I love hearing about first jobs; what it was, who you worked for, what your boss was like, etc. because I seriously believe those first jobs helped shape us as humans. I’ll let you in on a little secret, my first job was at Chick-fil-a, but not passing out sandwiches and saying, ‘my pleasure’, I was the mascot! I was the Chick-fil-a COW, and not the big cow, the little baby cow! I loved it, it carried me into the prestigious honor of being our high school mascot which led me to really (really) wanting to be the KU Jayhawk (I was too tall to be Baby Jay and too short to be Big Jay, *sigh*).
In college, I went into a food service position (because hello, Chick-fil-a Cow here); I genuinely think everyone should have to work in this industry at least once. I joined the crew at the largest dining hall at KU and quickly moved up to a crew leader position; that might not mean much to you, but I was feeding dinner to 3,000 kids per night on Daisy Hill. I worked all the meal shifts but dinner was insane!
You all know by now that I love a good hustle, so while working at KU, I was also working at a coffee shop and doing design and artwork in some facet on the side of that. I graduated college and worked as a production designer in a print house and from there, I got hired on as a designer in the engineering department at Garmin International in Olathe. My time there was cut short all for a good reason – I won Miss Kansas on my last attempt which happened to be only two weeks after starting at Garmin. It was short and sweet, but I loved it there.
I thought I’d only be working one year as Miss Kansas and then ultimately the Miss America Organization full time – but it turned into two years and honestly, they were two of the best years of my life, and also two of the hardest years of my life. Any titleholder can relate to the various things that we have to do in this important role and often, you’ll hear titleholders refer to it as a job because there is so much that goes on behind our “sparkly hats”. It’s branding, marketing, advertising, public relations, public speaking, crafting presentations, recruitment and fundraising. I can go through my resume and look at all these skills with a smile, because it’s so many different roles rolled up into one!
My career took a turn after serving the state of Kansas for two years because I realized I was capable of so much more. I remember talking to Adrienne Bulinski, former Miss Kansas, and she was pouring into me about my next chapter. I spoke to students about their goals and futures, and it always felt a little untrue to me, because I had no idea what I personally wanted to be when I grew up. I loved the idea of being “an artist”, but it wasn’t really fulfilling to me at that point in my life. Adrienne really encouraged me to think about how I want to feel. What are the things I love about life right now? What are the things about life that I want to improve on or what lifestyle did I want to live? Small town or city? Do you want to have a regular coffee shop that you go to everyday where the people know your name? Do you want flexibility to travel and work from wherever you want in the world? Do you want to report to somebody, or do you want to have more control over your schedule and operations? If you’re reading this thinking about your own life, then awesome! These were the questions that got me ‘unstuck’ and I will forever be grateful for them.
This conversation hands down helped me frame a life I wanted to create. I remember writing bullet points down on my whiteboard that are still there to this day. I wrote down things about my role as Miss Kansas that I loved, and jobs that I’ve had that fulfilled me and things that I am still looking for. It boiled down to a handful of bullet points: community facing, mentorship/leadership, creativity, travel, and community support. That’s it. That’s what I wanted in my life and career.
Fast forward a few months, I was closing out my term as Miss Kansas and I was approached with an opportunity to join an amazing team at a brand-new organization at the time. All of these ‘firsts’ led me to my role as the Director of Operations for Lead for Kansas. I remember looking at the job title and checking off all those bullet points one by one. It was literally everything I wanted out of a career path and out of my life during this chapter. It was never something I would have searched for on a job site, but I manifested that into my life.
Lead for Kansas is an affiliate of Lead for America, a national organization and service program that is building the next generation of leaders for our country, starting in American communities across all 50 states! We provide fellowships for young people working on critical challenges in their areas and their hometowns, in paid full-time service, AmeriCorps fellowships, and working with local leaders in their communities. They are literally boots on the ground and this gives them opportunities to cultivate their own leadership journey (or public service journey) to make a difference. We talk so frequently in this line of work that young people are leaving our state at alarming rates because they don’t see opportunity for themselves in their home states. At Lead for Kansas, we give them the opportunity to see themselves in their city or state and to build their dreams. We expose our fellows to the opportunities that exist in communities across Kansas and support them as they develop into young, impactful leaders. I get to be part of that, and I’m humbled and grateful.
So that’s my full-time gig! I still do freelance graphic design and public speaking. I still travel across the state and do bookings, live paintings or speaking gigs. For me, I love variety in life, something different each day. On the flipside though, I love routine! We can like both, right? Finding the intersection between life, the title and the platform is definitely difficult, but friends, it is so worth it! I love pouring into my community and giving back to this state I love so much; if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, don’t do it. Whatever you choose to do for a career, make it something you care about and something you find joy in. It doesn’t have to be the absolute perfect culmination of all your passions, but it does need to be something that you can feel good about. Are you making a difference? Does it feed your soul?
I was always envious of people who knew exactly what they wanted to do and had the perfect path laid out in college to achieve it. My journey has been a lot broader and more whimsical, and that’s ok. Go back to your whiteboard and check those boxes. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and some days I still don’t, but I know what I want my life to look like in 5, 10, 15 years, do you? That will paint a much clearer picture of how you fill in the gaps and how you can support a life you truly love.
Cheers to your next years ahead, they’re going to be great.