You could say that you are on a “career adventure” instead of a career path. Welcome to “Choose Your Own Adventure”! A “career adventure” interview series charting the joys & challenges, and many different directions our career adventures can take us. Anything from career changes, working remotely, freelancing, contracting, self-employment, starting your own business, working on your own projects alongside your day job, having a side hustle or a portfolio career – all depending on what choices we make, what steps we choose to take, what opportunities or challenges that come our way in the most unlikely of places that help you to choose your own adventure.
We speak to Steph Jones, a full-time medical editor who in her spare time freelance edits for tech start-ups, volunteers as a lifeguard and swim instructor, while also completing many challenge adventures and explorations both at home in the USA as well as around the world!
Thank you, Steph, for sharing your adventures with us show us how having portfolio of projects/roles combined with how you spend you time can open up a variety of doors that take you to anwhere. 🙂
1. Tell us about yourself
Hi everyone, I’m Steph! I grew up in Rhode Island and am currently based just outside Boston. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound like a very big move, although I’ve also spent time living in London, Edinburgh, and Havana along the way to where I am now.
In my daily life, my career is mostly in medical editing, but in my spare time I’m outside as much as possible. I’m a swimmer, runner, skier, and scuba diver, and I love to travel.
Usually I try to arrange my trips around one or two of those hobbies, or, more recently, around remote work, but I’m also happy exploring a new place or re-visiting an old favorite without any real plans.
2. What are you working on now?
Currently, I work full-time as a Senior Development Editor at UpToDate – an online, peer reviewed medical resource used by doctors all over the world as a point-of-care reference. I have fairly regular working hours there, so I’ve been able to devote a good amount of time to other simultaneous projects, like freelance editing (mostly for tech start-ups) and volunteering. This past year, I’ve also been using my spare time to continue my diving education, by taking classes and getting additional certifications, which has been incredible.
3. Could you tell us about how your career adventures started, about what experiences, challenges or opportunities you came across over the years that led you to choose your own adventure? Where has your career adventure taken you in the past leading you to where you are now?
I got my undergraduate degree in English Literature and Political Science, and then went on to do an MSc in the Evolution of Language and Cognition. Over the course of my academic career I completed a couple of internships that focused on different aspects of the publishing industry and so I graduated with an interest in editing. I found my current company through a friend who had worked there previously, and I’ve actually been there for just under nine years now!
I never anticipated staying in one place for that long, but a few things have kept me there. To start, I like that my work has an impact and that I’m part of a program that actually improves worldwide patient care! I also really appreciate the focus on work-life balance that lets me pursue other things, both personal and professional, in my spare time. Having the stability of a regular paycheck as well as flexibility with my time has been key to a lot of the adventures I’ve had over the past decade.
One of the biggest challenges of my career has been gradual changes in my preferred working style and figuring out how to reconcile them with the career I’ve established. When I started, I really valued the in-person nature of my work, but over the past few years, I’ve noticed a shift in when/how I’m most productive and it has been moving in a decidedly “remote” direction!
I’m allowed one remote day per week at my current position and over the past couple of years I’ve been active in helping to reassess policies about more extended remote options. The changes have involved a lot of ongoing conversations and it is definitely more of a process than a standardized policy. That said, we’ve implemented a few changes that have made a positive impact and have really opened up the possibilities for how I’m able to work.
In an increasingly remote world, I’m hoping this is just the beginning!
4. What past projects or anything that you have worked on spark joy for you when you look back at what you have worked on?
As I mentioned, I really appreciate the fact that my full-time work has a positive impact in the medical community. That said, some of the things that have sparked the most joy for me have been volunteer projects.
In high school and college, I worked as a lifeguard/swim instructor and being from a coastal community I have always felt really strongly that learning to swim is an essential safety skill. For the past few years, I’ve been a volunteer adult learn to swim instructor through my master’s swim club and I’d say that is the work that has really sparked joy for me.
