Growing up, I always loved glossy magazines. I would use my allowance to buy them at the local convenience store and would flip through them on the train home from school. Later in life, I saved them as a special treat. Anytime I took a flight, I treated myself to a glossy mag at the airport, even looking forward to it on the Uber over.
It’s no surprise then that my ultimate career goal was to land a job at a magazine. Keep in mind this was a time before online media had really boomed. Magazines had budgets and the daily life of writers and editors seemed surreal, not only in terms of the perks, but also in the sheer amount of creative freedom they had. I wanted in.
But life has a funny way of working out. While I never ended up landing my dream job as a magazine writer or editor, I got a job I’d never even considered – one that I still pinch myself over having landed: a travel writer.
Last year, I was flown to New Zealand, where I stayed in an all-glass house in the remote South Island countryside. While on a hosted trip to Tropical North Queensland, I took a private chopper to a sand cay where, while snorkelling, I saw a small octopus. And, on a trip to the New South Wales South Coast, I got to picnic on the side of a cliff (called a cliffnic, if you were wondering). It truly was a dream job.
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And while of course everything you do in life plays a role in where you end up, I can pinpoint two specific moves that led me to landing that gig. My goal in sharing them is to show that no career path is linear. Taking calculated risks, though terrifying at the time, will eventually pay off.
If you’re just starting out in your own career and are frustrated with things not going to plan, hopefully this inspires you to trust that, with enough hard work, things will work out – maybe even better than you imagined. I’ll explain:
Unexpected move #1: Doing an unpaid internship at 26
Back to me wanting to land a job in magazines – apart from the fact they were extremely hard to come by, I had an extra hurdle: I was an American in Australia. I’d moved over straight after uni and needed sponsorship. Though I had a postgrad, I had zero experience in journalism, not to mention zero connections.
Sadly, I realised I had to put my dream on hold. I found a job in marketing that offered me sponsorship (it was still fun and rewarding!) and worked there for the next few years. I was disappointed, but knew that living in Australia meant I had to make some sacrifices. And soon, I forgot about that coveted magazine job.
Until a few years later, when I landed permanent residency. The status meant that I could stay in Australia and not be tied to a job. I decided to dust off that journalism dream and try my hand at it again. I took a leap of faith and quit my marketing job to work as… an unpaid intern. At the ripe ol’ age of 26, I worked for free three days a week at a cool, young digital publication with an editor five years my junior.
And I’m so happy I did. From the internship, I learnt that I really was suited to journalism – the work never seemed like work and, while I had a long way to go in writing, I was good enough at it.
Getting the experience and confidence paid off. A couple months after the internship ended, I got my first full-time job in journalism – working as an entertainment reporter for another digital publication. I was finally doing what I’d wanted to do for so long: writing every day. And I was getting paid for it. It felt amazing. And then it got even better.
Unexpected move #2: Quitting my job to travel for a year
After three years writing entertainment – a topic I wasn’t entirely passionate about – and countless attempts to move into an area of writing I was in fact interested in, I decided to take another leap of faith: at the age of 30, I quit my job to travel.
I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t landing another job and felt like I was stuck in a rut. My original plan was just to travel for a few months, but I ended up travelling for the year. And that’s how I accidentally wound up becoming a travel writer.
I figured out that if you could track down the email address of an editor and send them a blurb about a story you wanted to write, they just might ask you to do it. (“Commission” it, as I’d later learn it was called.) I began to plan the destinations I went to specifically based on where I thought Aussie readers might want to go too.
I would take my laptop everywhere – tapping out stories in pools, and on beaches and planes. I also tried to read as much as I could. In interviews with well-known writers I’d found online, they’d said the key to their success was in reading a lot. I worked hard, never missing a deadline and constantly on the hunt for interesting stories.
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And, like taking the internship, it paid off. Reputable publications started commissioning my story ideas and travel PRs started offering me hotel stays and trips. I was a full-fledged freelance travel writer, a job I’d never even thought about until embarking on my trip. It wasn’t the magazine editor gig I’d wanted for so long – but in my mind, it was even better.
I mean, this was a recent day at work:
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While these days, I write more general lifestyle than travel (thanks COVID!), I feel entirely content with what I’ve done career-wise and what’s to come. And I hope my story has shown that regardless of what you too have or haven’t done in work, like for all other aspects of life, trust the process. And remind yourself you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.