I went to a fancy culinary school in London, and aspired to be on "Top Chef." Instead, I work for a nonprofit whose connection to the food world comes in a box that came from a kitchen nowhere near mine.
After being diagnosed borderline diabetic three days before I left for pastry school, I changed my career trajectory out of fear when I returned to the U.S., opting for something less lethal.
Although I knew my reasons were completely valid, I couldn’t rationalize it all in my mind, and spent a long time feeling like a zombie trapped in the wrong body.
When I started at Girl Scouts of Western Washington as a writing specialist in 2008, I kept silent about my former life, dipping into desserts in the privacy of my home. I shared my creations anonymously on the break room table, but eventually word got out that the confections were mine. “You went to pastry school?” colleagues asked. “What are you doing HERE?”
I was wondering precisely the same thing when a superhero swooped down out of nowhere and reminded me that my doubts were completely unfounded.
That superhero was my CEO, a former lawyer who dressed in Ann Taylor and spoke in short, logical sentences. Up until that moment, I only knew her as someone who put the tip of her reading glasses to her lips when reviewing reports, and said things like “leverage” and “fiscal.”
But when she cornered me in the hall, she had the look of a giddy teenager. “We decided you should go on TV to talk about our upcoming event!” she said, clapping her hands in delight. “There’s no one better suited for it than you.”
“But how are we going to leverage my shyness?” I quipped, trying to speak CEO.
“You’re not shy,” she laughed.
“I think I know myself,” I retorted.
And that’s when she got me.
“I challenge you to look at the woman you truly are, not the woman you have always told yourself you are,” she replied. “I think you’ll find she’s quite different.”
Suddenly Ann Taylor became Deepak Chopra.
I agreed to go on TV, thinking if I made a spectacle of myself, she would see just how well I grasped my own capabilities.
But she wasn’t wrong – I was. I didn’t stumble on my words, and I remembered to smile. I even made a corny joke. Turns out, the 30-something me was very different than the 13-year-old me standing against a wall, begging not to be noticed.
I owe a lot to her for that much-needed wake-up call. It’s our organizational imperative to help girls eliminate barriers, including those they place upon themselves, and here I was, a grown woman still tethered to false perceptions about her own abilities.
Soon, I was promoted to PR director, and went from writing about girls’ successes to telling people about them on TV and the radio.
I’ve witnessed incredible things and have seen lives change in ways that have moved me beyond words, but nothing I have ever done or seen could have prepared me for what I experienced just a few weeks ago.
My Girl Scout council returned $100,000 when the donor who gave it to us asked that their money not be used to support transgender girls.
After we gave it back because we choose to support all girls, something unexpected happened (besides the fact that we not only got the money back through crowdfunding, but got it back in triplicate!). I got a rare peek into the soul of a world I thought didn’t care anymore. Not only do people care about girls and their futures, they care deeply about acceptance and inclusivity.
The outpouring of support for what we’ve done has necessitated the need for Kleenex on several occasions. I am blown away, and I am proud.
I am also overwhelmed by what this has meant to me personally, as a representative of Girl Scouts and as a woman who is a passionate advocate for equality. To be able to speak from the heart instead of a script is almost unheard of in PR, and it’s incredibly healing.
I have long been humbled by what girls are doing to change the world, but I have been particularly moved by seeing what people want to do to change the world for girls.
Now I know for certain that on this frenetic, disengaged and distracted planet of ours, heart-centered work has a very important place. Thankfully, so does pastry.
When my boss (another certified superhero) encouraged me to mix my passion for pastry into the fabric of my day job, my work not only developed more meaning, it also created meaning for others.
I found a cadre of inspiring entrepreneurs passionate about issues of importance to women and girls. Among them were cupcake queens and ice cream empresses who no longer wore sashes, but still proudly called themselves Girl Scouts. Slowly, coffee dates turned into brainstorming sessions, which turned into mentoring, camp scholarships and incredible community building.
I wanted to bake for a living because I believe food unites people. As it turns out, so do non-profits dedicated to empowerment.
And let’s not forget Girl Scout Cookies, which are often passed around on plates at the very moment girls realize that great power can come from hands joined together in friendship around a campfire -- and everywhere else.
Like many Girl Scouts, I know that beneath the caramel and coconut cover lies a powerful cohort of engaged, passionate and driven girls and women who believe things can get better in our world, and we can all be part of that change. For me, that change has been profoundly life-affirming.
Seven years after my professional detour, I remain a curious explorer, eager to see what lies beyond those twists and turns. Not knowing what to expect is sometimes the most exciting part of the ride.
I never imagined that working for the Girl Scouts would be a beautiful and liberating journey of self-discovery. And I certainly never expected a returned $100,000 would motivate me to evaluate the riches in my own life. But that’s how it all played out.
When I talk to girls about the future, I hope one of their takeaways about life is that you don’t always end up where you think you will. You can be a rocket scientist turned massage therapist. You can work for the government, and become a DJ.
Or you can go to pastry school, and accidentally end up at an organization that changes a staggering amount of lives, and realize, for the first time, what icing on the cake really means.