A Zoo Story

by Shelly Rondeau Heller '85

One of my proudest accomplishments is that I have a successful career as a freelance writer, and I still love writing. Not because this gains me a lot of points at cocktail parties—it doesn’t—but because of what it says about how far I’ve come.

In reflection, I realize my career is the result of several important changes that came rolling down the path of life.

We Leave Claremont and Scripps for “The Real World”

First apartment: Venice Beach, California. Nice address, but that’s about it. My roommate, fellow 1985 Scripps graduate Erin Dailey (now Dern), and I land waitress work while we look for real jobs.Through an extended Scripps contact, I get a job as an editorial assistant at a trade magazine publishing company in Brentwood. I work like a maniac for a $12,000 annual salary. I keep my waitress job to make the rent. After six months, our apartment is robbed, and the thieves make off with our only valuables— bicycles, stereo, television. Sooooo depressing.

I Can’t Hack Corporate America

Two years later, the publishing company I work for is purchased by Simon & Schuster/Prentice-Hall. I am now editor of two trade magazines for a division of a huge corporate conglomerate. I work constantly.There is talk about moving the company back East. People start acting strangely. I feel like I am trapped in a cage. Everything is wrong. I can’t breathe.

I envy the people who, working from home, submit freelance articles to us. It builds up until I think I will die if I can’t have my own writing business. I am obsessed. Can’t sleep. Can’t talk about anything else. I am young and poor, with no contacts. I am too scared to quit my job.

Freedom! (If Only Temporary)

I quit my job, put everything in storage, take every last penny out of my bank account and go to Europe. Aaaah. I can breathe again.

Something happens to me during my three-month adventure. After clearing my head in Greece,Turkey, Austria, England, France, and Spain, I realize that while I learned a lot at my old job, never again will I work for such a pittance. I realize that I can take care of myself, and I can set the rules.

Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster/Prentice-Hall closes my old company and lays off all my colleagues.

On My Own

Back in the U.S., people take me more seriously, because I take myself more seriously. I have no trouble getting jobs at much higher salaries. I begin to moonlight as a freelance writer.

In 1989, at age 25, I get the call that will change everything. A man I have never met, at a company I’ve never heard
of, offers me a three-month freelance writing gig.

I quit my job the next day and begin freelancing full time. It feels like a miracle has occurred. My phone is ringing, work is rolling in and the months—then years— fly by. I am supporting myself as a writer. I marry a wonderful man, and we begin to build a life together.We buy a home and have a son. In time, we move to Boulder, a place we all love.

Now I’m 40

Our son is nine now.The thrill has gone out of the work I’ve been doing. I feel strong, healthy, and creative. It’s time for something new.

Last month, I hired a life coach (I know—how Oprah). It’s hard to pay for something that I “should” know how to do for myself, but after months and months of trying, I realize that I’m stuck. I’m not unhappy, just inert.

So with the prodding and support of my coach, I’m giving myself three months to write my own ideas—children’s stories,
personal essays, a book. I go to the mountains for writing retreats. I tutor two middle-school students in writing. I am
turning back to the arts, soaking up all the color and passion I can find. I love every second of it.

To new graduates, I say: Life is long.Your career will be long.You have to listen to your gut. Hang in there and learn
from every job, but when it’s time to go, find that crazy courage and go! If you have enough passion to stay up all
night thinking about something, you have the passion to make it happen.Trust what you know and trust yourself.