The path to your dream job isn’t always paved with glitter and rainbows. It can be terrifying, especially when it’s riddled with a ton of pitfalls and stops and starts. Sometimes the path isn’t clear at all, and we need help figuring out where our talents are best suited in the job market, while others seemingly come out of the womb knowing exactly what they want to be when they grow up. Here, Joanna Riedl, a publicist and writer based in San Francisco, tells her tale of how she managed to take that scary plunge into the unknown and follow her dreams to create her own career path.
How Joanna struck career gold
I’ve never been one to chase a title or even a paycheck. I am drawn to the work I do because I love it — but as I look back over my 12-year career, there was no ladder climbing, putting in my time or traditional career trajectory guidebook that I followed. Now I’m at the helm of the public relations department for one of the most successful fashion startups in the country. The story of how I got here, however, is not a straight line. Instead, I just went with my gut.
My first exposure to public relations came to me when I was offered an internship at People’s Revolution (mind you this was pre-The Hills, before doing fashion PR was, like, a thing) and it was love at first showroom appointment. They say PR is hard to teach and you either have it or you don’t. I definitely had it. As my internship was coming to a close, the company wanted to hire me. It was time to make a decision, a decision that I knew would not be popular with my parents, my teachers or even my peers at the time — but one that would shape my future. I chose to forgo graduating and pursue the amazing career opportunity that was right in front of me. Would I recommend it to everyone? No. Was it right for me at that time? Yes.
A few years later, I moved to San Francisco on a whim, and there were no huge fashion opportunities awaiting me. While the Bay Area was definitely an industry town, the industry (tech) just happened to be one I wasn’t interested in. Eventually I bit the bullet and began working at a technology PR agency, where I knew I could pull a decent salary while applying my skill set. I did some great work for a plethora of clients, but then something happened. It began to feel fraudulent to promote something I wasn’t passionate about (or even really that interested in), and my moral compass kept reminding me, “This is not right for you.”
I was 29 years old when I went out on my own and started my consulting business. I hadn’t necessarily aspired to be an entrepreneur; it just sort of happened. By that time I had about eight years of experience under my belt and saw that the type of PR agency or job I was seeking didn’t seem to exist, and that there might be a niche market I could own. At the time, San Francisco was beginning to experience this next-wave creative moment — Refinery29 was on the scene, our local coffee shops were shaping the culture across the country and cool designers were working to succeed in the city. There were definitely fashion and lifestyle clients out there with whom I could personally relate — and who could use my help.
As I built my business responding to this new city, I reached a whole new level of productivity and success that I hadn’t ever experienced. When I searched within to identify what the word “success” really meant and looked like to me, it was truly an eye-opening experience. I started calling myself a “boss” tapping into my shine, listening to The Queen (Beyonce) on repeat and throwing cool events that everyone wanted to be at. This felt good, like I-am-exactly-where-I-am-supposed-to-be good.
Once I broke through the preconceived boundaries of what “doing a good job” was, there was no turning back. It felt like the world opened up in front of me and everything I could dream up was possible. I was finally free to do the best work I had inside of me. I quickly realized that the traditional nine-to-five was not designed with me in mind. I was a hustler, a little bit of a renegade and I definitely didn’t want to do anything by the book. As a consultant, I got to define what my optimal work style was. I was efficient and quick, put in odd hours to get the job done, took mid-day breaks for my sanity (PR is stressful!) and prioritized building in-person relationships over time spent behind my computer. I also knew that it was important for me to feed my creativity, so I took on a side gig writing for Refinery29, where I was able to conceptualize editorials and direct photo shoots.
Soon, people started taking note, and I began attracting clients who wanted what I had. They saw in me this ability to do great work while also maintaining a very strong sense of self and personal creativity. I began to notice that if I put who I truly was out into the world, the right people and opportunities would show up. Enter Poshmark. You know the feeling when you meet someone and you know that you were destined to find each other? This client was that for me. The fashion marketplace was about to launch, and it was the perfect blend of all the things I love about fashion, coupled with the innovation and dreamer mentality I’d come to love about working in the tech industry.
As we began working together, it became very clear that it was a match made in heaven. We were killing the game. We crushed the launch. Good Morning America? Yup. Wall Street Journal? Done. More than 150 regional broadcast placements? Count it! They completely got me, and I was so pumped to tell their story that it felt effortless. It was a no-brainer for the company to ask me to join them full-time. And had I not just experienced this dramatic uncovering of potential that came with the freedom of going out on my own, I probably would have jumped at the opportunity. But I did, so I didn’t. So instead they wanted more of my time, and I happily obliged and went from having five clients to having three clients. Then the moment came when the company was growing so fast that I knew they needed more PR attention, and someone to come in-house to take them to the next level — and this terrified me.
I did a lot of soul-searching during this time. Should it be me? Could it be me? Would it be me? But I knew in my heart that I would not be able to achieve the same results for them if I jeopardized the new-found freedom that I felt was imperative to our success together. It was an extremely challenging situation, but I knew that I needed to stay true to myself and let them know exactly how I operate and that my professional success was intrinsically linked with my happiness. I knew that by expressing my truth, I may lose them as a client. They were one of the buzziest companies in Silicon Valley; publicists would be lining up around the block to work with them. But it was a risk I had to take. So I told the CEO straight up what I needed to be successful and he met me not only with acceptance, but also with respect. We came together to find a way to make it work, and I am now in-house with the company that I’ve seen go from a small team at launch to now over a hundred people working on a marketplace that touches millions of women’s lives each day.
I am now able to continue to push my limits and do amazing work while not giving up what is important to me — all because I spoke my truth and followed my heart. Through all of this, I figured out that I didn’t have to fit into any particular box when it comes to work. As my boss would say, sometimes you need to “embrace your weirdness.” The same honesty, self-awareness and independence that I’ve prided myself on in my personal life has a place in my professional life — and a big one at that. I’ve allowed my truest self to shine in my professional work, and the results have been beyond my wildest dreams. I’m so proud of my career achievements, but the thing that sparks my deepest joy is that I did it my way. I didn’t conform to what I thought I was supposed to do or how it had been done before me. I stuck to my guns and paved my own road.
What was the biggest risk that you took in your career path that paid off big? Tweet us @britandco!
(Photo via Getty)