The Scenic Route From a Music Degree to the Corporate World

I recently wrote this essay as the backbone for a speech I gave, and since this blog is somewhat my online journal, I’ve decided to share it here. Joshua Tree National Park California

I dropped out of college 6 weeks before graduation – and it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. 

While it sounds disastrous, I like to say that I was simply taking the scenic route.

During my childhood, my father was famous for taking meandering back roads to avoid tolls and highway traffic.  We called it slow, but he called it “taking the scenic route.”  It may not have gotten us to our destination as quickly, but it was certainly more enjoyable.

I dropped out of college and began my scenic route because I’d stopped going to classes.  I think I’d chosen the wrong degree program for my personality.  To be a successful music major, you are expected to spend a good 4-5 hours a day alone, practicing your instrument.  It’s a solitary sport; one that requires extreme levels of dedication and concentration.  Every minute in those practice rooms felt like torture to me because I wanted to be out and about.

The day after I dropped out, I woke up so relieved that, for the first time since I was 3 years old, I wouldn’t have to practice my violin that day.  But I couldn’t revel in that thought for too long – I had to get a job.

The Bakery:

I started work at a bakery, thinking that I might want to go to school to become a pastry chef.

It only took a few weeks for my dreams of culinary school to disappear.   I still cringe, remembering how my workdays started with icing 100 eclairs.  I had to lug the 5 gallon tub of icing out of the cooler, then reach my hand in and grab a glob of cold icing, then smooth it over the top of the éclair shell with my hand.

It was thick, and sweet, and rich with cocoa, and at 4:45 in the morning it was disgusting.

On the up side, I learned to decorate cakes almost like Martha Stewart.  But did you know that most bakery employees smoke while they work?  (Yes, even though it’s illegal.) I hated breathing in the smoky air, and I was so tired of getting to work before 5 am.

Still, I was too chicken to quit my job.. . . until the day my paycheck bounced and I couldn’t pay my rent on time.

It was one month before Christmas, the most stressful season in a bakery, and I was done.  What’s the point of having a full-time job if you can’t even count on the paycheck?

I quit the job, took a trip to explore West Virginia, and then spent several months only working part-time as a violin teacher.  I taught private lessons as well as classes at a local private school. I didn’t have any money to spare, but I had freedom!  I trained for a 2-week backpacking expedition, did DIY projects, and watched a lot of HGTV.

The Veterinary Hospitals:

After two months of part-time work, I was bored and ready to have a busier schedule.
Next stop on my scenic route?  I jumped at the chance to become a veterinary assistant at a local hospital.  At the time it seemed like such a glamorous job!

After 8 months of this, I was ready to go back to school and finish my degree just to get it over with.  Enter the 6-month juggling act of private violin students, my school music job, the vet hospital, and – to my parents’ relief – my final college classes.

College, Revisited:

I approached my final semester of college with a very different mindset this time, refreshed by my scenic route.  I woke up early every morning to practice, knowing that I had classes and two jobs to go to.

As soon as I graduated, I was promoted to the full-time position of veterinary office manager.  I was only 23, yet I was suddenly responsible for managing a team and a budget, and learning about sales forecasts. 

On top of that, I had to juggle the downsides of management – working 30 days in a row to keep payroll numbers low, firing employees, and sometimes telling a client their injured pet had died on the operating table.

I thought that was bad, but I was in for an even worse surprise when I was promoted once again to manage a different hospital that the company had just acquired.

Suddenly I was the bad guy, sent down by corporate to make everyone conform to the new rules.  I managed to make a difference at that hospital, gaining the trust of the customers and my staff, and implementing better medical protocolbut I was tired of working for a veterinary corporation whose leadership team consisted of stockbrokers and investors, not veterinarians.  If one more director told me I should have a “promotional sale” on prescription medications, I was going to scream.

I got two new jobs, both at locally-owned businesses.  By day I worked for a small clinic, and by night I worked at an emergency center.  I continued to teach violin in my “spare” time. I missed being able to make a difference as a manager, not to mention the salary, but both jobs were an improvement from the corporate veterinary hospitals.

DC

Then, one spring I moved to Washington DC for a guy I met on www.datemypet.com – not joking.  (He didn’t last, but the move to DC did.)

