“Why do you want this job?” Max asked Rachel. She tried to hold her tears back but she couldn’t stop her eyes from welling up. Max, who was sitting behind his desk conducting the interview, stood up and walked over towards the window. From Rachel’s perspective, it was as if he picked up on how emotional she was about to become with his question. Redirecting the conversation, Max asked a new question and pointed out towards a building in the city skyline, “so is that where you did your college internship?”
Over 12 years ago, Max was my executive manager and had final hiring approval for a position we were trying to fill within my team. Rachel McDowell was a candidate for the position. At the time, I had been managing a team that had morale issues due to a major reorganization in the company (unfortunately, I learned early on how typical this was inside a company – even if the reason was in support of positive growth). The reorganization included me being a new manager responsible for leading a team in a functional area I had little knowledge in. In addition to figuring out how to rebuild a team to be customer focused and profitable, I was trying to figure out how to bring the team to a much “happier place” and solve for the morale issue.
Rachel had recently graduated from college with a degree in Art History and a minor in Communications, and like most recent college graduates without significant work experience, she sought employment that would pay the bills. It wasn’t so much about chasing a career goal or a dream as much as it was about finding a job. She had done an internship with United Way during college, which led her to another internship after graduating with the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
Like many recent grads’ resumes, Rachel’s resume had a lot of “filler” due to the lack of work experience. But what I recalled most, was what I read on the bottom of her resume upon first glance – and the reason I wanted to share her story. It read – “My dream: to become a stand up comedienne.” Instead of discussing her work experience and skills, we talked a great deal about how much she enjoyed taking one comedy class at the urging of a friend who thought it would be something fun to do.
It was because of our discussion regarding her new interest in comedy that I wanted to hire her. I thought, what better way to bring a bit of happiness to the team than to hire someone who had this dream and desire to make people laugh. I was counting on her to lighten the mood and bring smiles to the team – as well as do the job at hand. As we sat there, I picked up on her determination to get the job (as well as her sense of humor) and thought she’d be a perfect fit. Max agreed and she was hired. We only worked together a short time before she was promoted to another role and moved onwards within the company.
Because of Facebook, I discovered last year that she had continued working at that same company for the last decade in various consulting roles and had just resigned about 6 months ago in pursuit of becoming a stand-up comic. I reached out to her to see is she’d be willing to catch up on her journey since the day of the interview.
Rachel explained that getting that particular job over 12 years ago was pivotal for her in many ways. It brought people in her life at random times that continuously encouraged her to chase comedy. It gave her confidence. Most important, it was being employed with that company that recently gave her the financial ability to finally chase her dream fulltime.
“Picasso had a ‘blue phase’,” she said, “a bad period in life.”
“Two years after graduating from college – I hated my job, and I had very little money. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. But then things began to change for me. People started to come into my life – I didn’t understand why then, but I understand now. For me, I was lucky to discover my passion for comedy because of these people and the experiences.”
“That comedy class didn’t exactly show me what I wanted to do. Instead, it gave me something to talk about in my bleak world. That’s how I felt about my life at the time. Bleak – ‘blue phased’. I didn’t love stand up right away, but other people were so excited about me doing it, that I kept doing it. It gave me a new energy. Admittedly, I tried to quit at times, but I’d get sucked back in by one of those people urging me to continue on. Those angels (as I call those very special people now!) further ignited my passion and love of comedy.”
She laughed, “my brother lent me the $31 (the cost for that one comedy class) because at the time, I still wasn’t making enough money to do anything ‘extra’. It was taking this one class that changed my life. Funny to think about it now – that friend who invited me, wanted a partner along for the ride so she wouldn’t have to do it by herself, it wasn’t as if she saw comedic potential in me. Who knew?!”
Over the years and during her off hours at work, Rachel has been working on her craft and performed her stand up routines on the East Coast beginning in Pittsburgh at the FunnyBone. She has made her way to some of the greatest clubs in the country including Standup NY, Gotham Club, Punchline, the Ice House, Roosters as well as one the most well known comedy clubs launching many of the comedic greats in LA, The Comedy Store. As a result of her efforts in the clubs, she has had the opportunity to meet comic legends such as Dave Chapelle, Robin Williams and Dana Carvey.
At the end of our discussion, I asked her what her non-blue phase looked like now – or what happiness looks like, she said, “to be able to support myself well doing what I love. That’s what happiness looks like to me.”
She continued, “and, I never wanted or want to have a ‘rewind moment.’ So no matter what happens now from this point forward, I know I won’t ever have that feeling of wanting to go back in time feeling the need to do it over again. I’m doing exactly what I want right now. And that makes me happy.”
Rachel, your candor for when and how you discovered comedy as well as how you’ve worked hard to chase your dream, reminds me to always be open to experiencing new things in life. You never know when discovering a new passion might become a life’s pursuit. When a new passion becomes all you can dream about accomplishing. Also, thank you for reminding us that when interviewing for a job, being yourself is still the best asset to bring to the table.