I first met Megan Zink through a mutual friend nearly two years ago. She and I immediately clicked and bonded over the fact that we both worked full-time jobs and managed a passion on the side. She is a marketing strategist and creative mind, passionate about ongoing education, data-supported storytelling, and visual communication. She is also the brains behind her photo-driven travel website, Moderately Excited and is a published writer and photographer, as well as a public speaker (oh – and can’t forget, a Second City program alum!). Megan is quite literally a jack of all trades and seems to know how to do it all.
In her current role as a content marketing manager at the Chicago-based SaaS company, ReviewTrackers, she leads a team responsible for producing educational and entertaining content and is focused on creative implementation and how content impacts the customer journey. When she has spare time outside of work, she loves to explore the world and update her website. She writes and shares both posts and interviews with female entrepreneurs and how travel inspires them, blending her passions into one. She also has had the opportunity to work with travel brands such as Visit Idaho, Visit Bloomington, Paloma Resort Properties and Blurb Books with the intent to create and execute comprehensive campaigns.
Get to know more about Megan in our interview below, where she shares her progress and success with both her career and Moderately Excited and the challenges she has faced balancing the two!
Megan, it’s about time I had you be a part of this series! I’ve admired your ambition and tenacity ever since I met you. For those who don’t know you, I’d love it if you could share your story and how you got to be where you are today with your current job and travel website, Moderately Excited.
Whew! Of course! Well, this is quite the story but I’ll give you the ‘short’ version. I dabbled in a lot of different things growing up – and in college too. I was in the Greek system, held a job at my school’s media center, volunteered and majored in journalism. But I also minored in business marketing and studio art with a concentration in photography. I always thought being a jack of all trades/master of none might be a disservice – but I think it’s actually the opposite. When I graduated in 2011, marketing jobs were tough to find/get into (do some internships mixed in with that camp counselor job, past self!), so I took a role as the marketing/office manager at a race car driving school at the Autobahn in Joliet – which probably set me on the trajectory I followed through my career: semi-small companies, entrepreneurial spirit, work that has an impact and creativity. I also learned a LOT about a LOT of stuff. Like brake pads and calipers. After that, I took a full-time job at an IT recruiting company, where I learned soft skills (like how to negotiate) and hard skills (hard in the sense of having to learn how to fire someone). I also did some coding and design classes in the evenings, knowing I wanted to get into the marketing industry someday. I soon took a leap of faith and accepted a part-time community management job at a social media agency, where I stayed for nearly 3 years and went from writing real estate tweets part-time at a folding card table to managing Potbelly’s social media campaigns from a real office as the agency’s first full-time employee.
In 2015, I went in-house to work as the marketing manager (and essentially managing editor) for a chain of health clubs in the Chicagoland area and fell in love with content marketing hard and fast, (pay attention, this part will be important) and stayed there for 4 years until I most recently accepted a position at an online reputation and customer insight analytics SaaS as the content marketing manager. Here, I manage a team to create interactive, educational and entertaining content to help turn leads into customers.
Around year two of my role with the health club, I began to get a little restless. I knew I wanted to grow my career and thought of ways to overcome my terrifying hatred of public speaking. I ended up doing nine months of improv classes at Second City. Additionally, I’d always been creative, and I was actually really starting to like being a managing editor and overseeing our blog. I ended up at a networking event with a women in tech group, where Danielle Moss of The Everygirl was keynoting. I started thinking about my skills: photography, writing, marketing, graphic design… some abysmal coding… and also saw how popular blogs had become. And so, I decided to start one – and I did. I learned a lot by trial and error. I watched a lot of YouTube videos and joined a lot of groups on Facebook. I built content and edited photos and designed pins and slowly became a hermit. (Just kidding – but only kind of).
Fast forward three years later and I am still going strong with my travel website, Moderately Excited. Since it’s a website, I am now just finally starting to see the fruits of my SEO labor (it takes a lot of work upfront!). I have also sold my photography, sat on and moderated panels, taught photography workshops, founded an LLC and worked with 3+ tourism bureaus plus other travel brands to strategize, create and execute creative campaigns.
Make no mistake – some of these goals I wrote down in my planner when I first started my passion project took me over three years to achieve. It’s been a lot of sacrificed workouts and late nights out and TV shows to balance this passion with my full-time job. I also definitely have burnout episodes (I’m learning there isn’t just one – it will be a constant throughout your entire creative career) but I’m learning how to anticipate, plan for and mitigate them much better. But now my passion project injects creativity and problem-solving skills into my full-time job I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and vice versa!
Oh, how I can relate to so much of this. Balancing a 9-5 and a passion on the side is no easy feat and I’ve talked at length about burnout myself. How do you balance your work and your well-being?
At first, I was REALLY bad at this. I was coming home and working on my site for 5-6 hours, nearly every day. And there were a lot of late Sunday nights (because naturally, I am a professional procrastinator, and always ended up writing, editing, publishing and editing and publishing photos for a post in one day. Don’t ever do that.). But then, it all came around to bite me in the @$$. At the crux of it, I ended up with food poisoning for four days one week and then the flu (for the first time since I was about 12) the next week. After that, I knew I needed to change something. I pumped the brakes on outside projects and stopped publishing as frequently.
Now, I am much better about learning when my body and mind is reaching its limits and taking my foot off the gas sooner. I am currently doing a monthlong cold-turkey social media detox and have done so many more productive things with my 70+ hours than I was doing before. I’ll probably incorporate more breaks in, as well as some concrete boundaries (i.e. website days are only Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) – I know it will be hard at first, but once I get the hang of it, I think it will help me stay balanced in a sustainable way.
I’ve been learning to do the same thing and I think that many women can benefit from that advice. How did you go about building your website initially and ensuring what you wanted to do with it was successful?