During my first year in the city, I worked for one of the best veterinary surgeons out there.  I assisted in interesting and complex surgeries, including some on military dogs and diplomatic dogs that were flown in from as far away as Russia, and I got to see how a really successful hospital was run. The owner was a good business woman, but she was also extremely caring and knowledgeable.

But even at the most successful hospital,  the veterinary industry is a physically and emotionally taxing one.

It is more than playing with cute puppies and kittens.

It is cleaning kennels, working weekends, getting bitten, never eating lunch, and reporting abusive owners when they bring a dog in with injuries from a fighting ring.

It is euthanizing an injured pet because his owner can’t afford surgery, and getting yelled at because your business can’t do it for free.

I grew tired of the industry, and wanted an office job where I would have paid vacation and not get covered in bodily fluids daily.

The Corporate World:

Joining a small defense company to do HR and Contracts work, I finally left the crazy world of veterinary medicine for good.

I’m not going to lie. During my first week on the job, the highlights had nothing to do with the work, and everything to do with the clothes, the shoes, the fact that I only worked 9-5, and my ability to actually eat lunch during the work day.

I could tell you about the details of that first defense job, but frankly it’s not nearly as interesting as my previous life.  And then, 8 years ago, I was recruited to work at my current company – one of the largest defense companies in the world.  I didn’t believe a company of this size would hire a girl with a music degree.  But they did.

The vice president who hired me here (and later became a friend, mentor, and our wedding officiant) later told me he did so because of my diverse work background, particularly my vet hospital career. Also? In his words, I had “a healthy disregard for authority.”  I love that description.

In the last 8.5 years I’ve enjoyed the benefits of a large company, working in different areas like business strategy, mergers and acquisitions, communications, and now I spend my days coaching small businesses to help them acquire work with the large businesses like mine.  I’m not a huge fan of the defense industry, but I’m passionate about what I do to help small businesses succeed.

Just like my father’s scenic routes, mine was not easy or a short route.  But it was an AWESOME route.  My lesson learned from all this?  There are so many adventures to be had if you just get off the highway and hit the back roads.

 

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Review of Our American-Made Tuft & Needle Mattress

Did you know that $600 could get you a king size American-made, eco-friendly mattress – in the mail – that is actually super comfortable and well made?

You can, and I promise you that this is for real. This is not a sponsored review, just a super enthusiastic happy customer one.

Tuft and Needle American Made Mattress Review

Until a few weeks ago I had no idea such an option existed. I thought Ryan and I would have to head to a few mattress stores, deal with skeevy salesmen, and go through the painful negotiation process only to spend $1500 or so.

Fortunately, when I posted on Instagram about the Ikea bed fame we were considering, my friend from Old Town Suds commented about Tuft & Needle, a relatively new mattress company selling exclusively online.  Fed up with the middle man and mattress store shenanigans, they decided to create a better product at a better price.  Made in the USA, start to finish. 

“We source all the raw materials—everything from the threads to the zippers. The fabric comes from a 90-year-old, family-owned textile mill in the Carolinas. The foams are freshly poured and cut here in the US. We put the finishing touches in Southern California before we load it on a delivery truck.”

Additionally, the company is working to provide beds to foster children.  After reading over the website and loving the company’s story, I showed Ryan and he agreed – why not go ahead and order it?

“But how can you buy a mattress without ever laying down on it?”

Well, Tuft & Needle cut out the middle man (mattress stores) to cut prices.  They offer the lowest price by being the manufacturers and selling directly to you. To make up for the scary unknown risk of ordering a mattress you’ve never slept on, they offer free shipping and free returns for 30 days – no questions asked.   Tuft & Needle Mattress in Box

That’s right.  We could order the mattress, sleep on it for a bit, and if we hated it – just return it.  We wouldn’t lose a penny.

The mattress arrived within 5 business days of our order, in a long rectangular box.  We opened it up and pulled out the rolled-up, decompressed, vacuum-sealed mattress.  It was like a log of mattress.  We rolled it out, and when we punctured the plastic wrap around it, the mattress slowly began to inflate with air.

But it’s not an air mattress.

