I was a high school English teacher the last time I started a blog. I waxed poetically about why words matter, but I didn’t follow through with it. Lately, personal writing has been taking the form of “Untitled” Google docs that I look back on from time to time. They make me wonder why I don’t have a regular therapist.
It’s been two (plus) years since I left my classroom in June without any plans to return to it in August. It took many years to get up enough courage to do it (and I didn’t do it alone — thanks husband, fam, and friends for the endless pep talks). The majority of my identity was being a teacher, plus there’s a lot to be said about the unabashed guilt. You know, the self-inflicted shame of giving up the first career, ultimately choosing myself over the kids, not contributing to society, or walking away from something I was good at. For the third time, I dealt with the little twinge that always surfaces at this time of year.
On a positive note, I found an “accidental” second career in content marketing. Luckily, I found my way into a company that was willing to take a chance on someone with a non-traditional background and some raw skills. For a while, what I was doing seemed totally unrelated to being an English teacher. After two years of heavy experimentation, slight drowning, voluminous reading, sporadic networking, and some faith, I’ve realized that ending up in content marketing is anything but accidental.
The more idealistic and more youthful me became an English teacher to spread the gospel of the written word. I wanted to help young people find their voices through literature and through their own composition. Teaching English taps into a human universal: storytelling. Every author we read, every assignment they wrote, and every lesson I taught involved stories in some way.
Now here’s where it gets potentially (painfully) obvious: content marketing is all about telling stories. The brands I have the most affinity for as a consumer and the ones I want to work for as a writer tell the best ones…or they’re trying to! Their voices are transparent, authentic, and at times, unexpected. Writing great content means adopting different perspectives, exhibiting empathy, and trusting your voice.
On a recent drive from Half Moon Bay to San Francisco, I listened to the first episode of The Business of Story, a podcast hosted by Park Howell. His guest was Jonah Sachs, a pioneer in the brand storytelling arena. Sachs discussed his go-to storytelling tool, an acronym dubbed MERIT. He goes into great detail on this in his book, Winning The Story Wars, which is currently top of my want-to-read list. Here’s what it stands for: Memorable, Emotional, Relatable, Immersive, Tangible. To illustrate its power, Sachs told an old tribal legend about a boy and his grandfather. No spoiler alerts here — go listen to the episode.
Sachs also went on to say that “the higher purpose of this field is to make a more empowered society. That’s more resilient and able to take responsibility for our own lives.” I’m still working on that last part personally, but WAIT, that’s what teachers do! So not only did I find a profession that hinges upon the value of storytelling, but I found one that allows me to contribute to society in a meaningful way. And celebrate differing perspectives. And learn empathy. And use my voice. And overuse conjunctions for emphasis at the start of sentences. Because heck, I can be a grammar rebel!
In all seriousness, it was a big deal when I realized rounds one and two of my professional life are actually both tied to something I hold in such high esteem. So although the proverbial road ahead is paved with uncertainties (baaaad cliché, sorry), I’m excited for all of the stories I’ll get to read, write, and tell.
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