Gina: I Quit My Dream Job
If you had asked me if I’d be working in the wedding industry last year, I would have laughed in your face. Then, I would probably burst out crying because I had just started what I thought was my dream job – turns out, I hated it. But we’ll get to that…
My name is Gina and I left my “dream” job ten months ago. I now work for an incredible company called Modern Rebel, an alternative event planning company based in Brooklyn, NY and Austin, TX. We plan weddings, but not the traditional kind. Our clients are diverse, including empowered feminists and the LGBTQ+ community. What makes Modern Rebel special is that we give back to local non-profits so our clients can make an impact in their local communities. As an associate designer and shop manager, my job is to make our clients visions of what their “special day” should be come to life while encouraging them to break the mold and do what makes them happy (and NOT what is traditionally expected of them). To put it simply, I get to help people directly, use my creative skills, and best of all, know that my work is directly helping those in need. Sounds pretty amazing right? But the road to getting here was not a straight one. Here’s my story:
How I Landed My “Dream” Job:
My background was in the film industry as a prop master and set decorator for indie films. While I enjoyed the creative side, the pay was terrible and the hours were long. When there was no work, I’d live off of one $4 deli sandwich a day (half for lunch, half for dinner). I supplemented my income working in bars and breweries but always waited for a “real” film job to pop up.
I’ll never forget the day I received a text from my friend Johanna. “GINA! Send me your resume right now, Martin Scorsese just fired his set decoration assistant and they need someone ASAP!” I sprinted home, sent off my resume, had a mild anxiety attack and got a call ten minutes later telling me to be there at 6 am tomorrow. I had just landed a job with MARTIN FREAKIN’ SCORSESE!!!!! All of my years of hard work, long hours, gross deli sandwiches and being screamed at by directors had finally paid off. I had a job on the biggest feature in New York City. I landed my “dream” job.
When My “Dream” Job Became My Worst Nightmare:
The first few months of my dream job went smoothly. The work was what I expected. I was supposed to be happy, but I would lie awake at night and beat myself up. This was all I had ever wanted. I was working on a major motion picture with people I could network with and learn from; I had a steady paycheck; they even gave me a car! So why was I so deeply, earth shatteringly miserable?
The film industry, while rewarding, is notoriously bad about taking care of employee mental health. During the time I worked on this film, I took one day off. I ended up seeking therapy to help address the misery I was feeling. While therapy helped, it didn’t change the fact that I was working seventy to eighty hours a week, had no social life, and was incredibly burnt out. Hearing stories from co-workers about the immense stress and hours were additional red flags to me.
Making The List:
On a particularly low night, I was lamenting to my partner about frustrated I was for not being able to be happy in my “dream job.” He looked at me and said “Did you ever think maybe this isn’t your dream job?” I was blown away. He suggested, “Why don’t you make a list of your skills? On one side, write down every single skill you have and on the other side, write down what you actually want from a job.” The next day, I decided to try it. Some of my more selfish wants included doing more design work, having better hours, and being able to travel, but the deeper I got into the list the one thing that seemed to pervade in almost every answer I wrote down was helping people in a tangible way. I spent the day brainstorming what I could do that would combine my list into a real job. That night I ran home with my list to show my partner, baffled that his idea had actually worked. By taking the time to write everything down side by side and addressing what I wanted on a non-professional level as well, I had figured out a job that just might work: event production!
The Hustle To Break In To A New Industry:
I spent the next week emailing every event planner in New York, asking for an unpaid internship. I had plenty of experience in restaurants, management, and design, but I knew how competitive the industry was. I was beginning to get discouraged when I stumbled upon the Modern Rebel website. They were the only company that had all five-star reviews, run by strong females and queer people, and best of all, they donated back to local non-profits of the couple’s choosing. I shot off a quick email and they immediately responded that while they didn’t do unpaid internships, they had assistant opportunities available. I applied and was immediately accepted. Soon after, they reached out to me again and asked if I’d like to apply for a head coordinator position seeing as film production and coordination overlapped in many ways. I went through another round of interviews and landed the job!
The NEW Dream Job and Company:
Amy Shackelford, the founder of the company and a total boss, made it clear that her employees and co-workers that physical and mental health was paramount. “Not feeling well? Just let them know and someone else could do a discovery call. Make sure to set specific hours for work so you can have time for life and not being tethered to your computer. Please always let them know if there’s something we can do differently or any suggestions you may have.” I was shocked that a company like this existed when just weeks prior, I had been burnt out and questioning my whole life’s path. Modern Rebel calls weddings “love parties” because that is what a wedding should be: a celebration of love, in whatever the word means to you, in whatever way you see fit, traditions and societal expectations be damned! In addition to making a tangible impact in local communities, the company truly values its employees’ wellbeing.
A New Chapter May Be A List Away:
Whenever I talk about my job, people tell me my face lights up and they can see I truly enjoy what I do. They’ll ask how I got into the industry and I simply tell them: “I made a list of my skills and what I wanted, connected the dots, and tried something new.” Changing careers or even jobs is always scary, but being brave can be so worth it. I got lucky because it happened for me quickly, but that doesn’t mean changing careers isn’t if it takes time. So, if you’re unhappy in your job, maybe even your “dream job”, I challenge you: Make the list, connect the dots, and take the leap.
Gina is a New York native, hailing from the beaches of Long Island. When she isn't working on events you can find her explaining feminist film theory, playing with her two stinky dogs, or planning her next backpacking adventure!