Origin stories have a timeless appeal; from ancient religious texts to recent movie blockbusters, the human fascination with How Things Came To Be is insatiable. There are entire branches of science dedicated to beginnings, whether of the human species, all life on earth or beyond to the first moments of this universe. Fiction and myth are often concerned with origins, from Tolkien’s Silmarillion to twenty-first century film reboots for the likes of James Bond, Batman and Superman. Even in the online marketing field we can observe the same phenomenon, with Cyrus Shepard providing a fine example and Peter Attia also painting a fascinating picture.
Looking at my own path into this industry what stands out is the element of chance that can be observed amongst many of my peers. We are of a vintage that grew up without search engines and came to the internet in the first wave of widespread adoption. There wasn’t an SEO industry to observe or aspire to be part of until we had passed that initial stage of career decision making, but then, whether sooner or later, chance (some would say fate, or fortune) intervened and here we are.
For me it was a decision – some would say a gamble – that has paid off more quickly and in a more fulfilling way than I could have imagined. Drifting along in a going-nowhere legal career with a massive chip on my shoulder about all the things that Weren’t My Fault, I found myself in possession of an economically-driven offer for voluntary redundancy. I didn’t love the law any more. It’s debatable whether I ever really did. I wasn’t a bad lawyer, but neither was I an exceptional one and without that passion it’s difficult to achieve your potential. It was getting me down and I was not a happy person, which was particularly difficult for my wife and my family.
Approaching thirty I felt this may be the last opportunity I would get to go in a different direction and break away from the conveyor belt I had been standing on since the age of 14, moving inexorably towards a legal career and a lifetime in that profession. I wrote to local web design companies to see whether any would be interested in having me come in to do some copywriting and perhaps a little SEO and was fortunate to receive a positive response. For a few months I worked part time there and part time in a legal position with a Local Authority until I reached a point where each wanted me to leave the other and commit to a full-time position.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
Taking the safe option, sticking with law, would have been easy. Nobody would have asked any questions or raised any eyebrows. The money would have been better, the pension would have been nice, and working for the Local Authority was certainly a better fit than private practice had been. With a wife and baby to support I would have been forgiven, perhaps even applauded, for taking that decision. But I didn’t. I took the road less traveled by (or so I tell myself – and if we can’t romanticise our own stories, who will?), eschewing the legal profession to chase a dream. A few months later I had an amazing opportunity to move to a bigger agency in a dedicated SEO role, remarkably in the building right next to the office where my legal career ended. I immersed myself in the subject, experimenting, learning, testing, learning and learning some more, from experience accumulated and from any resources I could find. One year down the road I moved on again, to my current position.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost
I’m now the Head of Online Marketing at 360innovate in Glasgow. It’s a great job working with great people doing interesting and challenging work. I’ve come a long way since hanging up my lawyer’s gown and I’m excited about what is still to come. When people ask me about why I left the law these days it is, I feel, more from a sense of curiosity than from bemusement or confusion. This isn’t an easy job, every day isn’t a good day, but this industry has given me my smile back and for that I will always be grateful.
Oh, and I’m still learning.