After 17 years of climbing the corporate ladder, I realized I wasn’t happy and needed to follow my passion — my dog, Riggins — to find a fulfilling career.
I had gotten a job in Hollywood after college. It hadn’t mattered to me what I did as long as I lived in “the city.” I was a theater arts major and, like all theater arts majors, had grand plans of being the next Meryl Streep. Deep down, I knew I didn’t have what it would take to make that happen, but I was still confident I would find something fun and creative to do in the entertainment business and just needed some time to get centered and pointed in the right direction.
During an interview at a media monitoring company, I was told that, if hired, they requested that I stay at least a year. Apparently turnover was high! “Of course,” I nodded in absolute agreement, the entire time thinking, “Shoot me if I’m here this time next year.”
Seven-plus years later, I was still walking into the same building. My chair was in a different place. I now had a corner office and ran the West Coast sales and service departments, but I was hard-pressed to call what I did “creative” and even harder-pressed to describe what I did as being in the “entertainment” business.
Despite the fact that I never considered myself to have the personality for sales, I was really great at it. I figure it had more to do with my tenacity than my ability to channel a character from Glengarry Glen Ross. A constant drive got me through years of cold calling. My theater background worked wonders during presentations, and I became the go-to person when it was time to “pull out all the stops” and put on a show for a customer. My type-A personality made me the perfect stickler for PowerPoint formatting, and my need for fairness and balance had my bi-annual employee reviews turned in to human resources long before other managers started getting reminder emails. I didn’t like being in sales, and I didn’t want to do it, but I liked succeeding — and I liked my bonuses!
Ask any hiring manager or HR person, and they will tell you it’s hard finding good sales people. There are a limited number of people who are “hunters,” who can “make it rain,” who are “hungry for the close,” and endless other quotable sayings that make me shudder. When you find a good sales person, you keep them. So I was kept and promoted for years.
By the end of my sales career I had held a vice president title. There wasn’t much more ladder to climb in the industry without moving to New York. Moving for a job I didn’t really liked seemed ludicrous to me. I was on the road constantly, racking up frequent flyer miles, and my Instagram feed was a dizzying array of airport selfies. My parents were my dog sitter, and they had to limit their travels just so Riggins would have a place to stay. As he got older, leaving him for a quick trip to the other coast became harder. I was missing so much of his life, and when he was gone would I be okay with that?
Years of stress and unhappiness, along with a healthy sprinkling of depression, lead to a scene of me in an airport. Denver maybe? It was a layover, I remember that. Doing what every female executive in the U.S. has tricks not to do (look up and to the left, start doing math equations in your head, jab your fingernails into your hand): sob on the phone to her boss. I was done. You would figure that would be it, right? Nope. Remember, once you find a good sales person, you keep them. It actually took numerous phone calls, to other managers, HR, and executive vice presidents, to get my point across: I was done.
It took me a couple months of self-reflection before a friend suggested I start dog sitting. I figured that was a pretty darn good idea and, after some research, I decided to work through a site called Dogvacy.com. With the site handling the business end, such as collecting money, paying for insurance, etc., I was left with the fun part — taking care of the dogs!
Business was slow at first, but it picked up fast. Now, almost two years later, I rarely don’t have a full house. My new career is hard. If I had worked this hard for any past employers, I’d be CEO by now. Dog sitting is 24/7 and pays much less than sales, and yet it makes me ridiculously happy.
I’ve also managed to start volunteering with a local animal rescue group and another that helps low-income seniors and critically ill patients care for their companion animals, something I’ve been wanting to do for years but wasn’t home enough to make the commitment. I take Riggins and our guest dogs on adventures every day and curl up with them every night. I’ve become more knowlegable about the animals I work with and this, along with my dog adventures, has given me the opportunity to become a freelance writer for Dogster.
I continue to look for a full-time job that will allow me to make a livable Los Angeles income, but there is no doubt about the career path. I’m following the dogs. After all, taking care of my hardest dog client is more enjoyable than that day I spent in three planes, two taxis, and one train, tweaking a PowerPoint presentation the entire way.
Let’s Talk: Did you change your career path for a more personally fulfilling one with dogs? Would you like to? Share your experiences and dreams in the comments!
Read more about life as a dog sitter by Wendy Newell:
About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.