Here’s a secret: there was no ensuring success. Everything I tried was new. Everything was a gamble. I started the process with a lot of research – and I wish I did more. There’s probably a better way to do everything I did – but I think the most success I gained was the skills I was able to take away – and also the confidence that gained from figuring things out on my own is invaluable. I think the number one way I’ve been successful thus far has been through my persistence. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But to see any kind of reward, you have to put in the work. It’s hard and you feel gross (in the uncomfortable sense) and everything goes wrong and seems hopeless, but taking a step back and looking at the obstacle from a different perspective always helps.
Totally, you learn so much about yourself when you’re able to figure things out on your own. What has been the most rewarding part of starting Moderately Excited?
Woof. This is a hard one. I’d have to say it’s a tie between the people I’ve met and relationships I’ve cultivated, and the different things (projects, skillsets, etc.) I’ve pushed myself to achieve because my site served as the motivation for it. I always knew I was a storyteller and I wanted to be a photojournalist. While it might not be National Geographic, I essentially am doing it – visual storytelling. I also created Moderately Excited to act as a sort of living resume – I thought it was going to be my ticket to some super awesomely cool job in the travel industry. Well, it’s not quite the travel industry, but my site did help me land my new job. It was the catalyst to teach myself skills that I am now using an insane amount in my new role, of which I probably never would have learned in my old job (SEO, light coding, building popups, conducting surveys, etc.).
Ahh, I love when our jobs can intersect with our passions and even help our career in a positive way! So we talked about the positives, but now I want to know what has been the most challenging part of having a full-time job and having a passion that you’re pursuing on the side?
You want to do all the things. But you can’t do them all at the same time. I’d like to take credit for this – but actually this is something I learned from one of my interview subjects in my interview series on female entrepreneurs. But it is SO TRUE. Time management and finding ways to fit in all the things I need to do for both has been something that has taken me a while to learn. I can do more with a 25-minute lunch hour now than I ever could have imagined. And it’s also difficult, as someone who is always looking for new ideas and loves to start new projects, to wrangle in the inspiration I get bombarded with every day. Of all the things, figuring out a way to balance them both – along with not forsaking my friends, husband, family or other obligations, has been one of the most challenging.
Also, some advice – if you’re pursuing your passion, you’ll have many moments of ‘should I leave my full-time job?’. I’ve listened to so many people answer this question and one of the most prevalent answers (and my personal opinion I share with them) – don’t do it unless you have built up your side hustle to where you can comfortably be in the same place as with your full-time job. I personally know I have so many more things to learn from my current role that I want to see through, too.
I too have heard that same advice and definitely agree. There is so much to gain still from working a full-time job! Speaking of, what do you love most about your job?
In my previous role, I really loved educating and inspiring people. And taking their writing contributions and showing them what they could become – ‘yes – you wrote this article!’ ‘You’re a published author now!’ Basically, taking their work and helping them evolve it into the best version it could be.
Now, in my new role in managing a team, I love the process of brainstorming and coming up with creative ideas and seeing them come to life. I love putting something out there and watching my teammates make it their own and evolve it into something better than I could have imagined by myself. And I still love educating and inspiring – though now it’s less about the audience reading content and more about my team creating that content.
That’s amazing, Megan! Since you essentially work two jobs, can you share what the future of Moderately Excited ultimately looks like for you?
The magic 8 ball says ‘reply hazy, try again’. I’ve really loved the force I’ve created with Moderately Excited – but I also have aspirations for some other things, too. I’ve been taking what I’ve learned with my site and in my new job and am excited to apply both to a possible new adventure – so stay tuned! But in the meantime, Moderately Excited will definitely be around for all your fun fact, silly fail and dad joke needs! (Kelly’s note: You can find all her great ‘dad jokes’ on Megan’s Instagram!)
The magic 8 ball! That’s such a great little analogy and can only imagine where you’ll go in the future! What would you say keeps you motivated?
My innate sense to keep learning. There’s always something new to learn – and to try. I also recently took the CliftonStrengthsfinder test and learned that I am an ‘input’ – I love learning new information (even if I don’t do anything with it). And that I also am a natural leader and connector. Also my own personal Type A+ personality, ha!
A love of learning is what keeps us all on our toes, I think! I always like to ask the question of who inspires you and why?
Anyone who is out there creating the thing they love inspires me – it’s easy to get caught up in a hamster wheel of other people’s content and noise, so to be able to stick to your guns and do the dang thing you were meant to do is really empowering.
Yesssss, I completely agree! I get so inspired when I see women doing what they love and owning it. On the subject of other women, if you had one piece of advice for someone looking to pursue her passion on the side while working a full-time job, what would it be?
If you are thinking of making a big change, let it simmer for a while. But on the flip side, if you’re getting tripped up overthinking too many things, it’s probably just time to do the thing and see what happens.
Thank you for being a part of this series, Megan. One last question before we go. Lipstick & Ink is all about encouraging women to make their mark on their lives, the lives of others and on the world. What does “making your mark” mean to you?
‘Making my mark’ means being unapologetically myself – and leaving that sense of self with people in a respectful, collaborative way. For me, it’s wearing bold, colorful and crazy-printed clothes to the office in the middle of winter when the norm might be black on gray. Or taking jump shots in the middle of a crowded street and feeling self-conscious, and then also being completely fine with people’s confused looks. But most importantly, it’s leaving people with the sense that even though my beliefs, background, thoughts or way of doing things might be different from theirs, I am open to learning about them and want to connect and support people however I can.
Beautiful words, my friend! To connect with Megan further, feel free to check out her website and respective social channels to follow along with what she’s up to next!
- Website: www.moderatelyexcited.com
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @moderatelyexcited
- Twitter: @megan_zink