March 2016: LeAnne Davis Morrison '07
- LeAnne Davis Morrison; alumnae of Concord University’s Class of 2007
- I’m a professional writer and strategist with strong Appalachian roots. Born and raised in West Virginia, I attribute much of my professional success to the education I received at Concord University, where I served as Editor-in-Chief of the Concordian and was President of the Alpha Alpha chapter of Sigma Sigma Sigma
- I am the Global Assurance Communications and Engagement Editor-in-Chief with EY (Ernst & Young) in Atlanta, GA
The open professional road
Day by day, I’m learning that the road to professional success does not come with a map, a GPS or a guidebook. No matter how prepared we think we are for the journey ahead, the adventures that await at each stage of our careers will follow a course of their own, steered by the decisions and connections we make along the way. Nearly 10 years after earning my BA degree in English (with a minor in public relations) from Concord University, and 4 career moves later, I am thrilled with the direction my professional life is headed, and I want to share a few tidbits of my experience in hopes that they can help inspire and motivate others.
“Chasing your dreams” is a marathon, not a sprint
When I received my diploma in 2007, I could only envision my next steps: I had a job in technical writing already lined up, I had a strong, established network of friends and family supporting me, and I was ready to make money. Goals of post-graduate education, long-term career plans and retirement projections seemed lofty and even out of reach. In spite of all my pre-graduation preparations, the professional “real world” felt elusive until I found myself knee-deep in status meetings wondering if I’d made the right move.
Working as a language expert in the field of IT, I found my first job challenging and relatively exciting. I struggled because I wasn’t pursuing my “dream” job, however. I was working with IT systems, not working in the field of editing/publishing, or writing my own novels. Four years, a relocation to Atlanta, and 2 companies later, I found myself wandering farther and farther from those goals. In 2011, I decided to change things up and go back to school to pursue a Master of Arts degree in Literary Studies at Georgia State University. While I still wasn’t clear about my end-goal, I knew I needed to return to my passion.
When I graduated GSU in 2013, I tossed my resume back into the Atlanta market with absolutely NO plan – I wanted to see what doors would open and then make a decision about where to go from there. Out of 43 applications, I only received 3 interviews, even though I had an advanced degree and 4 years of experience (yes, it really is a tough market out there – no one is exaggerating). Out of those 3 interviews, I received 2 offers – one of which was from EY, one of the world’s largest accounting and professional services firms.
Within EY (as within every major business, I soon learned), there were opportunities for liberal arts majors to provide tangible value through a myriad of management and communications roles. I joined the firm in 2013 as a Communications and Pursuits Strategist, leading multi-million dollar business pursuits in the Southeast.
Recently, I came upon yet another career crossroads and have set off in a new direction. In February, I accepted the position of Global Assurance Communications and Engagement Editor-in-Chief, where I will run the editorial news board for the firm’s global auditing practice of more than 70,000 professionals worldwide. I will help create and disseminate the messaging for readers in more than 150 countries, helping the firm achieve its broader engagement and growth goals by motivating and uniting our people.
Even though I had next to no relevant experience, EY hired me for my ability to solve problems, communicate well and carry out projects with minimal supervision – all skills that I had honed during my time at Concord as Editor-in-Chief of the Concordian and as President of the Alpha Alpha chapter of Sigma Sigma Sigma. The time I’d spent in IT wasn’t in vain, as it helped me adapt to the corporate world, but EY was more interested in me because of the skills in communications and leadership that I had developed so many years ago on the Campus Beautiful.
Finally, I’ve found a position that encourages me to use my strengths, develop and improve my weaknesses and expand my horizons. Every day, I have the opportunity to create meaningful messages for multiple mediums, and work with others as part of a true purpose-driven organization. As the Global Assurance Communications and Engagement Editor-in-Chief, I am able to realize my goals of becoming a top-tier communications professional while also making a measurable impact on others within this organization because of my love of language. 10 years later, I’ve “arrived” at a fantastic career destination I never even knew I wanted. If the past decade has taught me anything, it’s that the road keeps on going.
Finding a “career champion” is key
When I embarked on my first job search after Concord, I felt the need to direct my own course. I was stepping out into the great unknown and, as shared above, really had no plan. A few years into my IT role when I decided I wanted to move to Atlanta, I realized that I needed a different approach – I needed someone in my corner who could advise me professionally and represent me to company leadership.
In my first position in IT, I was lucky to find these qualities in my manager. He not only advised me on the right time to move, but also on networking opportunities and goal setting. In my next role, my champion turned out to be a fellow project manager on a major IT implementation. She offered candid advice on long-term planning and the importance of staying passionate about and engaged with your everyday work.
When I joined EY in 2013, I aligned myself with department leaders who would be able to judge my character by my work ethic and work products, and over the course of 3 years I began to build my “personal brand.” These champions coached me on how to seek out the work experiences I desired, and they provided positive feedback to executive leadership during my annual reviews. They also provided invaluable support when I sought to change positions within the firm, taking on my new role. In short, I didn’t always understand the importance of a solid support structure when it came to mapping out my career. In the last decade, I first stumbled across a career champion and then actively worked to develop others along the way. Their honest, transparent and sincere coaching has made a world of difference in helping me figure out not only what I wanted to do with my career, but why I wanted to do it.
Change is inevitable, but it’s worth it!
We all roll our eyes when we hear talk about the changeable nature of the millennial workforce. While some angles of the professional arena may still be set up with a long-term view in mind, many progressive companies are just as eager to help you meet your personal career goals as they are in their own business priorities. When I jumped from my first IT position, my parents didn’t understand my motivation – I received a paycheck, benefits and job security, so why take such a risky move? At my core, I still saw myself as one day becoming a writer, and I saw the payoff of personal satisfaction as a future benefit equally as important. I shocked everyone again by leaving the work to attend graduate school – but I remained focused on the bigger picture. I wanted to obtain the skills I needed to live out my passion, even if I couldn’t wrap a tangible goal around it in the near-term. Later, the experience and education combined to help me secure a position with EY, and I knew I was finally on the right path.
When I first entered the work force, I felt as though I was taking shortcuts – focusing on a pay check instead of focusing on my passion. But without these previous career choices, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Every bend in the road has helped me deepen my self-awareness and understand my passion and my purpose as a professional communicator. Now, as the Global Assurance Communications and Engagement Editor-in-Chief with EY, I am closer than ever to the self-actualization I sought as a Concord graduate in 2007. Today, I am a writer, and tomorrow, the sky’s the limit.
In a nutshell, here’s my best advice: Be bold, proactive and patient. The road to success is an unpredictable adventure!