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Working at Southern Weddings is my first job.  Ever.  I graduated in May of 2009.  Let’s all take a minute to think about that.  Okay, moment over.  Crazy, isn’t it?  I alternate between pinching myself and forgetting to pinch myself, because, in fact, my daily life seems pretty normal.

I am a wedding junkie.  I was involved in the wedding blog world long before I was in the job market.  On the one hand, it seems completely normal that I would land a job in this industry I’ve immersed myself in for so long.  But – and here’s the clincher – it could just as easily not have happened.  I could still be looking for a job six months after graduation.  Most of my classmates are, after all.

We’ve been reading Crush It! in our morning huddle the past couple weeks.  I don’t agree with everything Gary says, but his general ethos of building a personal brand does resonate with me.  Why?  It’s the reason I got my job.

So here’s the story.

The summer after my junior year of college, I had an internship at The Knot, which was a great experience.  My last week in New York, my editor took me out for lunch, and we got to talking about what we would do if we could do anything we wanted.  Eventually, I answered that I would want to have Abby of Style Me Pretty’s job.  Not only does she write a lovely little wedding blog, she founded and then sold a line of custom stationery.  It was the combo that got me.  Christa’s next question was “Well, why don’t you start a wedding blog?”  The thought had occurred to me, but it was her support that gave me the push I needed.

So I did.  I launched my own wedding, style, and design blog in September 2008, at the beginning of my senior year.  I certainly had no delusions of grandeur, but I tried to post consistently innovative and inspiring content Monday through Friday.  Most of the time I felt as though I was writing for myself, but that was okay – if nothing else, it was a great platform for me to share the ideas that were constantly circling in my head.  It kept me busy.

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But then. Then! In November of that same year, Lara Casey commented on one of my posts, a random post about how much I loved Carrot & Stick journals.  I was flabbergasted (and mostly confused as to how she had found my teensy little two-month-old blog!).  In gratitude, I sent her one of the journals and a handwritten note letting her know how much her comment meant to me.  I didn’t expect to hear anything from her, and didn’t for about two weeks.

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Then one day I hopped on my Google Reader dum-di-dum let’s see what the ladies of Southern Weddings are up to — whahh?!  What did I spy but a post about ME and MY NOTE and MY BLOG and how much my note meant to LARA. That day was enough to sustain me through several more months of blogging obscurity.  And it was enough to get my foot in the SW door.

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Lara loved the Carrot and Stick journals so much that she put them in the premiere issue of Southern Weddings right before they went to press. I was elated.

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In February of 2009, I decided that I would apply to work with Southern Weddings.  Had they posted an open position?  No.  Had I graduated yet?  No.  But I did it anyway. And I didn’t just send in a resume.

I used the knowledge I had stored up as a long-time reader to make my application as appealing as possible.  I sent a fairly standard resume.  I sent a cover letter, but not a stiff and overly-formal one – I used the same conversational tone found on the SW blog, but built an effective case for my skills and attributes.  The form letter found in career advice books?  That wouldn’t have worked for this company or for this opportunity.  At all.

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I also filled out the “get to know me” questionnaire that each of the current SW employees had filled out and posted to the site – I wanted to show Lara that in addition to having superior experience and skills, I was an interesting and exciting person.  This also gave me a chance to show her more of my writing ability.

And to top it off, I hand wrote an introductory note reminding her of our previous encounter.  And I sent this all through the mail, because I knew how easily an application could be lost in the sea of emails Lara received every day.

And you know what?  It worked.  It wasn’t quite as simple as I’m making it out to be, and there was a fair amount of luck involved.  But it worked.  I have a job.  I’m doing what I love straight out of college.  And I’m earning money doing it.  That is, unfortunately, a lot more than most of my fellow 2009 graduates can say.  And I believe the success of my plan rested largely on the success of my personal brand.

