Originally posted on LinkedIn
It was 1999. I was on a plane headed for San Francisco, and we were sitting on the tarmac. Rain. My already long travel day had just gotten longer. I was hungry and not really in the mood to be in a confined space for an unknown period of time.
It took a few minutes for me to notice that the attractive man sitting next to me was looking through a copy of Chicago Magazine. Not the latest issue. This was a marked up version with sticky notes and handwritten comments. My interest was piqued. In my usual, social butterfly fashion I started making conversation and quickly learned that he was an editor for the magazine. Whether or not it was actually Richard Babcock sitting next to me, I can't remember. What I do vividly recall was the overwhelming panic, fear, excitement, urge to find some way to ask this guy for a job. At that time, I was a road warrior for a software company, working with clients to formulate business processes and manage large-scale projects. Yet, in my fantasy life, I was a writer. I had always been a writer. And here sat the editor of Chicago Magazine.
We made conversation. Talked about Philadelphia--where I had lived before moving to Chicago--the weather, my current job, what to do in San Francisco and just about everything other than the prospect of me writing for him. I couldn't do it. Rather, I didn't know how. I was 30, still not clear who I was and if I was doing what I should be in work and life. I also hadn't yet learned to navigate that fine line between flirting and networking.
In short, I blew it. The captain came on the intercom and alerted us that we were taking off. My seat mate excused himself to work on the magazine draft and I put my headphones on to listen to grunge rock for the duration of the flight.
At the time, I had no idea the ripple effect that chance meeting would have on my career. I've sat on hundreds of planes, had conversations with 10 times as many people--each one having some sort of impact on me. This one lit a fire, sparked an idea, transformed my fantasy of being a writer into a real desire.
It wasn't until six years later, after I met my husband, when I finally put a plan into action to make that desire a reality. I started simple, taking on a few writing clients while I was still working in the corporate world. Very quickly, those few clients turned into enough work and enough confidence for me to give notice at my "day job." I officially became a freelance writer.
In the 10 years since, I've written just about everything you can imagine across a variety of industries and my business has almost exclusively been referral-based. I've learned to turn everyday conversations into leads and writing gigs, without being pushy or sales-y. Experience has taught me that opportunities are constantly presenting themselves--in line at the grocery store, at dinner parties and even on airplanes. My good fortune has consistently placed me in the right place at the right time with the right people. The key has been to trust that the actual work may be weeks, months and even years away from materializing.
Case in point, when I found myself in the same circles as the publisher of a local magazine (Naperville Magazine), I mentioned to her in passing that I would love to write for her. She connected me with her editor and, within a few weeks, I started maintaining an occasional byline with the publication. Unlike my chance meeting more than a decade earlier, I was older, wiser and had developed the ability to "make the ask" with little attachment to the outcome.
Ironically, it is that same publisher (and friend) who recently referred me to her colleagues at another magazine to write an advertorial about Chicago's Western Suburbs. The publication? You guessed it: Chicago Magazine.
Funny how things work out exactly when they should--all in good time.
Now to figure out where the editor of Wired is traveling this month...