The career I never wanted helped me find the life I always did

Christa Woodall's unexpected career has taken her from journalism to PR to marketing, and even to the cover of Mormon Times. (Photo by Christa Woodall)

Christa Woodall’s unexpected career has taken her from journalism to PR to marketing, and even to the cover of Mormon Times. (Photo by Christa Woodall)

My career is the greatest thing I never wanted.

Graduating from BYU single was heartbreaking. All I’d ever wanted to do was to be a wife and a mother. My life’s priorities and goals are inseparable from my LDS faith, which places marriage and motherhood at the center of a woman’s mortal mission. My closest friends all took that path — and all wed within the same year, to boot — while I moved back to California with nothing but a diploma and a career I resented initially.

Now, however, I can’t imagine not spending the last decade of my life navigating the waters of my career. Through industry shifts, layoffs, good bosses, bad bosses, unexpected career moves, and some pretty amazing opportunities, I’ve learned and grown so much.

A career has done more than pay my bills and fill my time until Mr. Right comes along. It has made me a better human being.

Even in those early career days, when I didn’t yet love my lot in life, I made the speaking circuit of firesides and Mutual meetings in southern Orange County as an example of a successful Latter-day Saint career woman. It was so refreshing to give the youth the lesson I didn’t hear as a teen — that while the work a woman will do in her home is important, it isn’t the ONLY work she can and will do.

Here are three great lessons I’ve learned from my career:

Having a specialized skill set opens doors to meaningful and engaging service in church and community. I’ve been the public relations chair of several choirs, and I’ve had public affairs callings at church, too. By being both a journalist and a member of my stake public affairs committee, I was able to secure news of President Gordon B. Hinckley’s passing in the next day’s Orange County Register — I knew exactly which editor to call, and when she gave some pushback, I had the statistics of Mormons in Orange County at my fingertips, thanks to a recent regional training. Not only did the story run, but I got to round up quotes from local LDS leaders and members about President Hinckley’s impact on their lives.

Every person you meet has a story to tell. As a journalist, my job was to connect with members of the community and share their stories. In the process, these sources opened my eyes to pieces of life I may never live, from losing a teenaged daughter to a car wreck to discovering that toilet seat covers aren’t common while on a concert tour through the South. It’s one thing to know about the AIDS epidemic; it’s another thing to sit with an HIV-positive artist in his home and listen to his journey — from planning for death to planning a future with the virus managed. I interviewed a man on Forbes’s World’s Richest People list and a homeless man who slept beneath a shrub in Laguna Beach — and I learned equally valuable lessons from both about life and humanity.

The colleagues with whom I’ve worked have taught me countless lessons about life, love and little practical things, too. A workplace is like a family — you don’t get to choose who’s in it, but you have to learn to work together anyway, regardless of personalities and preferences. I’ve made many valued friends over the years whose paths would never have crossed mine otherwise, and I’m better off for fighting in the trenches with them. (And yes, that even includes the people who burned me — you learn more from the bad experiences, after all.)

Boring, “grown up” tasks aren’t so bad after all. Early on I glazed over when dealing with chores like choosing a health insurance plan. Wouldn’t it be nice to outsource that to a husband? But instead, I’m glad I’ll be a wise and savvy wife where those issues are concerned. I’ve been able to provide for myself for a decade, and there is power in knowing that I always can, regardless of what unexpected twists life throws in my path.

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