The sturdy foam that makes up the mattress is somehow vacuum sealed so all the air is pulled out, and that makes it much easier for shipping.  After 3 hours the mattress is ready to sleep on. Unfortunately we went out of town for the weekend so we had to wait two nights to sleep on it. Tuft & Needle Mattress ShippingSo, how was it?

On the first night it seemed too firm, but on the second night it was perfect, as though it softened up just a tiny bit from being broken in.  And it’s been perfect ever since.  I’m finally sleeping well and waking up without back pain.

It’s fairly firm, but it still gives nicely to support the curves of your body.  We’ve slept on it lying on backs, stomachs, and sides – all positions are comfy.  If you like a really squishy pillow top, you will want to add a pillow top mattress topper. That’s easy enough – and you’d still have a great mattress for much less than the cost at a mattress store.

Pros of a Tuft & Needle Mattress:

  • No flame retardants on the outer shell
  • Foam core made from recyclable, low-VOC polyurethane foam
  • Made in California from start to finish
  • Made by a pretty cool small business
  • Free shipping & free returns for 30 days if you hate it

Cons of a Tuft & Needle Mattress:

  • You don’t get to negotiate with annoying salesmen in mattress stores. . .
  • Just kidding.  We don’t see any negatives since you can return for 30 days if the mattress doesn’t suit your sleep style.

Oh, it comes in two thicknesses – 5 inch and 10 inch. We decided to get crazy and go for the 10″.  I’m glad we did – it feels like a “real” mattress.

So, if you’re curious, check it out!  You can order through this link to receive $50 off your purchase.  Full disclosure: we also will receive a small commission for the referral.

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Bedroom Updates: Upgrading to a King Size Bed

We got a new bed, and my back couldn’t be more excited.

I don’t know if it’s pregnancy or just the fun of getting older, but my back has been bothering me a lot lately. My recent business trips were torture, because the airplane seats wreak havoc on my lower back. So when I noticed I was waking up with less back pain in hotels and at my parents’ house than I was at home, I realized it was time to bite the bullet and get a new mattress.

Our inexpensive queen size IKEA mattress held up really well for 5 years – which is a steal considering it cost under $300. In the last year, though, it’s started to sag and we knew it was due for replacement. The only reason we hadn’t? Ryan and I were trying to build our own king size bed. But sometimes life gets in the way – first I was traveling a lot for work. Then I was pregnant and so exhausted in my first trimester that I was useless. Then my mom became sick and we weren’t in town.

I was ecstatic when Ryan suggested the other day that perhaps we should just buy a cheap bed frame from IKEA to use for the next year, because we probably have our hands full until we’ve adjusted to life with a human child.

If you’ve read here before, you probably know that Ryan and I don’t usually buy furniture to use “just for a little bit.” It seems wasteful. But in this case comfort wins out, and IKEA bed frames have a pretty good resale rate on Craigslist.

Here’s the bed frames we considered:

IKEA MALM

IKEA MALM Bed

When it comes to IKEA furniture, it doesn’t get more basic, classic, or inexpensive than the MALM pieces. This bed frame doesn’t get me all excited from a design standpoint, but it’s got a headboard (one of our requirements) and it’s modern and simple.   The $259 price is nearly as cheap as they come for a bed of this size.

IKEA NYVOLL

IKEA NYVOLL Bed Frame

At $309 this frame is a bit more pricey for a temporary solution, but I love the angled headboard and the Danish modern style of the NYVOLL. I think it will resell better too, as there are fewer available on Craigslist.

I asked about this one on social media, and got positive responses from those of you who already own it. That’s good, because it’s the one we chose!

So, How Is It?

We bought the bed frame Sunday night on the way home from visiting my parents.  It took about 3 hours to assemble it – maybe because first we emptied the bedroom, steam cleaned the carpet, and then tackled the bed around 9 pm.

It is nice to have a headboard after 4 years without one.  I have only one complaint with the bed frame.  While there is a steel middle support beam, there is no support leg in the middle. That’s just lazy construction, in my opinion.  We’ll add one ourselves with a piece of 2×4, but come on, IKEA.  Just add a middle support leg and charge a little more.

Ikea Nyvoll No Middle Leg

Next up – the mattress.  We ordered our mattress online, but that’s a story for the next post.

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