As we all start to focus on what major to pick in college or determine what we want to devote the rest of our lives to, it can feel like there’s a lot of pressure to figure out the “perfect” major now. Lara Spellazza felt those same pressures but has found that her choices since graduating have taken her in directions that her 18-year-old self would never have imagined. Her progression demonstrates that opportunities in new directions are always possible if you’re willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
After earning her degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Administration from Missouri State University, Spellazza worked as an event planner at Old Hickory Golf Club for just 3 months. She then moved into a completely different field as a sales rep at a bank. She didn’t find her passion in this job, and after a friend told her about a job opening at her company, NextGen, a medical billing company, she took it. Spellazza was able to quickly move up because her superiors noticed that she was organized and brought a fresh perspective as a recent graduate. She was put in charge of training customer service representatives and found satisfaction helping other people grow in their careers. Additionally, she was given a small team of people to lead, which helped her realize her passion for management. She recommends that anyone who has the slightest inkling that they might want to manage people pursue a career in management, as she has found it to be incredibly rewarding to see people grow under her leadership and to be a part of someone else’s story.
After working at NextGen for 8 years, Spellazza decided to take a risk and accepted a position at RGA, a Fortune 500 Company specializing in re-insurance, in another major career shift. She left the management path and worked as an independent Instructional Designer and Trainer. This position felt overwhelming at first, as Spellazza felt like she was in charge of teaching people who knew more than her. She had to put aside her insecurities and admit that she was not the expert, but that she could give her coworkers tools that could improve their day-to-day work lives. She enjoyed this position but missed leading a team. She had managed a lot of people in the admin department and really liked the team and the work they did, so she applied for an admin manager role and got it. This role was more in line with her passions, but there were still times that she felt unqualified. There have been several instances when members of her team have asked her questions that she doesn’t know the answer to, which can be intimidating, but Spellazza has learned to be brave enough to say, “I have no idea, but I will find you the answer.”
Transitioning from a smaller company to a Fortune 500 company was definitely an adjustment, but it has given Spellazza access to many resources for growth such as mentorship programs, exceptional training, leadership classes, and an online library that offers courses through Harvard Business School. Spellazza has taken advantage of these opportunities to better herself and is currently involved in a formal mentorship. In addition to devoting herself to perpetual learning at work, she has several other disciplines that she commits herself to. Routines are important to her because they help her to stay on track. She has learned to focus on getting her daily dose of “me-time” as well. Every day, Spellazza wakes up before the sun and goes to the gym at 4:00 a.m. to focus on improving her mind and body. She loves starting her days off with a workout because it helps her mindset throughout the day. Whenever she sees the opportunity, she takes on projects that are outside her comfort zone as they help her to learn and expand her skillsets.
Looking back at her career, Spellazza recalls a few things that she wishes she would have done differently. She believes she took herself too seriously and put unreasonable expectations on herself when she was younger. She can now see that although she isn’t in the field she expected, she has still found success by remaining open to opportunities and leaning into accepting positions slightly above her current skillsets. Her advice for anyone starting their career is to find a support system at work so that you can lift each other up and help each other through tough days. It is also important to find friends that love you and want to see you grow, not ones who are trying to compete with you. Like Spellazza says, “there is room for everyone to grow and enough success to go around.” She also recommends bringing your own fun to work and to enjoy each day. So for anyone out there that may be interested in management, follow Spellazza’s advice and do it! Her motto is “you’re never too senior to ask a question,” which can be applied to everyone, whether you think your question in math class is too basic or you feel silly asking for help at a job you’ve worked at for a year. Spellazza has proven that a perpetual learner’s mindset is key for growth, and that seizing every moment can lead to a joyful, fulfilling life.