I’ve built a life, or at least my career until today, March 1st, about the long run. Let me explain.
I don’t have a memory of before I was hungry to write.
I was a nervous child, always thinking the world would fall out from under me and generally didn’t feel understood. I recall a particular grey, rainy day when the family we carpooled with turned in to drop us off at school and I refused to get out. A panic attack hit me and I dug my small fingers into the car door handle begging this woman to turn around + take me home — sobbing, limbs shaking, face beet red. The familiar ache of terrible embarrassment set in (I was no stranger to panic attacks by this point despite only being in the second grade) and she brought me back to the promised land.
That day both of my parents were home from work and they decided to take me out. We went to lunch at a Chinese Buffet and the thrill of going somewhere where burgers, chicken tenders, or fries weren’t an option dulled the shame I was so heavily experiencing. After, we went to Kohl’s and they told me I could choose a toy for myself. I knew exactly what I was getting as soon as I feasted my eyes on it: A pink journal with a heart lock. Somewhere I could document all of the complicated emotions, experiences, and observations that were constantly speeding through my mind. A bad day turned okay because of their kindness to me.
Throughout early elementary school, the writing spool I’d been given continued to unravel. I would sit at our family computer in my living room for hours writing short stories. I would dig like treasure for the perfect word to explain what I wanted the reader to imagine, printing out my pages like it was the work of Barbara Park (Junie B. Jones sat high on my esteemed bedside book pile) and have it stapled so my parents could diligently rate + review.
The writing bug journeyed on. Essay contests in junior high, being editor of the yearbook, finding an internship at a local magazine in high school, and writing long-form letters to friends like I wasn’t at the advent of Instant Messenger and text messages — though I certainly took full advantage of those too — I couldn’t stop writing. It was and has been the only way I know I can calm the chaos of my mind.
Then, college hit. To be honest I counted myself out before I could try. The journalism school I wanted to go to had an ambitious math requirement (big yikes for someone that had to work for a “C”), I knew that down the road I wanted a family (people love to tell you journalists work around the clock) and I knew I wanted to make “good” money. I had grown up in a household where we had to pinch pennies and both of my parents worked odd hours to make ends meet. I admire their work ethic and I get emotional thinking about how much they’ve sacrificed for my sisters and me, but I knew they were working hard so I could break the chain. And I desperately wanted to.
I set my sights on a career that wouldn’t require me to work day + night and could sustain the adult life I had envisioned since that afternoon at the Chinese Buffet. A life of galavanting around the globe, eating food that made my eyes close in awe, and throwing dinner parties for friends who felt like family in a cool apartment with art that meant something to me.
I decided to get my degree in Communications (I reasoned it was close enough to journalism and could open the door to many different industries) and itch the writing scratch with a lifestyle blog. I built Kayli Wanders the summer after high school. A PR professional’s assistant actually reached out to me on Twitter a year or so later. She enjoyed the community I’d built and her assistant needed a Social Media Manager. Might I be up for the interview?
At the time, I was working a full-time job for a retail merchandising company setting up displays at big-box retailers like Walmart and going through grocery stores to make sure specific items were in stock. After I was done, I had to sit in the parking lot (or if I was lucky, the food court!) for hours until I ran out the clock. I completed my work relatively quickly but they could track my location and I needed the full 8 hours of pay. So, I sat.
Needless to say, I took the interview with both hands! This was 2013 and I didn’t even know that social media could be a job. Algorithms weren’t a buzzword yet and we were all still using the Sierra filter with frames on Instagram. We didn’t know how good we had it. I filmed a video of myself answering the questions required of me, hopped on a call with the CEO, and got the job on the spot. Within a few months, I found other contractor Social Media Marketing clients and was able to quit my Retail Merchandising job. Hallelujah!
Throughout the next decade, I built that business from Kayli Wanders to The Passion Punch to Kayli Schattner, always keeping my focus on marketing. However, I broadened my scope as my education and the world of digital media marched on, eventually choosing to focus on copywriting as my specialty since, you guessed it: In the long run, it could likely make me more money than simply sharing my life had. It could bring me closer to a calm nervous system. A nervous system that assumed that, if it took this path, that maybe they wouldn’t worry so much about how to pay off piling student loans or afford rent next month.
I had tried to go back to writing with a non-marketing focus here and there, taking a full-time job with a client who had asked me to become their Marketing Manager with the hope it would give me more time to figure out what I really wanted to do since I had spent the last 10-years focusing on how the life I was building would eventually bring me this freedom I was desperately searching for. The travel, the good food, and the friends around the table. However, I quickly learned that I throw myself into projects and jobs with all I have, leaving little time to explore outside passions that require brain real estate.
I don’t want this to come off as ungrateful or paint a negative picture of how my life was. I did travel, I tried oysters for the first time (eyes closed + all), and I had friends laughing on my couch in an apartment that was completely my own. I met slews of incredible people that taught me about business but who also showed me what I needed to see to get back to my passion-filled thread on the spool: I was dreaming too small and working in a way that not only didn’t light me up, it wasn’t getting me where I wanted to be — or rather, to who.
With a healthy dose of privilege + wisdom branded onto me, I’m beginning to pave a way back to what I know to be true as far as how I want to build my professional life these days. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention at least a few of the things that have also influenced this awareness: My adrenal fatigue and PCOS diagnosis, a coaching certification program, and my soulmate connections who help me return to the fire of my being. It has all lead me to here and here feels like the start of something really great. Very true.
I’m still copywriting + working on branding projects here and there for clients but I’m not solely pursuing those avenues as the only means to an (now my and my husband’s) end. I’m letting go of perfectionism and now have a huge corkboard filled with collages that inspire me like I used to plaster on my closet doors in high school. I’m (once again) returning to publishing a weekly newsletter. In many ways, I’ve tried to never stray from the life I’ve wanted to live and I’m proud of that. I host dinners at our small kitchen table with colorful candles lit and meals from cookbooks in the oven, travel to locations that make my tear ducts well-up with their beauty, and curate our home so it’s a space we feel is truly ours when we walk in the door.
I suppose I knew the woman I wanted to be at eight and I finally am becoming brave enough to fully become her.