Throughout the month of April, adults in the community are able to sign up for free swim lessons. We work with first time learners, people with past traumatic experiences, and more experienced swimmers looking to improve their technique. At every level there is always room for improvement! I especially like working with the first-time learners or people overcoming their fears. Everyone I’ve worked with has come to the lessons with such enthusiasm and willingness to learn and I really appreciate how much strength it takes them to put their trust in us as instructors. Seeing how happy people are when they master a new skill – everything from just getting into the water to learning to float, breathe correctly, or swim their first full pool length is so special and I feel very lucky to be a part of the process!
While that’s only one month, I keep the joy going throughout the rest of the year by staying involved in other water-based activities. I’m a certified lifeguard and have put that to use in a variety of ways, from volunteering at a local children’s triathlon to using some of my extended remote time to work both as an editor and an assistant coasteering instructor in Cornwall.
Variety and being close to the water are the things that really add a little extra joy to my daily life!
5. How do you choose what to work on?
I’m still kind of figuring that out!
When I finished school with a liberal arts degree in the middle of a recession, I thought I needed to say yes to everything because what if another opportunity didn’t come along?! That’s a very easy way to burn out on things that might not be the best fit – not an ideal approach when it can be avoided!
I’ve put a lot of work into retraining myself away from that mentality and now I try to be a bit better about assessing what projects fit within my schedule, help me towards my goals, or just sound interesting or fun. Having the mix of fulltime work and side projects isn’t always the easiest to organize – it’s easy to fill my schedule quickly – but it also gives me flexibility to really think about the side projects I’d like to take on without having to worry about gaps in employment.
6. What advice, practical or otherwise, would you give to someone looking to start a career adventure similar to your own?
It goes along with what I said above, but I would recommend considering opportunities in terms of overall goals. It is very easy to fill up your time quickly, especially if you’re trying to combine a fulltime job with side projects, so really think about what you’re filling that time with!
Of course it’s not always possible to have every project be a passion project and sometimes a source of income is the highest priority, but overall, getting over that impulse to say yes to everything has let me say yes and really commit to the things that matter. That has been key to enjoying this particular career adventure I’m on!
7. Could you describe your day-to-day at “the office(s)”?
It definitely varies! On a regular weekday, I’m usually up ridiculously early to fit in a swim before I go to the office, where I work from 7:30-4:30. I’m not expected to bring work home so once I finish there I have the whole evening for my other work, volunteer projects, or classes. Once I get home, I try to take time to recharge and then block out time for each other activity so I can focus, uninterrupted, on one thing at a time.
On my work from home days and the longer remote stretches, my core job still has the same responsibilities and tasks, but I like to use those days to try out different locations, which adds some extra variety into how I organize my time and focus on completing necessary tasks.
8. Where do you feel you work best and thrive the most?
I work best with a lot of variety! I thrive in natural light fresh air, so as much as possible I spend my remote days working outside – those are they days I feel most energized and engaged in what I am doing! That said, it really changes by the day.
I love working remotely because I can find the environment to suit my needs and really optimize my work, whether that is outside, at a coffee shop, my kitchen island, an airport, or wherever else! Not having to devote energy to focusing in an environment I’m unenthusiastic about frees up so much energy to do quality work. For example, this week, Boston was hit with messy, slushy snow. Not having to go into the office meant I didn’t have to waste time thinking about how to safely commute and I was able to happily dive into my actual work much more quickly.
9. What inspires and drives you every day?
There are SO many things I want to see and do so I’m driven by trying to fit them all in!
10. What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now?
Having things figured out doesn’t mean moving from one thing to the next with no pause! I went straight from high school, to college, to grad school, to work, and while I’ve shaped that into something that works for me, I’d advise my younger self to chill once in a while – both professionally and personally. I’d really stress to my younger self that the pauses and times to rest, recover, and reflect are important and are actually a part of moving forward. I’m not sure I’d listen to myself, but it would be worth trying to drive the message home earlier! I can’t complain too much though, even if I pack them in a little too tightly sometimes, I’m pretty happy with the things I’m getting to experience!
Feel free to contact us at Project Anywhere if you have any questions about any of our career adventure stories. Come back soon to read more career adventures! Contact us here if you’d like to be featured here to share your own career adventures story or if you would like to write a guest blog for Project Anywhere.