Meet, Plan, Go!

Kick-Ass Host: JoAnna Haugen
Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

All of our local kick-ass Meet, Plan, Go! hosts have inspiring stories of their own career break travels. In the time leading up to our National Event in October we will introduce them to you so you can see why they are part of our team.

Meet our Kick-Ass Las Vegas Host: JoAnna Haugen

What Doesn’t Kill You Only Makes You Stronger

JoAnna HaugenIn college, I believed I had to prepare for the most robust career opportunities available. Even though I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do, I knew I loved to travel and wanted to integrate some sort of international experience into my resume.

But resumes begin in college, so I majored in a broad and widely defined field, and I minored in a foreign language and international business. I studied hard, held offices in several student organizations, paid my way through school with scholarships and graduated with honors and an emphasis in international studies. All of these things were meant to prepare me for the perfect career. You know, the career where my skills were needed and appreciated, where my creativity was coveted and where I could scoot right up the corporate ladder while collecting hefty bonuses along the way.

During the semester leading up to graduation, I applied for hundreds of jobs and was called for less than half a dozen interviews. With our apartment lease up and no company willing to greet me with open arms, my husband and I packed our bags for Peace Corps service in Kenya.

They say that serving in the Peace Corps is the “toughest job you’ll ever love,” and it’s an accurate statement. Mood swings took 180-degree turns within a matter of minutes. We lived without electricity and running water. We rode for hours on stuffy buses with coughing children and chickens. To get our mail, we had to ride our bikes for ten miles through the sand … and hope the post office was open. It was exhilarating and maddening. Exciting and angering. Gratifying and incredibly sad.

And we survived.

Upon returning home, I captured the office job I was supposed to covet. Well, it turns out that
Corporate America and I don’t get along very well. For several years I worked passionately, devoting
myself to my jobs, providing innovative suggestions on my quarterly reviews, honestly answering
surveys on how to improve the departments and companies I worked for, working long hours in hopes of future rewards … and ultimately collecting a pile of pink slips in return.

Confused, frustrated and questioning whether I was not only a good employee but also a good person, I continued to plug away at the 8-to-5 while working on another plan. I always wanted to be a writer, and I obviously didn’t get along well with my bosses, so I figured I might be the best boss for myself. No one ever told me in college that it was okay not to have a pre-defined, in-the-box career, so the idea of breaking free was terrifying.

In October 2009, I had the opportunity to go to Burning Man—an extreme living community in the
harsh Nevada desert—by myself. For several months I wavered on whether to go but ultimately decided to pack my car with an old bike and crazy costumes, and I took off for Black Rock City, the makeshift community of 50,000 people that makes up Burning Man.

I encountered dust storms, loud nights and hot days … and several guys my age who had shrugged off Corporate America to pursue their passions. If they had done it, why couldn’t I? For one week, I lived in difficult conditions surrounded by strangers (who became friends).

And I survived.

Upon returning home, I turned in my two-week notice and quit my relationship with Corporate America for good. Now I’m my own boss, pursuing my own passion. Some days are better than others, but all of them are better than that pit in my stomach I got driving to work every morning.

And I’m surviving, because that tried and true saying is true: What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

Check out the Las Vegas event details.

Career Break Guide Table of Contents

Meet Plan Go