I left my job in corporate marketing to join the Navy. This is that story.

When I graduated from college in December 2018, I had a full-time job. One that a lot of people would consider pretty comfortable. I was doing administrative work and later marketing for a restaurant group, helping them get people in their doors and more clients for their catering business. After competing for Miss Ohio, I began to recognize that this was not the path I had hoped for myself. No matter which way I spun it, I was doing work that wasn’t fulfilling to me.

When I was competing for Miss Ohio, my sense of purpose flourished.  I knew that my work as a legislative advocate and speaker meant something to someone other than the people on the judge’s panel. I was making a difference in my world. When I was speaking in front of people, my message was resonating with students and members of my community, changing the way they thought about their purpose and their path. I was impacting people. Real people. ME! Mara Mason!

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One of my favorite days leading up to Miss Ohio, the day I became a professional speaker.

To go from the feeling that I was making a difference in people’s lives back to a job at a desk for a for-profit company in an industry that I had little investment in… that job didn’t stand a snowball’s chance. Was that company perfect? Not a single company is. But when you compare an office job to the job of being Miss Ohio, everything will pale against the latter. Every time. And it did. I decided that even though I was not sure what was coming next for me, I knew how I wanted to feel when I went to work every day. I want to do something that doesn’t just matter to one person. And if I was going to prioritize the impact of my work for one person, that one person sure as hell better be me. Call it selfish, call it unrealistic, I don’t care. No one besides myself is going to put in the work to make me happy, nor should they. I put in my notice without having another job lined up, without a plan of what was coming next.

It was a real “It’s not you, it’s me” moment. I got really good at that speech.

Before I left my job, I remember one specific afternoon where a coworker said something to me that was upsetting. This happened a lot. The nature of both of my positions were isolating, and I felt like an outsider more times than not. I know a lot of young professionals struggle with this in various different fields.  

same guy, right?

I got up from my desk, went outside and called my Mom. I was crying at work. Again. I know I was 22 years old but I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ll ever stop calling my mom crying. I told her about how frustrated I was, and how lost I felt about finding something fulfilling. I had no leads. Except one.

“What if I joined the Navy?”

She paused. I’m laughing while writing this down because I can’t even imagine how much this shocked my parents. Well, I have a little bit of an idea. But still.

For timeline’s sake, this conversation took place at the end of September. In the coming months, I went back and forth with this. I had a little inkling in the pit of my stomach that made me keep asking questions. That made me keep practicing my pushups every day and motivated me to train for my first half marathon. It pushed me to expect more from myself and my journey, and to not just expect for it to fall nice and pretty into my path. This little inkling showed me that I had to fight to figure out what I truly wanted.  

This spiral went through my head for months. My insecurity and uncertainty kept me from making a decision and impacted those around me.

In December I cut my hair, left my job and broke up with my boyfriend in the course of two weeks. Oof.

In the coming weeks, I had five interviews for three different positions with a little company headquartered here in Columbus, you might have heard of it: Abercrombie & Fitch. The position I interviewed last for was dubbed the “most coveted position” within the company, the social media content specialist for A&F and Abercrombie kids. Knowing that I was the underdog, I did my homework for this interview, doing full brand analyses of both brands from top to bottom from Instagram to LinkedIn and everything in between. If I was going to have a dream job in marketing, THIS was the one. I was ready for that interview. I killed that interview, then I waited.

In the meantime, I had just finished my copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, a recommendation from one of my good friends. He told me that each time he reads it, it takes on new meaning and he learns something new every time. A strong recommendation, yes?  If you haven’t read the book, it’s centered around the idea that if you desire something, the entire universe will conspire for you to get it. I was, naturally, a little skeptical.

Days, weeks, a month went by without any intel from A&F. There was a gentle tap on my shoulder by my little reminder that the Navy was still an option for me. One that I thought of every single day. I knew it was time for me to make a decision. I was so conflicted that it was continuing to impact my friendships and my everyday well being. I spun around in circles asking myself if I would be satisfied working for a for-profit organization doing the very thing that I didn’t like about my last job. On another phone call with a close family member, she asked me what the best-case scenario was.

“The best-case scenario is that I get to stay here in Columbus until I receive my orders to go to Newport for OCS.”

And there it is.

 “I notice this scenario doesn’t involve Abercrombie & Fitch at all.”

She was right. I knew in that moment that no matter how terrified I was, the comfort of staying would never satisfy the itch of leaving. 

I knew if I received an offer from A&F that I would turn it down.

I remember crying on my bathroom floor that day. I am choosing the hard road, and I know what this means.

I fought this decision for eight months. I chose this path not because of fear, but in spite of it.

I want to be an officer in the United States Navy.

I received an email the next day, after a four-month long interview process that I was not selected for a position at Abercrombie & Fitch.  

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist