a question that I fear being asked. “How old are you?”
I am 26 years old.
I just turned 26 last Friday, June 13th.
I am young. I started my fundraising career fresh out of university at 22. I’ve thrived professionally and feel so, so lucky to be able to the work I do. But being a young professional in the non-profit sector is not without its challenges.
There are so many misconceptions and assumptions made about Millennials. Those judgments passed by older colleagues are what keep me from talking about age when in fact, I should embrace my age. I should proudly stand by what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished. I have fundraised over $10 million dollars. I have worked with countless non-profit organizations. I have been invited to speak over 20 times. I run a successful business that now has 3 part-time employees. I mean – wow! It’s exciting.
But my age and my milestones aren’t really what I want to tell you about today. What I want to tell you about is a lesson learned in creating a job that I love. Yes, that’s right – no one put up a job posting for what I currently do. I just did it. Because you are never too young or too old to say, “yes” to what you really want to do. This is the story of how it happened.
My Life-Long Love of Communications
In March of 2010, I reconnected with my love of writing. From about the age of 6 onwards I kept maniacal records about my daily life and I very clearly remember that around the age of 13 telling people that I wanted to be writer. But somewhere along the lines, my focus shifted to doing what I thought I should be doing – becoming a veterinarian. There was an essential flaw with that plan – I was terrible at biology. Like really, really terrible. So for about 5 years I spent a lot of time talking negatively to myself about what I wasn’t naturally good at. Those 5 years overlap with some of my time at the University of British Columbia (UBC). I was so wrapped up in the negative things I saw in myself that I forget to look around and appreciate what I was good at. I realize now that I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels for no reason.
But in my last year of university, I began writing again. I wrote mostly for myself and also had several articles published in newspapers. It was an uplifting experience and I felt very in synch with myself. And so the thought of being a writer after university resurfaced.
As I began to investigate this possibility, there seemed to be so many barriers in place and my dream seemed far off, if not impossible. I thought I had to go back to school and get a degree in journalism or creative writing in order to be a writer.
This detrimental thought was the result of cultural systems that are play in our lives. We’re constantly told that there must be qualifications, certifications and education in order to be a professional whatever. This prevented me from moving towards doing the work that I truly wanted to do. You see – I felt like I needed permission to be a “writer.” We are too often told in Western society that there is a proper way of moving into certain professions and that we are well advised to follow the beaten path. The reality is that you don’t need this validation or certification to do what it is you want to do in life. Only you need to say yes to your dreams and desires. But it was several more years before I realized this.
Then Fundraising Happened
After I graduated from UBC, I went on to work for student orientations and then to working in Development and Alumni Relations at UBC. That was how I stumbled into non-profit fundraising work. This was an extremely enjoyable time in my life. I had the opportunity to work with amazing people and I made it my job to be a sponge to learn everything they had to teach. After working at UBC, went onto work as a Development Officer at Union Gospel Mission.
I took the job and its challenges head on. I was grateful to have the opportunity to advance my career in fundraising, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
After about 6 months of being in that job, I got this nagging feeling inside me. I knew that I didn’t want to be my manager or the director of the department. So what was I doing there taking up space? After all, we’re told that we’re supposed to want to advance our careers vertically. This internal sense of discontent became a real problem for me. I worried constantly about whether or not I was in the right job. Was I doing the right thing with my life? Was I going to amount to anything?
After months of being stressed out by my job, I took a week off. I didn’t go anywhere or do anything remarkable. I was just at my home in Vancouver. It was during that time off that I finally had the space and the perspective to realize that I am the only person who could define what was right for me. I had a choice to make and I had to step up to the plate and make one. Was I really happy? Or would I settle for this half-baked version of what I wanted for myself?
It was within that same week that the universe seemed to cash in my karma points. I had a friend who was looking for a writer to do some work for their tech start up and without hesitation, I told her that I was a freelance writer. Even though the title of “writer” felt a little uncomfortable at first, I grew to love the way it fit me and I have embraced it as a part of who I am. This act of complete gumption and faith lead me down this crazy path of entrepreneurship that I am currently on.
I left my relatively stable job back in February 2013 to take the biggest leap of faith I could fathom: self-employment.
Adventures at the Intersection of Non-Profit Work and Entrepreneurship
Now, it’s certainly had its moments of difficulty. But in looking back over the last nearly 2 years of this experience, I’ve proven to myself that through commitment and community, it is possible to turn any passion into a career. No one told me that I should do this. Making this a reality, I had to believe enough in myself to let fear and uncertainty subside. It’s a tough deal to reconcile, but it is possible to not let fear rule your decision making process.
And here’s the thing I’ve learned – it is those moments when we face uncertainty, taking the big risk, that we are most likely to uncover the things that make our lives meaningful and worth living. If we don’t seize these moments, we risk living a life that is less than what we dreamed of. Here’s the other interesting fact: risk or no risk, there will always be uncertainty. (Unless of course you have access to a crystal ball.)
My dad once said to me that good things rarely happen by accident. This is a piece of advice that has shaped me in many ways as an adult. But sometimes I question the truth of these words. Can good things really not happen in any other context? It’s a question I’ve thought a lot about this past year.
Undoubtedly, it can be difficult to achieve, to have or hold on to good things in life.
But if this last year has taught me anything, it’s this – good things happen when you live your truth. That truth is already inside you and it’s just a matter of unveiling it to the world. Because when you embody this side of yourself in your personal and professional life, good things will enter your life with great ease – accidentally and intentionally.
Being that it’s the mid-point of the calendar year, I find that this is a time when a lot of people are revisiting goals set at the beginning of the year and taking stock. If this is where you’re at right now and you find yourself feeling frustrated with work, here’s what I want to share with you:
This is always still time to start over; to develop the career and life that you want.
Whether you’re 26 and just starting your career or if you’re 50 and have been in the fundraising game for decades. There is always time. Just give yourself permission to want what you want and go forth.
I believe in you.
Hi Vanessa, I’ve just come across this post – thank you so much for writing it. It sounds like you’re writing about me. Except I’m a bit older and haven’t yet made the leap to embracing what it is I truly want to do. But the part about loving fundraising but not wanting to be your manager? Yep, that’s me. I’ve been doing a few things recently that are moving me more towards what where I want to be…or where I think I want to be anyway. I guess we never really know until we get there and confirm that yes, this is right for me. So thank you for being one more voice in my internal armoury for my pursuit of career happiness. I wish you the very best for your future. Having achieved so much by 26, imagine what amazing things you’re going to be able to do for the world over the next 26 years and more!