Nothing’s for Nothing

How I went from a broke ass server who forgot who she was to a Multi-Passionate Entrepreneur who loves her career.

January 2011. I was completely and totally lost.

I had recently moved from Florida to LA with the goal of being a TV show host. Those plans changed almost immediately once I got to California, so while trying to gain my footing in an entirely new state, I also found myself directionless for the first time in my twenty-six years. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life anymore, so I took a job in the restaurant industry while I figured it out. I knew this was just a temporary break from the “real world”, so it was fine.

But after a year of suiting up in an ugly olive green vest and serving tourists seafood night after night, I forgot. I forgot that I wasn’t just a waitress. I forgot that I had real value as an employee. I forgot that I was more than my job. I forgot that how I made money didn’t define who I was.

It’s easy to forget your worth when you’re down. It’s no shocker that while I was making shitty tips and receiving minimum wage for those years, I was also in a shitty relationship receiving minimum emotional support. (To fully understand the whole picture of how I came to find myself in this situation, read this.)

The trouble is, when you forget who you are, it’s almost impossible to convince others that you’re more than what they see in front of them. Nobody in California knew the Baily that I used to be; The Type-A, over-achieving go-getter who was involved in every extracurricular activity under the sun, who never met a goal she couldn’t crush. Hell, my final act before moving to LA was graduating with my MBA with certificates in Entrepreneurship and Management. Instead, people saw a waitress who lacked direction, relevant work experience, and self confidence.

February 2012: A little over a year into living in LA, I knew it was time to throw my hat back in the “real world” ring. First order of business — I joined the Santa Monica Jaycees, a networking and volunteer organization for young professionals. I knew that if I was going to make a name for myself in LA, I’d need to build a network of people who could help me do that. I joined the board of directors, and the extracurricular-lover in me woke up after an incredibly extended nap. I took on the role of Membership VP, and grew the membership from 30 to 60 people during my year tenure.

Next up: I needed to get a “real job”. My undergraduate degree and my work experience prior to moving to California was in Event Management, so I took a job as a Coordinator in the Catering Department at a hotel. When interviewing me, the woman who would become my boss (and an actual living nightmare who, on more than one occasion, caused me to cry in the supply closet) couldn’t understand why someone with an MBA would want this role. I explained that I needed to build up my professional reputation in LA, and that despite the low hourly rate, it would be worth it for the experience.

It was not worth it for the experience.

During the four months that I lasted at that job, I spent my days chained to a desk in a window-less room doing thankless, boring work, and my nights at the seafood restaurant, doing thankless, boring work. The final nail in the coffin was on Administrative Assistants Day when the people on my team gave me a $20 Starbucks gift card as a thank you for all my hard work. Until that point it was unknown to me that they all thought I was a secretary. I went home “sick” from work that day because I couldn’t stop crying.

January 2013: Six months later, after quitting the hotel job and the seafood restaurant, getting dumped by the shitty boyfriend and subsequently all of “our” friends, taking jobs at two new restaurants, and nearly having a second mental breakdown in only three years, I found the perfect job for me.

Well, at least on paper.

It was at an education startup that ran after school programs for kids, teaching them business and life skills. I got to develop programs, manage all the marketing, hire and train the teachers, and teach 8-year-olds about entrepreneurship. It was amazing.

Oh, except for the fact that it paid less than any job I had ever had. Never had I felt more competent and less appreciated in a role. I worked like a crazy person all day, taught after school programs in the afternoon, and bartended at night. Exhausted and overwhelmed doesn’t come close to covering it.

October 2013: I was ready to pack my life up once again and GTFO of LA, since it clearly didn’t want me here. I put in my notice at the education startup, and made plans to move to San Francisco where I could once again start over. I was beaten, broke as hell, and more lost than ever before.

While I began the process of finding a job and place to live up in SF and wrapping up my life in LA, I was casually helping some of my restaurant coworkers with their careers during our pre-shift coffees or post-shift drinks. During the three years of working in restaurants in LA, I met so many talented people whose main purpose for living here was to be in the entertainment industry. Yet here they were, spending the majority of their time waiting tables instead of taking actionable steps to pursuing their dream of acting or writing.

After more than a few of them telling me that I was like a personal trainer for their careers and that I should do this for money, I created GSD Gal (“Get Shit Done”) and started taking clients as an “Accountability Coach” at a rate of $50 an hour.

Definitely spent more on the business cards than I ever made from clients.

I fucking loved it.

