Amy’s Winding Path
I think that I first met Amy Rogers Nazarov as a classmate and student employee of the writing center of Connecticut College. She had a habit of mercilessly, and correctly, editing my papers. Amy, 54, lives in Washington, D.C. and transitioned from being a journalist to a social media coach at her company Spark: Social Media Strategy, while being active in musical groups in the area.
In two-three sentences how would you describe what you do most days/weeks?
I generate photos, graphics, and text for several clients, all of whom happen to be women who own small businesses. I teach them and students who register for my digital course, Seven Easy Social Media Hacks for Entrepreneurs and Creatives, how to think about voice, smartphone photos, storytelling, frequency, content, connection and other aspects of using social media well professionally and personally.
What did you want to be when you were eight?
A writer. I wrote a little story back when I was eight or so called “The Million Dollar Detective.” My protagonist had “seafoam green” eyes because that was my favorite color in my Crayola box. In reality, if someone with those color eyes approached you, you’d run away screaming.
What did you learn about work that you learned from your family?
Our mom and dad worked in real estate and academia, respectively. My sister and I worked at publishers of magazines and newspapers before we started our own businesses, both around writing. My brother worked for a big financial services company, then he went out on his own, too, helping clients manage their finances and plan for retirement. So, I guess I learned by observation and experience that there are benefits to being part of a larger entity, but that ultimately, I wanted the freedom to set my own hours and say yes only to clients and contracts that resonated with me.
What professional experiences/employers had the greatest impact on you?
I worked for almost a decade at a company whose magazines covered computers, computer networks and the Web when its potential as an economic and social game-changer was just emerging. Scads of us reporters ran around IT conventions in Las Vegas, Seattle, and Atlanta covering launches of operating systems and TCP/IP stacks and other esoteric technology advances that would go on to change how we spend, work, learn, date, hire, sell, teach and live. It was fun and it was grueling; I lived in California then and had to finalize my stories by 2 p.m. Pacific time every Thursday, so the copy desk and production people in our New York headquarters could put the issue to bed.
Then the Web came along and forced us out of our familiar weekly print news cycle. We freaked out that we would have to cannibalize our own print stories in order to post something online. It’s commonplace now, but that shift to digital was really painful. So many print publications were shuttered. Overnight you go from drinking rum and Cokes with Microsoft pr folks and listening to Squirrel Nut Zippers at a party thrown by the company; the next you’re looking at a row of empty offices where your colleagues used to sit.
What is something about your career journey that people might not expect?
That so many of my jobs were sort of accidental. I spent two years in New York, where I worked at two different trade magazines, one bookstore and one women’s glossy. On a whim I moved to Chicago, landing on my feet at a newspaper for business women. On another whim a year later, I moved to California to be near my boyfriend at the time. I was working at a company that printed ink on soda cans when I attended a cookout at someone’s house in San Jose, where I met the guy who would become my first boss at the tech publishing house I mentioned. It was all so random. I regret none of it.
Why did you pivot?
I left full-time journalism because I wanted to set my own hours, and also because I wanted to write about what I cared about. I couldn't stomach listening in on another earnings call; I wanted to interview a zookeeper about what it was like to say goodbye to the hippo he loved who was moving to another zoo, or to talk to TV “weather girls” about how they got their start in the business, or to interview one half of Indigo Girls about what she getting at when she wrote “Galileo.” (Those were all real stories of mine.)
What skills were portable from what you had been doing previously and what was brand new to you?
Over the past 30 years, I have interviewed thousands of people from my college newspaper internship all the way through this week: town councilmen, fire fighters, coin collectors, scientists, entrepreneurs, CEOs, sax players, curators, physicians, cannabis dispensers, authors, zookeepers, a psychic, senators, folk singers, composers, conservationists, real estate agents, restaurateurs, you name it. The ability to be able to ask anybody lots of questions makes it much easier to go to a party, say, or get to know my community better. Part of my commitment to my social media clients is helping their followers understand them and the work they do more clearly. Being able to ask them probing questions about their work is crucial to that.
What was the hardest part about making a career pivot?
Giving up a regular paycheck.
What were the most important lessons you’ve picked up along the way?
Don’t go crazy waiting for the “perfect” job because it doesn’t exist. That said, there is not a single job I’ve had - from waiting tables to shelving books to being a freelance writer - that hasn’t taught me a thousand useful things, most of which carried forward into the next job.
What would you say to others who are doubting their ability to make a change in their career/vocation?
You would be amazed what happens when you leap.
Where did you get the confidence and support to make such a change?
My husband has a “normal” job with the feds, and when he saw how blue I’d get on Sunday nights before I quit my reporter position, he encouraged me to make the freelance leap. I got health insurance through him, which was obviously a huge load off my mind. I also had friends who liked my writing and encouraged me to spread my wings, to get out of trade publishing where my creativity was pretty constrained.
What was the hardest thing you had to overcome in your professional life?
Hard to pick one!
- Sexism and sexual harassment, when I didn’t have the confidence to name or confront it.
- Having my book proposal rejected 60 times by different publishers. My agent kind of gave up on it and faded away.
- Exhausting office politics. I have had some catty co-workers over the years; I don’t recall their names, but I’ll never forget how they made me feel, like Maya Angelou said. That said, I have also had too many lovely ones to count; I just sent a couple dozen of them Christmas cards.
What is something about your career journey that people might not expect?
I am a performing songwriter whose stuff has been played on JetBlue and a few other airlines. When my first royalty check rolled in, a whopping $200, I was like, “Well all right! Let the passive income roll, baby!” That was my first and last royalty check. That’ll teach me to be smug!
I was in a bluegrass band called Dead Men’s Hollow for 14 years. When we disbanded a few years ago, I formed new projects - Ardmore and Tiber Creek - with wonderful musicians I’d met along the way. I think there are subtle ways writing and playing music feeds my social media work. For one thing, they share an element of exposure. When you’re putting yourself out there as a social media user and as a singer on a stage with a microphone, it can be simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. In my songwriting, I am often going for the same emotional punch I seek to put forth on social media. I’ve had people come up to me after shows and tell me how much a certain song moved them; in the same vein, I have clients and students who tell me that my advice helped them move past a mental roadblock. That kind of feedback is incredibly gratifying.
What, if anything, are you hoping happens next in your professional life?
Would love to continue meeting amazing people that I can help understand social media. My clients are terrific people whose businesses I admire and truly believe in; I could not work with someone whose work I didn't respect and value. I will continue to tell their stories on social media. I love bringing out the history of their businesses, details about their staff members, poignant milestones, big wins, behind-the-scenes workings, etc. The social media version of any entity is one long story unfolding in real time. For all its ills, I still think social media is kind of a miracle.
What social media links, if any, might you like to share in the piece?