A few years ago, my boyfriend and I headed to Lake Cumberland, Kentucky to spend a weekend on a houseboat with some friends. A beautiful resort area, the lake is the perfect place for old friends to relax and catch up, and that’s precisely what my friend Shawna and I intended to do.
I’ve known Shawna since our days at Ohio University. I first heard about her from one of the guys in the dorm who would talk about her as “the girl with the pretty hair.” When I finally met her, I found out that not only did she have outrageously pretty hair, but she also was a really great friend. We lived together throughout the rest of college and have remained friends ever since.
After college, we parted ways geographically. I returned back home to Columbus and Shawna, who had earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminology, was offered a job as a Probation and Parole Officer near her family in Cincinnati. We had no trouble envisioning Shawna in this role and thought it would be a great fit for her—she always said there was something motivating about being a bad-ass woman with grit who was trusted to help keep our communities safe. We had images of Shawna wearing a badge and gun, at times in heels, making arrests and more often, changing lives. And she did all those things.
I’d always assumed things were going well for her, but on our trip to Lake Cumberland, Shawna shared with me a different sentiment. After eight years as an officer, the realities of the job had been wearing on her. Officers were burdened with limited resources, high caseload numbers and bureaucracy, and on any given day Shawna was expected to be a counselor, a social worker, an investigator, a paralegal, and ultimately a sworn peace officer tasked with rehabilitating criminal offenders. She loved public service and she gained a steadfastness from her career that she would not have developed elsewhere. But despite continuing her education and receiving a master’s degree in Criminal Justice, she was earning very little money—at the time, one of the lowest salaries for a parole officer in the country—and therefore needed to obtain a part-time job as well. Without autonomy, opportunity for career development or a fair salary, but burdened with chronic stress, anxiety and depression, Shawna realized she was beginning to lose pieces of her once confident self.
Listening to Shawna reminded me of a conversation I’d had with her back in college. When I asked why she had decided on her major, she had said, “Because I don’t have to take public speaking in order to graduate.” I recalled feeling my heart sink when I’d heard that: One class, (one class!) had been a critical deciding factor for Shawna’s career choice. And then years later, my awesome, bad-ass friend who not only had been speaking in public but serving the public, was losing herself.
By the end of the weekend, I knew what we needed to do. Shawna had ideal transferable skills–strong work ethic, drive, and intelligence–that would allow her to excel in the field I’d chosen, healthcare IT. I convinced her that she needed to take a risk, move to Columbus, and apply for the company where I worked.
Fast-forward to today. In only three years, Shawna has been promoted four times at that healthcare IT company. She started on the customer support team (as I did) and now manages a development team. She feels impactful every day, and has the financial standing to enjoy life on her terms—and, oh, she lives by her best friends in Columbus. She often says how humbled she is by her opportunities and her peers, and I couldn’t be prouder of her for taking a chance to Go Get The World!
Shawna’s path to change was a bit circuitous for sure, but she let her inner voice guide her. When she knew something wasn’t quite right, she shared her concerns with people she knew well and trusted enough to not criticize her or disapprove of her choices. Then, she acted upon those discussions and what she felt was right in her gut to make a positive change in her life. I feel very privileged that I was able to share this journey with my good friend and that I was able to help guide her in a direction that’s proven to be rewarding. Shawna, or Na as we call her, is a true Go-Getter, and I can’t wait to see what she will do next.
Shawna’s List of Lessons Learned
- Never allow fear to derail a dream. Whether it’s public speaking, organic chemistry or calculus, don’t let anything you’re afraid you can’t do, detour your path to success. Try it before you decide definitively. Remember how Shawna’s fear of public speaking directed (or perhaps misdirected) her path in college. #NoFear
- Never allow anyone else to define you. This limits your potential. What if Shawna had allowed comments such as, “the girl with the nice hair” or “you’re too pretty to be a parole officer,” become the only way she defined herself? She didn’t let herself be limited by someone else’s image of her—and neither should you. #BeYourBestYou
- Pay attention to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, stop doing it. If you can’t stop right away, do what you need to do until you can afford to do what you want to do (my mom’s favorite Oprah quote!). #TrustYourself
- Fail up. When Shawna reflected back on her early career, she saw that the most significant pivots happened after transforming her failures into opportunities. Those experiences instilled her with the courage and resilience needed to make the leap to a new career where she could continue to be of service to people. #FailUp
- Never stop exploring. Working hard is often the only quality linked to being successful, but that’s not always true. The world doesn’t hand you anything simply because you crank it out nine-to-five (or six or seven). Even if you work diligently like Shawna, the elements of strategy and fearlessness will still factor into achieving success. Figure out what else you might do and what your heart wants, and then go for it. #GoGetTheWorld