Elizabeth Louise Hatt – A 180-Career Change Before the Age of 25

I hadn’t received anything below an A-minus on a paper yet—nor had I confused the different spellings of their, there and they’re, or it’s and its, or any other words that were introduced into the English language for the sole intention of drawing red lines on students papers.

So when my professor stood at the front of the room threatening an automatic C on any submission that confused the meanings of the above grammatical adversaries. I thought, “About time these guys learn how to differentiate.”

One week later I accepted my paper, pompously prepared for an A, when instead, sitting in its place, there was a big red C and a note that said, “See me.”

It was the first big blunder in my writing career—and at that point, I was an accounting major. For the next three and a half years I was an accounting major. I actually transferred to a college with a stronger business program because I was an accounting major. Analyzing numbers till my eyes crossed was my calling, or so I had decided.

As an accounting major, I was taught to chase the “Big 4,” which I did, successfully landing myself an internship with Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC). This turned into a job offer that I accepted half-heartedly—standing in the rain in front of the mailbox staring at the envelope reminding myself that “a lot of other people would kill for this opportunity,” while my best friend sat in the car shouting, “Just mail it already, they are going to pay you a lot of money.” And they did, for the whole year I worked there.

When I voiced my discontent, everyone suggested that I consider another aspect of accounting—surely it was the only audit that I disliked. I agreed that audit was my least favorite aspect of the industry, but was pretty confident that any position that handcuffed me to Microsoft Excel would bore me to tears. Although I was there—physically working—for a year and a week to be exact, my spirit disappeared about four months in. I began printing out graduate school applications about six months in.

But what was it I wanted to do with the rest of my life? (Or for the next year, as my friends and family liked to tease.)

I thought back to my university days. Although numbers had been my game, freshman year kept me writing—the required composition class where I made that first error; the mandatory English lecture that I slept through at 8:15 in the morning; the creative writing seminar I signed up for with the same bastard that gave me the C. (He wrote “see me” because he felt wrong giving me such a low grade when it would have been an A paper otherwise, so I ended up with a B+ and a new-found admiration for the cynical, miserable guy who approached teaching college students as if it were a prison sentence.)

During my senior year, I had to write advertising proposals and business plans. I took a women’s studies class that asked me to analyze gender inequalities in the workforce. I even submitted an article about my study abroad experience to the British Council. After many semesters of debits and credits, I was writing again, it was fun and, apparently, I was good at it since my study abroad article was published in the British Council’s internationally distributed educational newsletter.

The answer was easy. I enrolled in a Masters course for Journalism at Nottingham Trent University. I wrote; I edited; I graduated. And then I spent the next year trying to explain my reasons for making such a drastic career change so early in my life—and why I don’t want to write for an accounting magazine.

This industry was tough. While Binghamton University’s School of Management had dedicated a lot of time to teach me to win over—and evidently conform to—the accounting world, I was now applying to the same writing, editing, reporting, proofing and assisting job positions as 1,000 other candidates—all just as desperate to get their foot in the door.

I started with mass-producing a general fill-in-the-blank cover letter. But this proved hopeless after 90 applications in a three-month period landed me only one interview. I tried personally tailoring each; I tried including anecdotes about my experience; and eventually, I tried cynical, self-ridiculing humor hoping that if someone with the right personality just took a half-second glance, I might be in.

I wasn’t in.

But I am optimistic, or so I like to think, and knew my day would come. And it did when a high school friend emailed me an advertisement for an assistant editor position at a trade magazine for the dancewear industry. Who knew they had one? Having spent my childhood, a portion of college and a lot of my adult free time in a dance studio wearing dance clothes, this was right up my alley. The experience required not only someone who could write and edit to par but a candidate with a strong understanding of the business and financial issues that independent retail shops need advice on.

I didn’t know at the time of my interviews that my soon-to-be editor (I am still tickled over being able to use the phrase “my editor”) was as keen on my experience as I was to prove I could live up to my only slightly exaggerated resume.

I was in.

Now, on the best of days, I feel excited and positive about going to work and on the worst, perfectly content. No more do I sneak into the bathroom to cry or worry about working on the weekends. I found my calling. And I am proud to say that in the last eight months of my role, only once did my brain’s eagle-eye spell check allow one of my grammatical adversaries to sneak by and scar me with the equivalent of a big red C.

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