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Blog What problem have you heard over and over in your career that you are so obsessed with solving you’d dedicate your life to it?

This blog post is the first in a series of three about my journey to Narrative Science, my journey to starting my own company and how my work, my contributions and my life have gotten exponentially better as a result.

“We’re a wellness-focused data technology company and our mission is to increase the presence and accessibility of natural and organic products to encourage healthier and more vibrant living” said the website where I went to submit my resume.

Wow, did this mission fuel me.  I could really see myself working here.

As a lifelong athlete and to-be-retired NCAA Div 1 Rugby player entering their career, I knew one thing for sure: clean, healthy food fueled a better life.  I’d personally gone on a transformative health journey during my college career and there was a night and day difference of the quality of life I led after I cleaned up my food act.

This company was not only doing something I was personally passionate about, but they were also doing something that the world desperately needed more of, in an industry that would only continue to grow.

That’s how I started my career in the Retail/Consumer Goods Market Research space where I grew from being a business analyst, to a sales and marketing professional, to someone building the analytics products that we sold to our customers.  Though each role was vastly different, there was one common thread: working with the customer, and I was fortunate enough to get to interact with customers directly in every single one of these roles.  

Across all these interactions, I heard the same feedback: Business people (oftentimes the brand managers of my favorite consumer brands – the brands I shopped when I went to the grocery store) would say to me: 

“Stef, this data is great, but there’s so much here. I don’t even know where to start.  It would be so amazing if you could just send me an email every Friday with a few bullet points about the stuff I care about and how it changed, so I could determine next steps and who I needed to mobilize from my team around that information.”

As any good Product Manager would have (who heard the same feedback from their hundreds of customers), I knew I had to add something to my roadmap: we needed to turn data into insights and deliver those insights in words to our customers, where they were (on their phones and in their inboxes).  But how? 

This was 2013, 3 years after the next company I would work at, Narrative Science, was born in the Innovation Lab at Northwestern University in Chicago… right in my backyard. 

To say I was a fangirl of Narrative Science would be the understatement of the century I worked with the analytics products Qlik and Tableau, at the time Narrative Science didn’t integrate with those products, but I decided to keep my pulse on the organization.  

In 2016, Narrative Science opened a role for someone who would lead the market development of their new offering that connected directly to Qlik and Tableau and I raised my hand immediately.  And when I was offered the position, I dropped everything immediately.  This was the solution to the biggest problem in the analytics market and they needed a passionate, team player to lead the charge and I knew in my head, heart and gut that no one in the world could do this job better than me. 

Fast-forward to 2020, I am still privileged to get to show up everyday with the same enthusiasm, passion and eagerness to share our mission and products with the world that I felt back in 2016 (something pretty rare considering research suggests that >70% of the American workforce is either disengaged or actively disengaged at work), and to work for a company where the market problem we address has never been bigger and the team never in a better position to solve it.  

I know, I said it:  In a world filled with disengaged employees, I consider myself lucky to get to work for this company.

If you are reading this post and thinking “she’s delirious” or “wtf?!?” or maybe (and more optimistically) “wow, I wish I felt that kind of passion in my career” and it’s got you considering your next career move, here’s some questions I would encourage you to ask of yourself in order to identify opportunities that will bring you to life in a way that you may never have felt before in your career:

  1. What problem/s have you heard over and over in your career that you are so obsessed with solving you’d dedicate your life (or years of your life) to it? What companies are solving these problems?  Make a list of five.
  2. Make a list of five companies you are just absolutely infatuated with. This can be because you are obsessed with their product, their people or the types of things you would get to do if you went to work for them. Who would you drop everything for to go to work for today if they called you and asked?  Make a list of five.
  3. Related to startups/privately held companies, if you don’t have the kind of money it would take to be an angel investor, but it would be your dream to invest in this company if you had enough money, who would you invest in?  Make a list of five. 

The long and the short of this blog post is this: 

  1. The average person has 21,500 days between the day they graduate college and the day they die (according to Miki Agrawal in Disrupt-Her).
  2. We spend more time at work, thinking about work, and with our co-workers and customers (now, virtually), than we spend time on anything else in our lives, besides maybe sleep, and that’s maybe. 
  3. If you are going to spend your life working, it might as well be working on something that brings you to life, not something that sucks the life out of you (which may or may not be the case for you right now if you identify with the >70% of people who feel this way in their work).  

The kind of work we get to do here at Narrative Science does it for me. What does it for you, only you will know, but I hope this article and these questions will at least help you believe that this kind of passion for your work is possible for you and gets you one step closer to finding a company that may be the spot for you too.