It Takes Time: Why It Took Me A Decade To Realize I Was An Event Planner
Everyone has dreams. Maybe yours is to be a world-famous Olympian diver, a globe-trotting CEO, or even one of those people that gets a million dollars a year to go on fancy vacations. (If anyone has any leads on that last one, I’ll send you my resume.) Whatever that “thing” is for you, I’m here to tell you that you can get there.
When I graduated from college, being in Corporate America was really the only thing I considered a success. I remember watching What Women Want with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt and daydreaming about being that high-powered advertising agency executive that landed the pitch with Nike. In my heart, I was her. I just needed someone to let me prove myself.
Instead of fulfilling that fantasy within my first year of graduation, I was an event planner. The fact that I had this new shiny college degree, and that my job wasn’t located on Madison Avenue in New York City meant I had basically failed myself. My mother taught me that patience is a virtue, but at this point in my life, I had very little.
When I left my event planning job, it was for personal and professional reasons. Internal politics were heating up, and it wasn’t something I wanted to be a part of anymore. So, I quit. I wheeled and dealed my way into a bartending job at a restaurant where the manager promised me a certain amount every week in tips (or he would make up the difference) so I could support myself. I wasn’t where I wanted to be professionally, but it paid the bills and kept me in my apartment and with gas in my car. I do, however, remember living off canned Slim Fast shakes for a few months.
Anyway, the beauty of this job was that I could bartend at night while looking and interviewing for jobs during the day. I still remember the day I found the job on Monster for a Project Coordinator position at Westin Hotels and Resorts. I mean, talk about WOW. Marketing and programming for a global hotel brand, and maybe even a chance to travel the world? I would have done anything to get that job - this was where I was meant to be. At least, that's what I thought.
The interview process was long. First round was with my future boss, then with the Human Resources department (which seemed to be a formality). After two painful weeks, my last round interview was with Sue Brush, the President of the brand. I remember being captivated by her. She was the epitome of poise, and everything you dream a powerful woman should be. She was that and so much more. I walked out of that interview absolutely terrified. I knew I was in the finals, but I never dreamed that they would pick me.
But, in fact, they did pick me. And guess why? Because for that year before this ever happened, I was an event planner. They knew that being an event planner meant I was organized, I could manage groups of people to work towards common goals, and that is what ultimately gave me the advantage and got me the job. Isn’t it ironic how life works itself out?
I had a bond with Sue until she retired. She gave me my favorite boss of all time, Nancy London, who taught me everything I know today about managing with heart. In my almost 7 years with Westin I visited countless countries, met some amazing people, learned more about shower heads than I ever thought possible, and (without realizing it) gleaned the fundamentals of running a business. The recession in 2008 brought my team from 24 down to 4 people, and after it was all over I was 1 of those 4.
I was grateful to still have a job but all I could think about was finding a way to get back to being an event planner. Did I have grass is greener on the other side syndrome? I should have been thrilled. I felt ungrateful. But I couldn’t get over the fact that I wasn’t satisfied. Being an event planner got me the job in Corporate America, and then it became the reason that I left.
I have been told that I project myself where I want to be and then I figure out how to get there, somehow. Westin was where I wanted to be when I showed up for those interviews, but then years later I realized that it wasn’t anymore. Even with the fancy Six Sigma certifications and public speaking classes I couldn’t be swayed.
I started East of Ellie LLC in 2009, lived two lives until, ultimately, I was able to leave my full time job with benefits for the great unknown of business ownership. I had what I wanted, I was finally an event planner again! I stumbled along the way but I am proud of what I have been able to do, and guess what? I still get to travel the world.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I can tell you with certainty that having dreams is a beautiful thing - but don’t forget that it takes time, sacrifices and a whole lot of patience to achieve those dreams.
People always say, “don’t quit your day job,” when they mean that you shouldn’t pursue your dreams. I say, don’t quit your day job because it’s helping you get where you want to go.
Being an event planner got me where I wanted to be in Corporate America, and then, when the planning bug returned, my experience in Corporate America gave me what I needed to come back to event planning, better than before.
I could write a novel on all the things I have missed in my life in pursuit of my dream — countless birthdays, holidays, and my own grandfather’s funeral. On multiple occasions I took my Corporate vacation time to work at events (I told everyone I was on a beach in Florida). I even drove back and forth from New Hampshire to Stamford, Connecticut in one day just to handle one task for my event with Prince Harry. I was supposed to be on vacation with my family but it was all in the name of running East of Ellie.
I still make sacrifices but today, things are different. I get to live out both of my dreams, doing events for Corporations, and living that agency life just like that movie. I have amazing "Ellie's" as I call them who love what they do and it gives me a reason to get out of bed every morning. It didn’t happen overnight, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. You just have to put in the work and not let life conquer you before you conquer it. Who knows, maybe one day I will pitch Nike... A girl can dream, can’t she?