Habeus Crisis: Spin Doctor Turns Legal Eagle

by Nicole Burkholder Walsh '99

I loved my job. It was exciting, entertaining, challenging, and busy—all the things I wanted (or at least I thought so) when I left Scripps in May 1999. I worked at Magnet Communications, a public relations firm that is part of a network of firms across the country.

Over four years, I was promoted four times and managed multiple accounts, including the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. My “career” (or was it a “job”?) gave me the chance to meet celebrities such as George Lucas, Ashley Judd, John Elway, and many more and to counsel high-level executives at major corporations. This is where I found myself when I realized that there was a difference between a “job” and a “career.”

Needless to say, I did not understand this difference when I left Scripps. For some reason I believed that my first job would turn into my career, and that this was the path to the elusive success that I wanted. So, I threw myself into Magnet, working 60–80 hour weeks and weekends. But, as I found out a few years in, a job doesn’t necessarily turn into a career, nor does it have to.

I woke up one day wanting more. I became restless at work and impatient, bored. My dreams of going to law school (which was my intention when I started at Scripps) surfaced, and I decided to take the LSAT. After much stress over my decision, I started as a part-time evening student at Whittier College, in fall 2002. However, I stayed at Magnet, trying to switch my hours to part time. As I found out, life at a public relations firm is not conducive to part-time work, my “part time” was still 40–60 hours per week, and I was unhappy. I knew the life I was leading was not the one I wanted. But I needed the paycheck.

My better judgment won in May 2003. I quit my job at Magnet. Leaving Magnet was not so much about not liking public relations, but about my feeling that there was more out there for me. When I chose the job at Magnet, I felt rushed, as if I had to join the real world as soon as possible. I felt like I had not yet taken time to examine what I wanted for my life. I didn’t realize when I entered the workforce that I didn’t have to hurry because “the plan” will probably take my whole life to unfold.

I left Magnet with no job waiting in the wings. I worried about how my husband and I would pay rent and our student loan bills. Fortunately, the skills I developed at Magnet were marketable. During this past summer, I did freelance public relations work and have since moved on to work at Scripps College in the public relations office. I also got to do something I loved—teach yoga.

What did I learn from this recent change? I know that I will probably have many different jobs on my path to finding a career. My experiences since graduating from college have taught me that a career is the lifelong journey of finding a calling, a dream, and then living it. Alternatively, a job helps you get to the career and, of course, pays the bills until you find the dream.

I also realize that there isn’t one master plan, but a series of events and choices that will shape my life. It was hard to quit my job without another one waiting in the wings and scary with the economy in its current state. Being from a hard-working, middle-class family made it difficult for me to quit because I felt guilty because I was giving up something that other people would have wanted and kept. But, I had faith that something more suitable would come along, and the risk, in my opinion, was worth it.

I still do not know what career I am headed for (there are many things that you can do with a law degree), but I do know that I have time to figure it out. By taking the chance, I am on my way to fulfilling the goals I have always dreamed about pursuing.