I FOUND my dream job in New York after writing an e-mail version of one of those half-court basketball shots. In a state of post-graduation anxiety early this year, I had paused from my résumé tweaking and cover-letter editing to acknowledge that I was at a loss. That's when my gut persuaded me to e-mail an author I had never met, and to ask her for advice.
It had been nine months since I graduated from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, with a B.A. in gender studies and international studies, and I had already lived in Michigan; Washington, D.C.; Ohio; New Jersey; and now New York, doing internships and taking on short-term stints as a nanny. I wasn't ready to go to graduate school, and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my career.
Throughout college, I had been reading and following the work of Courtney E. Martin, author of "Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists" and "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection Is Harming Young Women." I loved her accessible writing about activism, feminism, freelancing and nontraditional faith. Thanks to online media, she had served as a kind of mentor-at-a-distance who both inspired me and calmed my career nerves. When I read her, I saw myself; if she could be so influential, there was hope for other big dreamers like me.
That's why I e-mailed her when I was at such a loss in my career search. After introducing myself and mentioning one of her articles on freelancing, I wrote: "I can only imagine how busy you are and so I know this may be a big request, but if you could spare some time for coffee and some advice, I can't tell you what it would mean to me. Without sounding overly adoring, I just hope that in 10 years I'll have accomplished anything close to what you have, and the work that I've seen you create and been able to make happen for yourself (and others) has given me a glimpse of hope that I will be O.K. and I can have the big dreams that I do."
Seventy-one minutes after I pressed "send," a reply from Courtney landed in my in-box. While I had hoped to hear from her, I didn't expect that she would have time for my questions, and certainly not for a same-night response. I e-mailed her back, and we arranged to have coffee the next week.
When we met, she hugged me. I rattled off my questions: How do you bring big ideas to life in this city? How do you remain authentic but also concisely answer when someone asks, "What kind of work are you looking for?" How do you not sound naïve when you say you want to change the world? What about grad school, and living off nonprofit salaries, and finding purpose? She sat, listened and reassured me. Our conversation cooled my nerves, and I left feeling lighter and more optimistic about the future.
A short time after our meeting, Courtney sent me another unexpected e-mail: "Can you meet Katie Orenstein, the founder of the OpEd Project, on Friday? She's not hiring, but if you meet her you'll be on her mind when she's looking for someone." The organization, which I had researched in the past and where Courtney teaches, aims to increase the diversity of voices we hear in the world. There is a focus on equality, on big change and on empowering people to understand the significance of their ideas and expertise. Its tag line is "Changing the world's conversation."
The next Friday, after a full day of nannying, I was sitting in the lobby of the OpEd Project in Manhattan. I met Katie and dove into a quick, 15-minute conversation that, unbeknown to me, turned into an interview. I assured her that no job was too big or too small for me, and she sat thinking for a minute. Then she said that she trusted Courtney's recommendations, and that if I could successfully book a few plane tickets for her, I would be hired as her part-time assistant. I passed the test and was hired, and my part-time job became full time in June.
I FEEL lucky that, at 23, I look forward to work every day. I have a salary and benefits, lead a weekly conference call with the OpEd Project team, including Courtney, and work for an organization that aligns with my idealistic and big-picture vision.
To supplement my entry-level salary, I still baby-sit at night. But after a year of searching for "the right path," I feel confident that there isn't just one. What's more important, I learned, is to practice and practice those half-court shots.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.