What does it mean to follow your dreams when they involve horses? For Jessica Duffy, this picture looked a little different than she first imagined. As she journeys across the country to tackle the next step in her career, she reflects on what it really means to do what you love. Many thanks to Athletux Equine for contributing this blog and to Jessica for writing.
My father always told me, “If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.” Sounds pretty great, right? I thought so, too, and since I first began to consider what I might want to do with my life, this single idea has informed every decision I’ve made about how to move forward with my career. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s led me to where I am today and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Let me start at the beginning. I’ve always known that becoming a professional rider wasn’t going to be the path for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love riding and competing, and sometimes I think I need horses more than I need air in my lungs, and I still have goals of running a four-star one day. But, there comes a time in every horse-crazy person’s life when they either decide to pursue a career as a professional rider or they elect to do horses “on the side” (as if horses were ever an “on the side” type of pursuit).
I’m good, but I’m not good enough to ride professionally. So, I decided to go to a great college (Washington and Lee University) and get the most flexible degree I could think of (Business Administration) so that I would have the skills to pursue a non-riding career within the equestrian industry.
While I was in college, I began to experiment with what it might look like to do work that I love. After my freshman year, I founded my own photography company, Jessica Duffy Photography, and did some horse show photography for local unrecognized competitions in my area as well as private photo shoots. It was work that I liked doing, and it was work that others said I was good at. So, I started thinking that maybe I could do something related to horses with my photography, like horse show photography, for instance.
When I was a senior, I applied for a work-study job with the new student-run social media team the university was launching. I figured, hey, I like social media, and being a child of the social media generation I know what I’m doing with it, so maybe this would be a fun way to do my work-study. I ended up getting the job and spent the year as part of a seven-person team building a student-run social media presence for the university on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. I had such a good time with this that I decided it might be worth trying to pursue something related to social media after graduation.
I also took classes on digital media and e-commerce as part of my degree, and found that I really enjoyed the work. I’m the daughter of a computer programmer, and I must have inherited some of his affinity for the work. My favorite project was building a functional website from scratch on WordPress for my real life photography business. This class got me thinking that maybe I would do something in web design once I finished school.
So, I graduated from university with marketable skills in web design, social media, and photography, and I set about the task of finding a job that would allow me to combine my passion for horses and equestrian sport with my professional skills. When one did not immediately present itself after graduation, I took a summer-long internship with a start-up company working on their social media and marketing team to increase my marketing experience.
When that didn’t turn into a full-time job, I ended up as a hostess in a local farm-to-table restaurant. This wasn’t work that I loved doing, per se, and it certainly wasn’t work with horses, but it was a paycheck and the schedule allowed me to keep riding competitively while I looked for a job that was a better fit for my skills and interests.
As luck would have it, I happened to be riding with Andrea Pfeiffer at Chocolate Horse Farm in Petaluma, California, where an Athletux employee happened to also be riding at the time. She told me that Athletux was looking to hire an intern and that I should contact Frankie Thieriot Stutes right away.
I submitted my resume and cover letter, and I got a call from Frankie the very next day. We talked about the different skills I’d acquired so far and what I was interested in learning, and I ended up doing some quick edits to a client’s website right there on the phone with her! It was one of the first opportunities I’d had to use something I’d learned at school in my work, and I still remember how excited I was that I would have the opportunity to use my existing skills and learn new ones, all while working with some of the biggest names in eventing.
I started out as an intern, helping to update client websites, editing written pieces for clients, creating marketing materials for use in obtaining sponsorships, posting to social media, taking photos of clients at horse shows, and generally becoming more familiar with the world of equestrian marketing, PR, and communications.
I spent two amazing and educational years with Athletux, and ultimately became the Web Content Manager, responsible for managing over 30 existing websites while also working with clients to create new websites from scratch.
The time I spent working with Athletux taught me a lot about the equestrian industry, especially from a marketing and communications standpoint. I learned more about how the industry functions from a business standpoint, and had the opportunity to meet so many incredible people within our community.
I recently applied for a position with the United States Eventing Association and was offered the position of Communications Coordinator, which I accepted enthusiastically (and that’s putting it mildly.) I am, as I write this, on my way to Virginia to start this new chapter in my life. I could not be more excited about this next step in my professional journey, and can’t wait to see what opportunities I will have to use my existing skills and learn new ones with the USEA.
So, now that you’ve heard my story, I’ll leave you with a couple of pieces of advice for anyone looking to follow their dreams and do what they love.
My first piece of advice is that every job has something to teach you that you’ll be able to use down the road. Make the most of every opportunity and learn as much as you can about what it takes to do that job. You never know when a skill you’ve learned will come in handy.
And my second piece of advice is to never, ever give up on your dreams. People will tell you it’s foolish and impractical to expect to find a career doing what you love, but it’s not. People will try to tell you that it’s not worth working that waitress job to pay the bills while you look for that perfect job, but it is.
My restaurant job provided me with the freedom and the paycheck to keep riding while I searched for the right opportunity. If I’d taken the “responsible job” in the city, I might not have had the opportunity to work for Athletux. And then I might not be where I am today, about to start work for another incredible organization in the equestrian industry.
Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes it’s hard to understand those reasons when things are going wrong or not working out, but looking back you can see how one set of circumstances opened the door for incredible things to come. Keep believing in your dreams and never let go of following your passion, wherever it may lead you.