From Lara: I remember the day I got Emily’s note.  I remember thinking “this girl really knows who she is.”    She wrote and acted from such an authentic, genuine place, that I was honestly a little intimidated.  At the time, business was crazy.  I had just launched the magazine, was about to dive into an intense wedding season and was traveling more than ever.  On the surface, everything was hunky dory, but underneath I was unhappy with work and felt drained every day.  In the back of my mind, I knew that bringing someone like Emily on could change everything.  After her note and resume sat on my desk for four months and wedding season died down, I finally pulled the trigger and called her for an interview.  Around this same time, I got a glowing email from Katharine who had just graduated from Harvard.  Harvard!?  I was terrified.  Two brilliant-on-paper women who I knew had the potential to change my life.   I was so busy, that I wasn’t even able to meet them in person before hiring them.  I had long phone conversations with each of them and just had to trust my gut.  In July of this year, Katharine and Emily made Chapel Hill –and my office– their new home.  Not gonna lie, I’m tearing up typing this.  They have blessed my life far more than I ever could have expected and each day is better than the last.  Whitney, Kath and Em made me believe in myself again.

Lara was able to see me as a person – a multifaceted, talented potential employee, but also a person.  She saw me in many different mediums, over a period of a few months, not just in one cover letter on a sheet of copier paper.  And that, I believe, made all the difference.

From Lara: Knowing your personal brand and acting authentically on it creates real opportunity and genuine success. In today’s era of transparency, people want real connection and will see right through you if your heart isn’t in it.  There will always be someone doing it better than you.  But, no one can do better what only you can do.  So, what is that thing?  What is your unique brand?  Do you feel like you are just getting by in your work and in your relationships?  Stop now.  Just stop.

I made a seemingly simple, but bold, move and it paid off.  Many of my classmates are suffering because they are doing things someone else expected of them instead of living authentically and putting their heart into every move they make.  The more we exert, the more reward we are able to feel as its equal and opposite reaction.  Risk is just opportunity dressed up in scary clothes.

Lara tells the story of her move to California several years ago when she opened the back of Grace Ormonde and circled all the people she really wanted to work for.  She went straight for the top first, and ended up working for all of them just by taking that simple step – she studied them and knew what they wanted, emailed them, sent a glowing resume, then flew to meet them and show them what she was made of, despite shaking with fear. “Why waste my time on a stepping stone when I wanted to go so much farther than that?  I knew I wouldn’t be happy settling for anything less.

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In my job now, one of the things that energizes me most is interacting with other people in the industry.  I don’t discriminate.  I love talking with vendors – hearing their stories, how they got in the business, why they love their jobs, what they want to do next.  I love talking with brides – what they love about planning their weddings, what they hate about it, what they would do in a perfect world and how I could help make that happen. images above :: nancy ray

Every day I make a point to make at least one connection.  It doesn’t take much time out of my day.  It makes me feel good.  It’s good for business. It’s led to new vendor relationships, deeper vendor relationships, products being sent to us for photo shoots that we never thought we’d have the chance to feature, unexpected opportunities for collaboration, and true friendships.

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But you know why I really do it?  I know how important that connection can be firsthand.  It can make someone’s day, it can fire someone up, it can change someone’s life.  I know it can.  It changed mine.

Who can you connect with right now? Leave a comment, send that email, make that call.  As Lara always says to us… “stop wasting time and just pull the trigger.”

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Show Comments (57)
  1. teresa

    I LOVE IT! I love, love, love it! This is such an inspiring uplifting story. I see my younger self in it, and hopefully one day my daughter. That drive, that willingness to be original! Hooray!

  2. Lisa

    Emily and Lara,
    What a fantastic post about knowing what you want and being smart about how you go after it! There’s so much wisdom to be gleaned here. I’m going to be mulling over this for several weeks as I think about building my brand and really diving into the wedding photography business in 2010. Wish the making things happen tour was going to be coming to Columbus, OH! ;)

  3. Cherin - Customized Wedding Creations

    Wow, I feel like I’m living on this blog today, but I can’t help myself. Emily, you and Lara are beyond inspirational – you’re a dream. I am working hard at getting that joy that the two of you feel in your lives and I know one day I will be there. I just want to say how very much I appreciate the two of you opening your lives up to the world. You help people more than you can fathom.

