A decade ago, I left my super-secure, good paying, super benefit providing federal government job.
The only real job I’d ever had in my adult life. I was a federal employee for over 18 years. I basically grew up in the government — I started working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) when I was a high school student. We had a class that allowed us to get out of school half-days if we had a legit job. I think I actually got the job through the high school class.
Anyway, I started out as a clerk, graduated high school, went off to college, and still continued to work at NIST.
When I graduated from George Mason University with an M.A. in psychology, I went back to the government.
At some point, I found that I really loved working with dogs.
I had an Australian shepherd and just happened into a clicker training class. The dog made me look good — she was amazing. The instructor noticed how well my dog did and asked me if I wanted to help her teach dog training classes. I ran with it, spending as many evenings as I could helping her with classes. I continued to take classes with my dog, too, and immersed myself in learning about how dogs learn.
It dovetailed perfectly with my formal education, psychology, because it was all about teaching and learning. I was good at it and it was interesting and fun. Does it get any better than that?! Not for me, it didn’t.
I started working my federal job during the day and the hobby dog training job in the evenings (and weekends).
At some point, I was packing way too much stuff into one day. On a good day, I had 15 minutes between getting home and heading off to teach classes. If traffic was bad, I’d call my husband and ask him to put my Lean Cuisine french bread pizza (so easy to eat while driving) in the microwave, so I could just grab it on my way out the door after changing my clothes.
Eventually, after several years of living like this — seeing my husband and dogs for about 15 minutes a day — someone suggested I just quit one of those jobs.
Make a choice! Imagine that! That someone was my husband, who was probably tired of living with the grumpiest version of me he’d ever known.
So I started planning.
I couldn’t just leave the federal government and strike out on my own. Not yet, at least. I had to build up a customer base, I had to prepare to replace my (cushy) federal salary with a self-employed salary. It was heart-stopping, let me tell you. I formulated a plan, implemented that sucker, and in about three years, I left my federal job.
Exactly 10 years ago.
I was really scared to leave a sure thing. A known thing. An easy gig! I mean, at NIST, I was able to combine both my federal and my dog training world because NIST allowed me to bring a service dog-in-training (SDIT) to work with me. I wasn’t training a dog at work, mind you — NIST merely allowed me to bring that SDIT to work each day. There’s an entire blog post in that one little sentence. Maybe one of these days I’ll recount that adventure.
So anyway. I planned. I worked. I marketed. I burned the candle at both ends. I loved it. I eventually was miserable trying to live both lives. And I had a really good husband who actually said to me “Pick one.” Before that, I’d never (ever) considered leaving the federal government.
But I finally did.
And Smart Dog University was born.
(I need to write another entire blog post on how I settled on the name — wasn’t my first choice, let me just say that.)
I jumped into Smart Dog U — I had to make it work!
I got a logo, business cards, professional photos to put on the website. I got a website! I networked, I joined a couple Chambers of Commerce, I marketed, I recruited. I did it all.
And ten years later, I’m happy to say I’m making a living doing what I love.
Smart Dog University teaches people how to be good dog owners. How to help their dog learn good manners, to love going places with their well-behaved dog. I am so happy I listened to my husband and took that leap into the scary work-for-yourself life because this is how it should be.
Helping people who love their dogs. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Whether you found me a day ago, a year ago, or a decade ago, thank you. Thank you for reading this blog, watching the Smart Dog University YouTube channel, and hopefully even coming to Smart Dog U classes with your dog. This really has been a fabulous adventure for me.