It’s not what you know, it’s who you know


Three years ago this week I walked into work, then walked out 15 minutes later with my things in a box. It stung. I had left a job I loved to jump in at a start up that… uh, didn’t.

I was unemployed for three hours before an incredible support system had me sitting in a job interview for a teaching position. I was still a little dazed, and completely bombed the interview in the strangest way possible- somehow coming off as too intellectual and serious a person to work with junior high kids. It was the first time anyone had called me either of those things.

Knowing that I probably wasn’t going to get that job, your mother let me spend money, even though I had none coming in, and couldn’t get unemployment because my previous job had paid me as a contractor, to build some websites so I could give writing a shot. I couldn’t get a gig as a writer, so I figured why not make my own gig? Still, it felt terrible to be spending money when I wasn’t bringing any in.

Then something strange happened- I was given another chance to interview for the teaching job, and even though I might not have been the best person for it, they took a chance on me. Some of the other teachers at the school, who I now consider lifelong friends, guided me, put up with my neuroses, and put me in a position to succeed.

While that was going on, the websites were flourishing. They gave me an opportunity to help train local student-writers, and give them a platform to hone their craft while building a resumé for myself. It was encouraging, but also an incredibly time-consuming and financially draining endeavor. If I was going to make the writing thing work, I was going to have to make it my focus. Your mom encouraged me to take the shot, and leave a job I lived to pursue a path that hadn’t generated a nickel for our family. Because I had been using my teacher’s salary to pay writers, it had done the exact opposite.

So I did it. I left teaching, and took an interview for a part-time job editing content for a local radio station. I didn’t get the job, but was told I had been seriously considered. Two and a half years before that people weren’t even granting me interviews for writing gigs. My experience and connections I’d made over the previous few months gave me references and a portfolio I’d never had before. I was encouraged.

A couple of months went by before someone who ran a local website, and had always encouraged me in my efforts, reached out to me about working together. One thing led to another, and for the past few months, I’ve served as a managing editor for his websites. For a paycheck. *Stops typing to pump fist*

I’m finding more and more that it’s not what you know, but who you know. That’s not a comment about nepotism, or the cynical (but remarkably accurate) view anyone living in the economy of crushing debt and unpaid internships that the baby boomers created. Instead, it’s an acknowledgment that I haven’t really done a single thing on my own- and had I not been surrounded by encouraging, wise, gracious and well-positioned people, I’d have a lot less to be thankful for.

Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future. Don’t go around trying to be a social climber- or doing whatever this thing Jayden Smith is talking about– just be good to people, and take note of when people are good to you. In my experience, the rest will work itself out.



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