“Did you ever think a year ago you’d find yourself working full time in San Francisco for a big media company, getting benefits and everything?” my friend asks me as I raise a cocktail to my lips. I had invited her to join me for drinks to commemorate the conclusion of my first week at Dogster. I’d opened a tab and asked the bartender to add Stephanie’s drinks to it — something I couldn’t do previously. Stephanie continues, “Did you ever think you’d find yourself here?”
Before I answer, I’ll tell you how I got here.
A year ago I was working in Los Angeles as an assistant to a producer, putting a portion of each paycheck away in order to transfer my life to San Francisco. I was dating a man I believed was “the one,” and I envisioned my move to the Bay Area as the beginning of the “adult” chapter of my life. Stagnant in the city where I was born and raised, I sought the discomfort of change as creative momentum.
Last December, I threw half my belongings in my station wagon, and six hours later parked in San Francisco, moving my computer, my bike, my banjo, and my camera into a new apartment. I certainly succeeded in making myself uncomfortable. After living alone for years in West Hollywood, making a home with my kid sister in San Francisco spiked resentment and resurrected childhood pain — we fought like, well, cats and dogs. Promising job interviews ended in regretful “We really like you, but you just don’t have the experience.” And, most disruptive, I learned that my partner had betrayed me without the courage to tell me about it himself.
I didn’t know a heart could be so broken. I felt like driftwood, unanchored, tossed around on the violent waves of a dark sea of depression. I would find myself crying on the bus, too hurt to care who witnessed.
I wanted to lie in bed all day, but my savings were running low, and I needed to pay rent. I scoured Craigslist and job boards, sending resumes into what seemed like a void. Little did I know that in San Francisco — the city named after the patron saint of animals and where canines are said to outnumber children — dogs would come to my rescue.
I landed a very, very part-time job as a dog walker, with no experience other than a life of canine companionship. The structure of routine and the smiling dog faces gave me something to look forward to. I formed a close bond with a black Labrador named Ambroise (pictured above). His eyes would light up as I approached the door, and he’d offer me his favorite toy as I hooked his leash to his collar. Barely a year old, he was calm, gentle, and mellow. Sometimes I would pause on a walk, and, overcome with a wave of sadness, I’d hold him tightly and cry into his fur, and he’d lean against me, offering his strength and warmth. When I get a dog of my own, he or she is going to be a Labrador.
Working with dogs piqued an entrepreneurial interest; I considered starting my own online pet social network. While researching to put together a business plan, I clicked on a link for a site we all know and love — Dogster.com.
Amid helpful articles, stories, and cute puppy photos was a job advertisement for a part-time copy editor position. I had some online media experience, so I applied. I learned that Dogster is based in San Francisco. The job ad didn’t ask for a hard copy of my resume, but I called to say I’d be stopping by with one anyway.
“Well, you won’t be able to speak to the person hiring,” the receptionist warned me over the phone. But I went anyway, following up with an e-mail: “Hey Janine, just wanted to let you know I dropped a resume off at the office. I look forward to hearing from you.”
Two days later I received a response.
“Hey Liz, thanks for dropping us a note. We’ve found an editor for this part-time position already but I’m wondering if you might be interested in some writing opportunities we have.”
“Janine” is Dogster’s editor-in-chief, Janine Kahn. She invited me over to Dogster HQ to chat about the duties she had in mind, gave me some quick instructions, and the next day I set off writing cute dog and cat posts, dubbing myself Dogster’s Cuteness Correspondent.
A few months later, Dogster’s editors invited me to apply for a full time position — that of associate editor. I declined, because I’d made a commitment to my dog-walking job. But Janine and Managing Editor Vicky Walker asked me to visit them at the office again.
“Are you sure you don’t want to work here?” Vicky asked. “I mean, how much are you making with dog-walking?”
“Not … that much.” I said.
“You’d really fit in great here,” Janine added. “You really should apply.”
I don’t question signs — especially those that present themselves multiple times.
My heart swelling with hope and my mind envisioning a future free of financial struggle, I applied. I excitedly told everyone about the very possible job opportunity. It felt like it was already mine.
A week later, Janine delivered the news to me herself: they had decided to go with someone else with more experience editing writers.
“I feel awful because we basically begged you to apply only to have to send you this e-mail after,” she wrote. “You absolutely deserve to be on a team that appreciates your attitude and work ethic. I know this is disappointing, but I hope you understand.”
I asked for the rest of the day off from work. I hid in bed. It made perfect sense, but I was still a little crushed.
So a few months later, I hesitated when Janine wrote to me about a “possible job,” saying there might be room in her budget to hire me. I didn’t let myself get too excited about it.
When she called less than a week later, I almost couldn’t hear her — my heart was pounding in my ears.
“Are you sitting down?” she said.
I sucked in a breath, wondering if I could bear to have my heart broken … again. “Yes.”
“Because we’d like to offer you a full time job at Dogster as our assistant editor.”
I didn’t hear her next words. A million voices were singing in my head, a chorus of triumph. I think I started laughing.
“Oh my Gawd!” I said, slipping into my valley girl accent. “I can’t believe this. I was so worried. Oh my Gawd.”
“So, is that a yes?” Janine asked. “I have to let them know if you’ve officially accepted or not.”
“Yes, yes, yes!”
I began immediately. I was welcomed into the Dogster office with hugs and smiles. It felt like coming home.
This job means a lot to me. It’s part of the roots I am planting in San Francisco. It’s been about a week and a half, and I stride into the office smiling every morning. Getting this job is a testament to my skill and persistence. In many ways, it’s a return to the little girl who long ago wrote a story about a dog who ran away. I’ve always dreamed of working with writing, and as a kid, dogs inspired the short stories I would write in my bedroom. I’ve never felt as appreciated and respected at a job as I do at Dogster. My co-workers support me as an individual. They feel like family.
Here at Dogster I am allowed — encouraged — to indulge in cute puppy photos, to cry when a particular video touches me, and to reach an audience whose members love dogs as much as I do, people who love dogs because they appreciate the honesty they bring into our lives.
It might seem overly sentimental or trite, but I imagine myself as a butterfly. Moving to San Francisco was like tearing myself from my cocoon, and with my damp wings, I could not catch the wind to lift me. But it’s been pretty warm in San Francisco these days, my wings are now dry, and with Dogster beneath them, I am taking flight.
Now back to Stephanie and the cocktails.
“No, I never imagined this,” I say to Stephanie as she finishes her drink. When I close my tab, I notice the bartender has comped one of my drinks, but I tip him for the extra one. I feel very lucky to be where I am, and it’s time to pass the good fortune on.
It happened to me — I hope similarly good things will happen to all of you.
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