Sometimes we think that the older we are, the less likely we can change our careers — to a successful degree. But it simply isn’t true. And this is why I love WordPress.
I love WordPress because it allowed me to change the entire trajectory of my career — at 42 years old.
— Bridget Willard (@BridgetMWillard) January 21, 2016
I grew up poor. I learned office skills in high school, after a disastrous bus boy position. I needed to learn to type. That trade served me well all of these years.
My mom and grandmother told me I had to get a college education. They were right to push me. It took me seven years, three major changes, and a student loan balance, but I have that degree.
Shortly after I was married, we lost our business. Accountants, am I right? No offense, but this guy stole money and ran away with it. We fell on hard times.
I got my multiple subjects teaching credential and ended up teaching junior high and high school math at a private school at a church.
When I went for teaching I never considered parents. Whoa! No one told me there’d be so many bosses. No matter what I did, they were unhappy.
One year later, the school closed and I was out of a job. The church offered me a secretarial position for the same salary. That was fine by me, I never wanted to teach again.
Except for two years while finishing my degree at San Diego State and a year teaching, I’d been some form of secretary since I was 14. That’s a lifetime for some.
Look, office work is honest work. I’m good at it. I enjoyed it. But the potential for career (read: salary) growth is limited at best. Since my husband is retired, I was the sole provider.
I was feeling trapped.
Social Media Guru
In 2009, I started tweeting for Riggins Construction — along with my Office Manager duties. The economy tanked. Something had to be done. So I did it.
You know, there are people who talk about being self-starters and then there are those of us who go forward and ask permission later.
People started asking me questions. They saw something that, at the time, I did not. I was good at this social media stuff. Joking, I started this whole blog/persona: You, Too, Can Be a Guru.
I didn’t start content marketing at my former job in order to leave it. I just wanted to do something positive. I learned a lot from 2009-2015.
The WordCamp Era
I started going to WordCamp because of my friend Pam of Pam Ann Marketing.
There were a group of us who got to know each other on Twitter. Each of us were in the construction or industrial sector trying to make B2B connections. A joke about us being “The Pink Ladies of Twitter” turned into a Facebook group and the rest is history.
So when Pam mentioned she planned to attend WordCamp Orange County back in 2013, I didn’t know what it was or entailed.
We wanted to hang out with Pam and for only $40 there was no reason not to go. So, my other pal Carol flew down from the Bay Area and we loved it. Pam didn’t make it that year. We started a fun tradition. If you want to know what a WordCamp is read this post.
Social Media Mastermind
If you want to level up your life, you have to hang around people who 1) think differently than you do; and, 2) are smarter than you are.
I started attending a meetup in January of 2014 that I’d seen people tweeting about: SMMOC.
— Bridget Willard (@BridgetMWillard) October 12, 2014
This mastermind group is a facilitated discussion. The people who attend want to learn from one another. To say this is an amazing group of people is an understatement.
Some of us went to lunch afterward, we became Facebook Friends, etc.
We bonded and the hashtag kept us together. It’s no longer running but those people are still my peers and close friends.
Apply For A Crazy Job
Sometimes, you have to apply for a job you don’t think you can do. Maybe you think you can do it. But this post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Buffer’s role. When their job posting came up for a Happiness Hero (and they post the salary because of transparency) I knew that a career in social media could be a reality for me.
I ran into a snag. They required reading two books before you could apply. Not being a fast reader, my SMMOC girlfriends told me to listen to them on Audible. In two weeks, I had applied to a new job.
But that’s not the main point.
One of the books they required was Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. Listening to it driving to work, I cried. And not just once.
I did not know people could be happy at work. I only knew that I needed a job — my happiness was not important. Someone had to pay the rent. That was my responsibility.
A few weeks later, I got an email from Buffer saying I didn’t fit. I was bummed, if I’m honest. They were right. If they had hired me, I wouldn’t have found my fit.
So, thank you, Buffer (I’m looking at you Nicole).
Change Your Career with Writing
The first step was believing what people kept telling me. It’s a sad commentary on my psyche, maybe, but true. I thought people were just being nice. They were being honest.
Now I knew I had the instinct for social media and marketing, but I didn’t have the business, journalism, or English degree. I lacked almost every requirement on any job posting I saw on LinkedIn. If that wasn’t that, it was a lack of remote work opportunity.
I knew that by building a self-hosted site I could build my brand — one post at a time. BridgetWillard(dot)com was going to be my resume.
I had to write my way out of secretarial work. I had to write my way into social media.
And so, because of my friends, my new-found experience, and some courage from DesktopServer, this site went live in April 2015.
Of course, I wrote about it here.
I suppose it helps to have a super BFF who is an Admin in the Advanced WordPress Group on Facebook. She posted my debrief there and introduced me to Matt Cromwell through email. Thanks, Heather. You’re the best!
Matt (my Matt) from WordImpress sent me an email asking if I’d like to review plugins. Sure he asked the wrong person, I gave him the top ten list for why I’m not a good match but I’m super flattered.
Seriously, he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. I did try to get out of it. I’m glad he didn’t give up on me.
What I didn’t realize is that he wanted a series written by a non-developer with a background in business-to-business. That’s how the Normal People Great Plugins series was born.
Volunteer at WordCamp
In the summer 2015, I was asked to tweet for WordCamp Los Angeles. I had a blast.
Volunteering at a WordCamp was totally under-rated by me. I am way too shy to ever have volunteered on my own.
I’m thankful that Alex reached out to me because people I’d only seen on Twitter a few times, I had a chance to talk with more substantively. Of course, I got to meet the speakers and some of the sponsors. and that enriched my experience, too.
After that experience, I was asked to do the social for WordCamp San Diego in 2016.
Jason Tucker, of WPwatercooler fame, sent me a message one day in October 2015. He wanted to start a weekly show answering WordPress questions on Blab. He asked his wife who he should pick for a co-host and they thought of me — because I “was everywhere.”
I tried to talk him out of it, but he thought it would be a good combination: an IT geek and a Twitter Nerd.
It turns out, he’s right. It’s been a great show so far.
A Job in WordPress
I didn’t use WordPress to get a job in WordPress. I didn’t go to WordCamp to get a job in WordPress. I wanted a social media job.
I went to WordPress because the software was easy for a non-developer like me. I went to WordCamp because I learned valuable business, writing, and other skills.
I went to WordCamp to learn at first. Then I met people and made friends. It’s amazing how generous the WordPress community is with their knowledge. The WordPress community has a nose for people that don’t really fit in.
Director of Marketing
Slowly by slowly, I was given more side work from my friends at Thought House and WordImpress (now Impress.org), including the twitter account for GiveWP, which I grew from 167 to 1000 followers in two months. I guess they were impressed.
We hung out at their office one day and had lunch. We hung out at WordCamp Orange County in June and then I spent time with each of the guys (Devin, Jason, and Matt) at WordCamp Los Angeles. I presumed they were feeling me out for a culture fit.
In late November of 2015, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I started December 1, 2015 and ended as Director of Marketing in October of 2017.
Yes, You Can Change Your Career
That fall of 2015, for the first time in my adult life, I took a risk. A big one.
I quit a stable job to take the scariest adventure ever: working for a tech startup in a niche market. In 2015 that was scary, but in 2017 I started freelancing. There were tears. Two years in, I am happy, over my revenue goals, and highly respected in my industry.
It’s been a long road from 2001 in roofing to being a marketing freelancer but I would do it all over again.
If I can do it you can, too.
Say “yes” to yourself. You can control your career. You can change it.