  4. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by LaraCasey: NEW on the LC Blog: @EmilyAyer :: The Comment That Started It All http://bit.ly/7xXRga This story still blows my mind….

  5. Tracy

    What a beautiful story! This is how every company, every office, every team should be. Work is the same as all parts of life – it should be approached with joy and love. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Alisa Benay

    Such a great story! Thanks so much for sharing yourself. I just hired someone myself (@AlisaBenayKris!) who came to me in a somewhat similar way. She just oozed wedding industry & really threw herself into the interview. It’s so amazing to work daily with an inspiring staff!

  7. Rebecca

    I’m practically speechless and that doesn’t normally happen. I’m sitting in my “holiday haze” with my snuggie catching up on blogging and my husband says to me..”reading anything good?” “Shhh..” i respond.

    I have to say you are such an inspiring person. You just gave me the extra push i needed to keep my eye on my prize! I think your perseverance and drive is so amazing and i admire that!

    thanks for a wonderful post.
    Rebecca

  8. Lydia

    Thank you so much for sharing this inspiring story, Emily! I hope to be in a situation like your one soon where I can be fully immersed in the wedding industry and be able to concentrate on my blog.

    Lara, thank you for sharing this as well. Hopefully I will have an opportunity in my near future to have a mentor like you.

    Hope all of you had a merry Christmas and wishing you all a happy new year too!

  9. Jeff Holt

    Emily, you really have no idea how impressive and inspiring you are as a person. I’m honored to call you a friend and comforted to know that you are part of the inner circle that is changing my life on a daily basis. Emily’s story is such a testament to the power of authenticity. Thank you again for sharing.

  10. deb

    Wow, Emily this is truly an amazing story, thank you for sharing this post! It is wonderfully inspirational and a great spark to keep working to do something you love. There is truly no better time then the present to put yourself out there and see what the world has to offer! Happy Holidays!
    Deb

  11. Jesse Ryan

    You guys all inspire me… and I’ve yet to meet all of you ladies. Looking forward to meeting you all here in Dallas! Keep up the great work!

  12. Liane

    What an inspiring story for us younger women in the wedding industry- thank you so much for sharing your insights Emily!! As a 23-year-old who just launched a wedding planning business last summer, you truly have shown me what a success we girls can be if we just put our minds to it and “pull the trigger.” I can’t wait until I am able to put all of my creative energies towards my passion for weddings, just as you have. I am going to share this with some of my fellow college grads- thanks again for sharing!

  13. Genevieve

    Thank you so much for posting this success story! I’m a wetlands scientist and I graduated in May 2009. I got engaged to my sweetheart in June 2009 and have been following the SW blog since! However, I’m underemployed right now. I’ve come so close to getting several great jobs in my field. It is just so upsetting because I feel I’m missing out on my dream job. I have so much potential! So, thanks again for the inspiration and your success story on REALLY GOING FOR THE GOLD!

  14. Danielle Cococcia

    You girls are an endless inspiraiton to me! Your enthusiasm, drive and constant innovation is amazing! Thank you for sharing!!!

  15. Bryan Grayson

    That is one of the most extraordinary blog posts I’ve ever read. The writing is SO GOOD. I am, and will continue to be, a big fan of your magazine and your whole team.

  16. Emily @ Southern Weddings

    Thank you, thank you, y’all! Knowing what you want and having the courage to go after it is a powerful thing. I am FAR from the most fearless person, but sometimes, you just have to, well… pull the trigger, you know? :)

  17. Kate Bentley

    I really needed this. I really look up to you guys. Living on this small island can be hard at times. I love weddings. My life basically revolves around it.so thanks. happy new year.

  18. Kristy R.

    Emily, I so respect you sharing this brave story. Your passion and drive clearly paid off and I cannot wait to read more about your adventures at Southern Weddings. A little over a year ago I took a big leap that scared me to the core. I have never looked back and my life will never be the same. I am so excited that you were able to experience the same joy that can be found when fearlessly jumping in!

