I was almost an accountant.

Well, but for a few minor details. My complete incompetence with figures and the fact that I couldn’t stand my marketing course might have had a thing or two to do with my change of heart.

I started at the University of Waterloo with marketing and business in mind. Someone close to me had convinced me that a love of writing would never be enough to carve out a career. Business was reliable. Choose money, they said. Money leads to jobs, they said.

Paula Shuck

Nine days into first year, I realized I’d taken some bad advice. So, I switched gears entirely and embraced the arts. I majored in English literature, getting lost in the works of our greatest authors and playwrights. Transported to a different era with Shakespeare, Dickens, and Tolstoy, I began dreaming of travel alongside Nabokov and Hemingway, and finally learned to apply a different lens to the world with Atwood and Angelou.

That first year at Waterloo was invigorating and inspiring. In every class I built connections and gathered facts, researching then shaping and editing something original and polished. This was where I learned to profile my audience and deliver content directly to them.

After graduating with my BA (Honours English), I went to the Ryerson journalism school in Toronto. After a few years of contract work during the recession, covering beats like court and city hall at The Record in Kitchener, I wrote a full-page feature on my struggle with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that earned me my first ever Western Ontario Newspaper Award nomination. Although I didn’t win, the nomination gave me leverage, and I used it to get a full-time position at The London Free Press.

The adrenaline rush of chasing train wrecks and writing to deadline daily made me speedy and efficient. No time to dawdle in the newsroom at a daily newspaper. But my Crohn’s flared up again and I was hospitalized. I had surgery, recovered, barely returned to work and again it flared. This cycle repeated. Eventually stomach pain and fatigue at work was too much.

Paula with a group of women

For a year or so I recovered at home. In 2001 and 2004, we adopted our two daughters. Parenting and adoption were rich source material, so I started writing features and marketing to publications like Today’s Parent, Canadian Family and The Globe and Mail. Freelancing gave me a way back into regular writing after illness.

In 2009, I attended an online writing workshop and I launched my lifestyle blog Thrifty Mommas Tips. This spring marks ten years of blogging and sharing content on social media. I’ve worked with hundreds of brands and partnered with destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Visit Wyoming, Ski Vermont, Tremblant, and Failte, Ireland, to name a few. Around 2012, my network started asking me how to work with brands, so I started Thrifty Mom Media social media consulting to show them how social media and influencer marketing worked.

Immediately I took on a social media marketing campaign for a patient advocacy group, and I built influencer marketing campaigns for non-profits like World Vision Canada and Red Cross Canada. In late 2014, I toured Colombia and wrote about child sponsorship. A highlight of my writing career was a Shot at Life fellowship in late 2016 touring Zambian clinics and community centres to discuss barriers to vaccination.

Paula in Colombia

At least once a month, I reflect on the power of an arts degree from the University of Waterloo. Sometimes I think my arts degree has helped me find creative, flexible ways to evolve in an ever-changing economy.

Though I very nearly followed a different path, I found my own footing at the University of Waterloo. Freelancing, blogging, and running your own consulting and communications agency is a hustle, but passion and love of writing have given me so much more than I ever envisioned.

Paula Schuck is an award-winning journalist and an authority on parenting issues, special needs, politics, infertility, adoption, and social media. She is one of Canada’s most respected health, travel, tech, and lifestyle bloggers, with an audience spanning both sides of the border.