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Finding Purpose and Growth: My Journey From School to Startup

I still remember the exact day and moment I received my first job offer at Amazon. It was about half way through my senior year of college and I was on the 4th floor of the library at UW-Madison with my BFF Jenny. I’m a bit embarrassed to say this but I actually cried. No, I’m not embarrassed about my ability to celebrate myself, but more embarrassed at what the other half of my tears meant.

My senior year of college I was lost. As the saying goes, I felt “alone in a crowded room.” So where did those tears of joy really root from? I was fully convinced that this job, the opportunity to join one of the largest and fastest growing tech companies, was what was missing in my life. I was so excited for the change and thought to myself “Okay, you just landed a job at one of the top tech companies. How could you not be happy once this chapter of your life begins?” 

Fast forward a year and a half and there was still a void in my life. I was working, learning, networking, and making friends with my colleagues. I had many intelligent mentors that assured me I was doing all the right things to grow along the way. I even tried to dip my toe into a different role outside of engineering. A few people I worked with and regard as role models were on the program/project management side of the business. I was eager to learn more about these roles and add new skills. Unfortunately, while I respect and enjoyed my managers, this initiative to try new things was not well supported. And, at the end of the day, I knew for certain that I was mostly disinterested in the product that I was building. 

Thus began my journey of finding a product that I was passionate about and would bring purpose to my day to day work. 

It wasn’t until college that I discovered how to care for my physical health when I didn’t have a sports coach telling me how to exercise and eat well every day. As college progressed and my independence increased, I discovered that I also lacked the ability to care for my mental health. Those who know me, know that I will try just about anything if it means improving my physical and mental strength. And it is not really until I started writing this that I realized I would label health as a passion of mine. Physical and mental health guide most of the decisions I make daily and sure as heck take up most of my time and money. So why not find a way to let that headspace extend into my everyday work.

Friends and colleagues called me crazy for moving from a successful, secure company with generous compensation to a small, still unproven company. I am definitely a person that worries about every detail of my life, so much so that I was gifted a “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” book not too long ago. However, this decision was a no-brainer. From the second I read a GeekWire article about Joon Care, I was thrilled at the idea of being on a small team working on such an impactful product. A product designed to deliver meaningful, positive, and in some cases, life-saving care to the lives of struggling teens and young adults. I have not regretted my decision. The best break-up story ever. 

Being at a small start-up - there are about 20 of us at Joon Care today - has offered me so much joy and many unique experiences. First, it is true what they say about wearing many hats. Remember what I said about not being supported in trying out a different role at a large company? At Joon, I am encouraged to help out on all sides of our business. I think that is something really special because 18-year-old me picked Computer Science as a major which is definitely a study that suits me, but who's to say I am not excellent in some other role? Time will tell! Second, no matter your position, at great startups, your opinion matters and is heard. I hate to say it but early on in my career at Amazon I got used to keeping quiet in meetings. I didn’t think I was correct or that anybody would care because I was a junior employee. I vividly remember in a meeting at Joon our CEO, Josh Herst, asked me what my opinion was on a long list of to-be-prioritized product features. I hadn’t considered what my opinion was. As an engineer at a large company, I was used to receiving and implementing product features with few questions asked. At first, out of instinct, I was intimidated and thought I was in trouble for keeping quiet. But, remembering who our CEO is as a person and the culture of our team, I realized it was because they genuinely wanted to know my opinion. Crazy right? Lastly, I know that everybody I work with is taking a risk alongside me. And because we’re all in this together, I feel that everybody truly cares and believes in the product that we are building. The mostly virtual relationships I have created with my teammates have been the most genuine and trustworthy colleague relationships I have experienced thus far in my career.

The New Year is always an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and set new goals. I urge you not to overlook the former, reflect and commend yourself! My year in review involves looking back in my planner at the goals I had written down for 2021 and oh man they are too good not to share. A physical goal of mine was to run a half marathon - I ran 24 miles on my 24th birthday. A career goal was to be promoted. Moving to Joon wasn’t the promotion I intended when I wrote this but, technically, to promote means to further, advance, or upgrade so I consider that a success. A personal goal was to focus on fulfilling friendships - the support system I have in my life right now is unbeatable. Don’t be afraid to set goals that require change. Change is uncomfortable, but anything notable in life is a byproduct of change - that’s my motto!

December 15, 2021
Anna Rusk | Full-Stack Engineer

Anna Rusk | Full-Stack Engineer

Anna Rusk | Full-Stack Engineer

Anna is a full-stack engineer who received her BS in Computer Science at University of Wisconsin - Madison. Following college, Anna worked as an engineer at Amazon for almost 2 years. In her free time she finds joy in trying anything new, staying active outside, playing music, baking, and building meaningful connection.

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