  19. Jenifer Simpson

    Great post! All of you SW gals are such an inspiration!

  20. (Inspiration) and Futurisms « Owl and Bunny Blog

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  21. Chantel

    Emily,

    I cried as I read your encouraging words and story. It is as if God touched my heart in the deepest part through your journey and Lara’s journey that led her to hire you. Right now I feel I am at a turning point in my photography business. It’s either sink or swim and this post was like a little life preserver to help me stay above water. I’m not sure there are enough words to express my gratitude for that. You and Lara are truly women of beautiful leadership and contagious passion. Thank you for blessing my life and encouraging my spirit today. May your New Year be blessed beyond measure!

  22. Amanda

    This post comes in a time when I am looking for my voice. I find myself intimidated by sucess of others and wondering why I can not be like them. Your story is inspiring and gives me new encouragement. I know I must dig deeper and be myself. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  23. brooke @ claremont road

    Every time I read this blog, I seem to get another little kick in the butt to keep forging my own path. Thank you :-)

  24. Elisheva Basseri

    Emily & Lara: Wow! That post was beautifully written and a wonderful real-life illustration about the power of being authentic, thoughtful and purposeful. Thank you so much for sharing…who knows how many people this post will inspire?

    A Heartfelt Happy New Year to both of you!

  25. Raquel

    Thanks for such a sincere post Emily! Your story is truly inspiring and gave me chills as I read it. I’m looking forward to making my own dreams a reality in 2010 and can’t thank you enough for your positive energy and authenticity.

    All the best!
    Raquel

  26. Laura Monahan

    This story was such an inspiration, Thank you for helping us realize that dreams can come true. Here is to 2010!!

  27. Ashley Davis

    Emily -

    As a December 2009 graduate, your post is so true and inspirational. I am currently in the middle of the job search and it is so EASY to forget who I am and what I’m selling a potential employer. Ironically, branding is one of my keenest interests – so what in the world have I been doing!?! Thank you so much for sharing your lovely story – and inspiring to pull myself together! Best of luck to you in your fledgling career, seems to me that you will go very far!

    Ashley Davis
    Appalachian State ’09

  28. Heather Gardner

    To the entire SW team;

    Thank you for the light and energy you bring to this industry. Thank you for showing that being kind & humble is still the way to go.

    Thank you for inspiring us “newbies” to continue on this wonderful path to becoming the person and having the life that we have always wanted, both professionally and personally.

    I wish you all the best in 2010, and look forward to your continued posts.

    Best,
    Heather Gardner
    La Dolce Vita Weddings
    Denver, CO

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  30. Emily @ Southern Weddings

    Kate: My life, in part, revolves around weddings, too. Love ‘em.

    Kristy: Why do the amazing things always have to be so darn scary?! I think we’d both agree that they’re worth it, though.

    Chantel: Oh my. You’re making me cry reading your comment! Stay strong.

    Amanda: I 100% agree. Finding your own, unique voice is one of the most powerful and empowering things you can do for yourself.

    Ashley: Girl, I hear you, and you are exactly right. Best of luck to you in your search!

    Elisheva, Heather, Jennifer, Raquel, Brooke, et al… thank you, thank you, thank you again from the bottom of my heart for your kind words! YOU inspire ME.

  31. Lisa Jeffries

    Emily,

    You are a rock star. I’ve enjoyed following your SW career since Day 1!

    That is all. :0)
    -Lisa

  32. Emily @ Southern Weddings

    Thank you, thank you, Lisa! That is all.

  33. PaidOnlineSurveys

    found your site today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later ..

  34. a.c.

