My Career Path From Knowing Everything to Knowing Nothing

Innocence of youth, and reflection that comes with age

At the ripe age of 22, a fresh graduate from college, I went after a director-level marketing role at Vail Resorts. And I didn't just apply, I dropped my résumé off at their office with a handwritten cover letter, red-faced after a full day of snowboarding on their mountain. 

While half of me cringes in embarrassment at that overly confident girl, my other half wants to give her a high five. Fifteen years and three agencies later, I have reached the point where I feel like the more I learn, the less I realize I actually know. And on a daily basis I am humbled by the things I don't know, and by the extremely smart people around me who know so much more. 

In the early days of my career, I remember this assured feeling of myself and my agency always being right. There were a lot of late nights spent zeroing in on what I didn't yet know, because I was confident that with enough hard work I would eventually "know everything" and rise to the top. And while I can roll my eyes so often at thoughts of my younger self, there are equally as many moments I spend wishing I could get some of that youthful confidence back again.

I'm sure it goes without saying, but I didn't land the job at Vail Resorts. After a lot of hard work trying to break into the industry, I took a job as an operations manager at a small agency in Denver and started managing all of their digital media. That, of course, made me a digital expert, because digital was new and a little experience went a long way. It was my job as the resident "expert" to lead our clients into the light, even if I didn't fully understand their business. I had limited life perspective and had yet to learn how to put myself in the shoes of a client or user. But that didn't stop me (oh, the hubris of youth). 

That confidence then landed me a job at an interactive agency that had a huge impact on my personal and professional life. And that experience led me to Firstborn, where I've had an incredible opportunity to grow and be a part of a meaningful team and agency. 

Now here I am. I've reached that coveted spot at the top of the corporate ladder as an SVP, yet more times than not I find myself longing to climb back down. Not because the responsibilities of the role are overwhelming, but because the title itself is limiting and has moved me farther away from the work. And with there still being so much I don't know, it's too easy to be paralyzed by imposter syndrome. 

As a result, instead of always looking up toward a manager or mentor who I can run ideas by, I've learned to rely on my peers and mentees to teach and challenge me every day. It's a change in mind-set, but it's the only way I've been able to continue to grow in the role. And from that I've gained the self-awareness to question what I think is right, look at it from another angle and consider someone else's perspective. Of course, I still struggle with things like finding the balance between defending my team and shedding light on a client's perspective, but at least I recognize there's sometimes a struggle there—and that growth lies in that struggle.

So maybe the point of aging is reflection. In the beginning there's nothing to reflect on, so you just move forward, and when you finally gain enough experience to reflect, you finally do.

If I could go back and tell that young girl one thing, it would be to slow down. To not be in such a rush to move on and move up and move farther away from the work. Over time I've learned the power of experience. And that the things you face along the way—embarrassing moments and failures included—are actually what make you.

travelnow.or.crylater

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Kristin Keefe
Kristin Keefe is svp of client engagement at design and technology company Firstborn.