When I was in high school, I organized a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. That experience offered me a lens into a career I planned on pursuing later in life. Fundraising is rarely a choice made in the beginning of one’s career; most professionals make the transition after working for years in other fields.
Throughout school, I continued to be exposed to fundraising as I worked in the development office of my university. I quickly realized how much I enjoyed engaging with alumni and found that I was quite good at it. Others began to notice my abilities and I quickly gained more responsibility. As I neared graduation, my boss sat me down and encouraged me to talk about my dreams. I told her about my desire to someday work in fundraising. She then suggested that I apply to one of the positions that was currently available at the university.
I left that meeting excited, but also reluctant and fearful that I was not prepared for the job or the industry. My degree had nothing to do with fundraising or higher education. I had little to no work experience. How would I be successful?
I shared my concerns with a few others. I talked with women in the industry and asked for the opinions of people in my life that I admired. The messages were all the same: "You’ve wanted to do this for so long." "You have to do this." I started to gain confidence. I also began to see qualities in myself that made me a good fit for the job: I love building relationships, working for a bigger cause, and helping others see the importance of a college education.
I decided to go for it. After phone and in-person interviews with a number of people, I was offered a position. A week later, I confidently accepted and signed the paperwork for my new job as Assistant Director for Annual Giving at Purdue University.
Today, when I reflect on how I arrived at my desk, I can’t help but think about the people and the perfect timing. The St. Jude representative I met in high school, the alumni and development professionals I interacted with throughout college, and the family members and friends that supported me throughout it all. Now, at the age of 23, I’m responsible for engaging and educating students, alumni and friends about the power they have to forever impact the university. I find myself collaborating with students to make music video parodies one day, and attending distinguished events with notable luminaries, CEOs, and professors the next.
Through this experience, I’ve learned that it’s important to focus on what makes you unique. Choosing what’s right for you may not always be easy, as you will often be labeled and marginalized because of your age, gender or degree. It’s up to you to ultimately decide the role you want to play in your own future.