Category Archives: Ramblings

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.


Then, one spring I moved to Washington DC for a guy I met on – 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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State of the Blog: A revised update!

In my last blog post – “Why I’m Giving Up on my Design & DIY Blog“ – I think perhaps I worded the title wrong, so I’ve gone back and revised it to “Why I’m Embracing Imperfection In My Design & DIY Blog.”

Thank you all who read it and took the time to email or comment. I wrote it on a whim after mulling over those thoughts for months, and it may have come across as whiny. That was not my intent.

Neither was it my intent to say I was ending my design blog. It was more of a personal manifesto; one in which I was publicly letting myself accept that I was no longer going to try and be something I’m not.

I haven’t had the energy for blogging lately. . . but I think it’s coming back! We’ve been very busy spending all of our free time (and some of my working time) in Delaware with my mom, and when I’m home I’m just trying to keep up with laundry and the house, etc.

However, Ryan and I have been working hard behind the scenes to get some projects done, and it’s been great therapy!   I’m looking forward to sharing some things

So here’s what you can expect on this blog in the future:

  • Real life projects & design attempts
  • In real time
  • With real photos (that may not always be magazine quality)
  • With [occasional] real life updates
  • Without ads or sponsored posts (though I may use affiliate links for products I love)

I am looking forward to rocking it old school.

I’ve seen a few other bloggers talk about keeping it real, letting go of the comparisons, and generally embracing the old-school “blogging for fun” mentality. Here are a few fave bloggers who still feel real to me, in case you’re looking for some other “real” bloggers to add to your reading list:

  • Christina, Plain & Simple – She wrote recently about letting go of comparison in her blogging, too.
  • Kalanicut - An awesome lady with a fun lifestyle blog, always written in a peaceful, calming tone that I love.
  • Small Chic Home – Jeannine has always kept it real while blogging about design. She posts real time updates and projects on a real-life schedule, and I’ve always loved that, because I can relate.

In the mean time, I’m working on a very exciting post about our latest project. It’s a big one!

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Why I’m Embracing Imperfection In My “Design & DIY” Blog

Note:  Originally titled “Why I’m Giving Up on my Design & DIY Blog – I changed the title after I realized it didn’t convey the right message. I’m not ending the blog, just revising my approach.

This June marked my five year anniversary of this blog, which I originally created to be a rental decorating and DIY blog.  In those five years I’ve seen so many changes in the blog world, and seen so many even younger blogs become famously successful almost overnight.

At first, I saw my traffic climbing steadily through 2012, but ever since then it’s been steadily decreasing, as the travel and work demands from my day job have increased and I’ve dedicated more hours on my handmade business.

With traffic half of what it was two years ago (14,000 visits a month vs. 30,000) I’ve been questioning my blog’s purpose all year.  With my mom terminally ill and now in hospice care, my somewhat stable little schedule has been temporarily disrupted as Ryan and I are traveling between DC and Delaware regularly to spend time with family but still work. Maybe it’s a weird silver lining, but this situation has made it so clear to me that I need to let go of my vision for the blog.

I remember the days when Young House Love was a baby blog, when there were fewer cliques and design bloggers were all just sharing sincere and real posts about their projects.  Now it feels as though, in order to have a successful design blog you must have magazine-quality photos and staged photos for every post and project you share, and you must have a constant stream of DIY projects and makeovers popping up in your readers’ feeds in order to keep their interest. Also, it seems that many design bloggers are able to constantly make over rooms and buy new furniture.  That’s not in my time or financial budget, nor does it fit with my interest in being eco-friendly.

I’m tired of comparing my home and blog to that of others. I’m not usually that kind of person, but this blog seems to have that effect on me  – and I don’t like it!

I bought a ticket to the Haven conference (which was last week) but then re-sold it a month ago because I felt my blog wasn’t good enough or popular enough and why should I spend all that money to travel only to sit in a conference and feel inadequate.  I know that sounds harsh, but it seemed most of the attendees would be full-time professional bloggers.  And that I am not.  Not by a long shot.

Also, it seems that many design bloggers are able to constantly make over rooms and buy new furniture.  That’s not in my time or financial budget, nor does it fit with my interest in being eco-friendly.

Honestly, while I love design and DIY and want to hone my design skills, do projects, and post about them regularly, I have found that I just can’t, no matter how many times I’ve tried to. Every year my time and travel requirements for the day job increase.  Additionally, I think if I hadn’t started Janery I may have been able to develop a more stable blog, but I’ve finally accepted that I’ve spread myself too thin.

My life is changing right now, and I want to be sure that by next year I’ve changed it in the way that’s right for me. I’m not leaving this blog behind, but its purpose will be adjusted.

I want to blog when I have an awesome DIY project or room makeover to share, but not feel pressured to do it regularly.

I want to feel comfortable blogging in shorter posts, sharing something fun I did without feeling the need to create a tutorial – unless it’s actually a super unique and tricky project.

I want to do more Craigslist Palace posts because that was a ton of fun, getting to decorate an imaginary room with thrifted finds.  But that post took me hours to complete, and I don’t always have that time.

I want to find my style again.  As I type, I’m sitting on my couch and looking at some floral pillows on it.  They’re pretty, but not “me”.  I’ve mostly stopped reading design blogs because I think they were skewing my sense of my personal style. I realized this when Ryan and I went on the mid-century modern home tour.

Right now I’m trying to decide if I should have two part-time blogs or one overall blog.  When the Janery website launches, I’ll have a Janery blog that customers can read.  I’m wondering if I should post my occasional home projects there, or if I should keep them happening here.

I sometimes wish I’d never started a blog, because it’s very hard to let go of it and accept change. But I have met some amazing people through it, and that makes it all worthwhile!  Also, I think I need to focus on what this blog has inspired me to do – like building furniture.  That’s something I never thought I’d do.

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