I met with my clients (all three of them) every other week, and saw firsthand the progress they made just by having someone hold them accountable. I was able to use my business knowledge to help these creatives put pen to paper on their dreams, and it felt more fulfilling than any job I had up until that point. Only problem? $50 per client every two weeks doesn’t exactly make a living, and I was still working as a bartender and server to pay my bills.

February 2014: As I started to get more and more confident in what I was doing with GSD Gal and in my various VP roles with the Jaycees, people started to notice. A friend of mine who I met through the Jaycees had recently taken a job at a different education startup called General Assembly, and convinced me that I should come in for an interview. Their mission of “empowering people to pursue work they love” was right up my alley, and I ended up taking a job there and cancelling my plans to leave LA. I also put GSD Gal on the shelf, redirecting my efforts toward the job that provided fulfillment and a paycheck.

Had I not started taking actionable steps toward rebuilding myself and my career two years earlier with only hope and determination at my side, I would have never gotten the job at GA. They hired me because of my experience recruiting new members for the Jaycees, running after school programs at the previous education startup, and “Accountability Coaching” individuals with GSD Gal.

None of those roles made me much money (if any), and I always had to have a side job to actually pay the bills. But the experience I was able to gain from each of them is what finally pulled me out of my pit of professional despair and into the “real world” that I was previously shut out from. It was on me to figure out how to get there, and throughout those two really difficult years, I did.

It took me putting one foot in front of another and taking ownership of my own professional development path to get to a place of career happiness. I did so much work for so little money for so long, but it was during that time that I discovered what makes me happy. I developed the skills, experience, and network I needed to be able to make shit happen for myself. None of this was an accident, and it sure as hell wasn’t easy.

Oh, and once I got my professional groove back, I not only attracted an awesome, well-paying job, I also attracted an amazing, incredible partner who I married this year. Remembering who you are and regaining your self esteem does wonders for all areas of your life. When you don’t know your own worth, how can anyone else? If you can’t be convinced, good luck convincing others.

October 2015: After moving my way up and having three different roles in a little over a year and a half at GA, I decided that it was once again time for a change. I was happy with my startup experience, but I felt that I needed to round out my resume with some corporate work. I took a role in the innovations department at an advertising agency, creating and managing partnerships with huge brands (our clients) and startups.

Three days in I realized that I absolutely hated it. I no longer felt like what I did was important or worthwhile, and came to understand that agency life was not for me.

October 2016: Three days shy of my 1-year anniversary, I packed up my desk in corporate America and went out on my own. During the 362 days that I survived in a job that I despised, I created “The Career Experiment”, a series of workshops and an online course designed to help people figure out what they should do next in their career. It began as a way for me to figure out what I should do next in my own career, and turned into a strategy that has now helped hundreds of people figure out their best next career move.

October 2017: After teaching “The Career Experiment” 16 times, launching it as an online course, and doing 14 speaking gigs around the country, I began creating my newest brain baby — “The 1-Year Career: Make Big Moves with Small Steps”. Four years after finally finding my professional purpose in GSD Gal, I’m putting the finishing touches on an online course, book proposal, corporate training program, and podcast for “The 1-Year Career”.

My main takeaway from the last seven years of my career/life rollercoaster ride?

Nothing is for nothing.

Every frustrating, unfulfilling, poorly-paying job helps guide you away from what you don’t want toward something that you do.

Every person that you meet, whether you realize it at the time or not, could be the person who changes the direction of your life.

Every “no” gets you closer to a “yes”.

Every shitty relationship helps you learn what you absolutely won’t put up with from anyone else going forward.

Everything you do builds upon what came before. GSD Gal —> The Career Experiment —> The 1-Year Career —> Who knows?

You can choose to take whatever comes your way, floating from one job to the next without much intention, or you can take the wheel and point yourself in whatever direction you want to go. You can always choose a new path, but you’ve got to be willing to put in the work to make it happen.

I assume I’ll probably always be doing something that relates to empowering people to find happiness and fulfillment in their careers, because that’s my way of making the world a better place. If you don’t love what you do and aren’t happy with the direction your career is going, it might be time to consider what needs to happen to change that.

And hey, maybe I can help — after all, I’ve been there.

Baily Hancock is a Career and Business Strategist who teaches people how to collaborate with their community to achieve their goals, whether that’s making a career change or growing their business. Her 10-week online course, “The 1-Year Career” helps people figure out how to make big moves with small steps in their career, and on her podcast, “The Baily Hancock Show” she interviews people who have done just that.