Once again I found myself saying “Hey, Aaron…I’ve got this crazy idea…”
Since I was already planning six weeks in Germany to do dissertation research, my husband decided to seize the opportunity for a career break before heading off to grad school. We spent two months in Europe (Germany, France, Spain and the UK) and then a month road-tripping around the US before moving to North Carolina. It was awesome.
Once we arrived in Chapel Hill and settled into our tiny grad school apartment, I started analyzing data and writing my dissertation. Fortunately, I still had an grad assistantship at Michigan State and was able to telecommute. Every couple months I drove 15 hours to Michigan for work and dissertation meetings.
My life in North Carolina was so very different from my life in Michigan and it took some getting used to. Aaron spent the majority of his time on campus (he doesn’t like working from home) and I spent the majority of my time in my home office. It took me two years to finish my dissertation – one year longer than I’d planned.
It was much harder than I expected to write my dissertation so far away from my grad school community. This was 10 years ago, so we didn’t have Skype, FaceTime, and video conferencing to make connecting easier. The upside is that I eventually learned how to be productive in an unstructured environment, which has served me well as a solopreneur.
I quickly realized I couldn’t sit at my laptop and write for 8 hours a day, and I wanted to make some local connections. So I called the study abroad office at UNC-CH and started meeting people for lunch or coffee. They then connected me with other international education people on campus. I attended local, regional, and national conferences, and I volunteered wherever I could.
Half-way through my first year in Chapel Hill I connected with the Carolina Navigators program and started giving cultural presentations to K-12 students around North Carolina. All of these activities and connections helped me get the work I’ve had in the past eight years.
As Aaron and I neared the end of grad school we talked a lot about where we wanted to live. We narrowed our short-list to Washington DC (big city!), Portland, Oregon (home!) and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (great weather and standard of living!). I was the first to get a job offer in Chapel Hill, and Aaron’s came soon after that.
It was so nice to not be a grad student anymore! Our evenings and weekends were our own again. We quickly bought a house with a yard, a guest room, and a room that I turned into my dream office. Our savings account was growing and we had work we enjoyed. I was simultaneously in love with and appalled by our new typical adult life.
The first job I had after grad school was my first full-time office gig. I’d assumed that I’d work in higher education study abroad after writing a dissertation on study abroad and interning for a couple years in a major study abroad office, but the job I accepted was at a company that brought international teachers to the US for three years.
It’s kinda funny how I got the job. One day at Whole Foods I heard my name and turned around to see a guy in a suit looking at me. Turns out he had seen me present at a Carolina Navigators staff training the previous week. We chatted for a bit while holding our groceries and then met up later to talk about potential consulting and training work with his organization. Long story short, after a few months consulting for them and doing a staff training at their fall annual meeting, he suggested I apply for a Cultural Programs Coordinator job they had open.
I worked at that organization for close to four years. The transition from academia to business was much harder than I’d expected. It was like I’d moved to a different continent. I had some wonderful opportunities there (like getting to travel internationally, creating intercultural training workshops, learning all about marketing, and working with some really amazing people) but after a while I decided it just wasn’t a good fit.
I’d always wanted to work for myself so I decided I’d quit my job when I’d saved a specific amount of money, had a certain amount of clients, and had a clearer idea what my business would be. For several months I worked on my business in the early morning, late evening and on weekends.
As luck would have it, just as I hit my goals and was deciding when to give my notice, we went through yet another round of layoffs and my department was eliminated. The next morning I woke up early and focused on my business full time…
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