At WERKIN, every day we get to meet remarkable people and learn about how their career journeys have been shaped by mentors and sponsors. Recently, we spoke with one such person, Jennifer Anne, reporter, artist, yoga instructor, and a member of BEACON, a groundbreaking community-led campaign to make Washington, DC the most influential and supportive city for women entrepreneurs in the United States. WERKIN is collaborating with BEACON to bring tech-enabled mentorship to its collective of women entrepreneurs.
In a virtual ask-me-anything hosted by WERKIN’s Christine Sweeney, Jennifer Anne shared her career journey with BEACON mentors and mentees who dialled in from across Washington, DC.
In part one, Jennifer describes how she built a dream career completely by doing things that she loves and how mentors have empowered her to follow her passions.
Christine Sweeney, WERKIN (CS): You’ve described a commitment to integrating your personal interests into a career path. What brought you to that decision?
Jennifer Anne (JA): After I finished my bachelor’s degree, I had a writing instructor who was really important to me. She stopped me when I was looking at getting a nine to five job in business, I didn't even study anything related to that, but I think I had an image that when you became an adult, you had a briefcase, you went to an office. She said, "What are you doing after school?" and we sat and talked. It was a really impactful conversation because she knew I had talent as a writer and as a creative person. That made me feel like I should follow my passion. That was her advice. She said, “We only have so much time in our lives, so we might as well do what we love.” It's been baby steps since then.
I'm the only one in my family who has a career that's not a typical nine to five. At holidays for a long time, I would feel a little funny because I'd have to explain what I was doing and it didn't fit the mould of what others in my family had done. It was a very scary journey in the beginning, I just was doing steps to get me to where I am now which feels amazing. It wasn't always perfect. I'm really lucky that it's come together. I always took opportunities that fit with what I wanted to be doing, which was writing and artistic pursuits. I studied in a master’s program that integrated film, creative writing and new media. I avoided being boxed in any one type of writing.
I took a job right after grad school at a fashion photography agency which was new, I hadn't done anything in fashion before, but it was really fun to work with photographers, and be able to be a creative person with different types of creative people. Every opportunity, there's a theme of not letting myself be boxed in. I took a position in South Asia which was a huge leap of faith. It was an opportunity I got connected to through my graduate program, I was directing media programs there. Professionally, it was really empowering because I was leading programs, rather than just being on a team. But that was something that I sat with for a long time, and I did it because I knew it would help me grow as a person, and then professionally I think it was empowering to know that I could be the person managing projects.
CS: Can you tell us more about the writing teacher who saw something in your talents and really nudged you to consider other options?
JA: Yeah, I had two writing professors in my bachelor’s program who were really important to me. One always encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing and always mentioned he saw a lot of talent, and then the other teacher, on a personal level, literally saw me walking on campus and asked me what I was doing and somehow we ended up talking in her office, and it was just a heart to heart. Those moments are really important, especially if you take a path that is different than that of your family. If you have seen someone go on the path, you have something to follow, or a framework that you know. For me, it took courage and being open to mentors, the BEACON Program has been amazing for that because I came to Washington, DC and really wanted to be independently employed here. The BEACON Program has been great to continue to find ways to meet other people and grow professionally.
CS: What would you say is the best way to access new areas whether it's new writing genres or new cities?
JA: Putting yourself out there is really important. That's what I learned the most since I've been in DC. So I put myself out in networking events. Keep in mind that you are not out there alone, DC is a big city. I'm from the Midwest, so the East Coast intimidated me at first, but realize that you belong where you are. And the more you go out and meet people, and just express what you're interested in, that's allowed me to build my career in a really natural way. And I'm lucky that in DC, people are really interested in helping one another get connected for professional opportunities. Put yourself out there. I got a freelance job at a place that I had applied to two or three times and got rejected. But I kept applying. A friend said that she would not do that. I've just gotten in the habit of not being afraid to look silly, just continuing to put my best foot forward. And even if I don't get a yes right away, I still try again.
CS: You’re a local reporter. Many small businesses are challenged to get local coverage of what they're doing. Do you have any advice for our small business owners of the best ways to be known and be seen within the city?
JA: Social media has become such an important platform. I had managed social media for organizations, but I never made my own profiles because I'm not used to self-promoting. Having just set up personal social media profiles for two months, I have seen that it connects me with people that I wouldn't otherwise connect with. Social media is really important for small businesses because it's your billboard in the digital space, and then you can always reach out to a local paper. Looking at a local paper, that might get you to the local folks you’d want to be attracting to your business anyway.
CS: Going back to promoting your business, what would you say is the best way to professionally promote yourself?
JA: That's something I'm still figuring out. I've been on Facebook for a long time but that was usually just friends and family. LinkedIn, I've also been on for a longer time. But for me, that's not my shining spot. Instagram has been the one I felt most comfortable with. I'm a photographer and I'm having art exhibited in a gallery show for the first time this month. I can go on Instagram, post pictures and that gets good results. We all have one social media platform that naturally suits our talents or our personality. And then I think you have to figure out the best way to attract new followers, that's something I'm figuring out as I go.