    What an inspiring story! I am truly amazed at the passion you and Emily both share for “making things happen. It is apparent that ,even as a young college graduate, Emily knew what she wanted and did what she had to do to “make it happen”.
    Emily, your drive and passion inspires me and your love for people is touching. I will remember your words as I go through my day “make at least one connection a day.”
    Lara, every word on your blog reminds me to “stop wasting time and just pull the trigger”. I am in the process of starting my own invitation business and your words encourage me on a daily basis. I cannot tell you how much i appreciate your passion for helping others.

    -a.c.

  35. Rachel

    I realize this post is almost six months old, but I just wanted to tell you as someone who is coming to the end of their college career in five short months starting in August, this is a true inspiration. And I don’t say that too often and mean it, but I really do mean it here! I’ve wanted to work in some aspect of the magazine industry for as long as I can remember (weddings, food, home and garden, you name it!) I feel like lots of times, people tell you to go for your dreams, but at the same time, warn you that we all start at the bottom and work our way up. Which usually is true. But I really admire your passion and your thinking of, why can’t I start where I want to? Or at least give it a shot? I honestly feel like I have a boost of confidence to apply where I want to after graduation after reading this and to not feel intimidated because who knows, I might get the job of my dreams! Thank you again for your inspiration!!

  36. Emily @ Southern Weddings

    Hi Rachel! Thank you so much for your kind words. Best of luck post-graduation!!

  37. Shauna Maness

    What a beautiful picture of courage and belief! This such an encouragement & inspiration – I love the step by step- its amazing how small steps can mark out such an incredible path- blessings to each of you!

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  40. Katrina

    Milling around on the SW website, I somehow ended up at this post. Beyond being just a cure for my insomnia, it gave me just as much hope and inspiration as you once gave a college-aged Emily. I’m a rising senior and my knowledge of the difficult economy is making my impending graduation more nerve-racking by the day. But this post has reminded me that it is the real, genuine, and driven part of me that will get me where I want and need to be. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again– thank you.

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  42. Damaris Mia

    This was so inspiring! Ah. It makes me want to get up and GO DO. Thank you for this. Really.

  43. Brittany Holloway

    This is inspiring because most of us who love weddings seem to have only a few options. Blog about weddings, become wedding planners, or put our dream on the back-burner while we live an expected life. This just shows how passion for what we love can drive us to achieve it.

  44. Sarah Smith

    This truly made my day. I’m soon to graduate (in 101 days, or May 5) with a degree in journalism. We were encouraged to start a blog in class, so I’ve managed to go from appropriate mundane school topics to blogging about weddings! I’m a tad obsessed and am so glad that with (a lot) of luck, I just might have my dreams come true. Thank you for inspiring me to keep on blogging, writing and dreaming. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to follow in your footsteps! In the meantime, check out my blog. If there’s something you like, maybe I’ll send it to you!

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  53. Darby Isham

    This is truly inspiring! It really makes me want to send my resume and cover letter to SW RIGHT NOW!
    It’s amazing how a dream can shift when you aren’t even aware. For so long I have wanted to plan fabulously southern weddings, but now I feel like my heart is pulling me into this magazine and blogging and maybe even stationery.
    I feel like God is telling me to go for it, but I don’t know if I’m ready…but I know I must pray and trust in Him.
    I am in awe…

  54. Abigail Whisler

    Hello Emily!:)
    I’m 18 and will be heading off to a small school in Georgia to study photography and business in the fall. I have been familiar with Southern Weddings Magazine and Lara Casey for a while now. However, tonight when I read your bio I was so inspired and wanted to say thank you! Thank you for being so honest in what you wrote. It gives hope to teenagers like me wishing to pursue dreams like this! Working for a magazine like this would be a dream come true. If there is any chance you would be able to e-mail me any advice you have about how to be more prepared in college for a job like yours. Whether it be a class that helped prepare you for your job now, or an internship you would advise taking. I would love to hear from you. Thank you, Lara, and all the Southern Weddings Magazine staff for being such a huge inspiration to so many! :)

    Blessings,
    Abigail Whisler

  55. Hannah

    Every time I read this post I get chills. I am going to be a college graduate in May and dream on a daily basis of landing a job so amazing and inspiring as SW!