For the past 15 years, Melissa Park has had a career and business most would covet.
She worked in marketing and event management before launching her own business, Melissa Park Events, in 2008. This is where she added an enviable list of events to her portfolio including The Royal Sydney Easter Show, the Sydney Olympic Games 10 Year Anniversary Ceremony, and the Major League Baseball Opening Series.
She also has several awards to her name, including Australian Event Awards Young Achiever of the Year, Corporate Connect 2020 40 Under 40, and more recently, Special Events 25 Young Event Pros to Watch 2020.
But it was a chance trip to the United States in 2011, to meet her brother for a holiday, that lured Park’s talent abroad.
“When I got off the plane in LA, something came over me, and I’ve never felt the feeling before, but I was like, ‘I’m home’,” she said.
Park said it was uncanny, because she never expected to feel that way, and it had never once crossed her mind to live in the US.
“Something stuck on that trip. And I thought: ‘I think that this is where I belong’.”
For the next three years, Park found any excuse to return to the US. But it wasn’t until 2014 that she noticed a gap in her calendar of events, and decided to take the chance of making a life in the US.
“I booked a plane ticket after my last event in Australia, and went over to the US. I only knew one person over there,” she said.
Even though basing in LA may have seemed like the obvious choice, Park settled in San Francisco’s Bay Area because she saw “a massive opportunity” to work on events with tech start-ups in Silicon Valley.
But after almost six months, and a looming visa expiry, Park was still unemployed despite having more than a decade of work experience under her belt.
“It was the most humbling experience of my life,” she said.
“But it was such a great lesson because now I am not afraid to ask for help… which is the complete opposite to what I was before.”
Luckily, Park managed to land a role as a field marketing manager at a tech firm just before her visa expired. And even though she described it as “the most boring job in the world” she understood it served a purpose, allowing her to stay in the US and rebuild her career.
She was quickly promoted to director of global strategic events at the company, and spent the next two and half years producing their large-scale conferences in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia.
By 2017, Park got “the itch” to go out on her own again, which she admits is the desire for anyone who has run their own business and enjoyed the entrepreneurial journey.
And this time, she was willing to reach out and ask for support.
When she first started her business in Australia, Park recalled contacting everyone she knew to let them know that she was available if they needed an event producer.
“That’s how I built my first business in Australia, and it took off through recommendation and word of mouth. Then, once people attend my events, often they find me onsite and book me for their events while attending the one I ran,” she said.
Park used this same tactic in the US, and business took off again.
After a few years on the west coast, Park relocated to New York in 2019.
“I needed a change of scenery. I think New York is much more my pace, and my kind of people, and I was absolutely loving life there and living my American dream,” she said.
Then entered 2020: the year sent to challenge us all.
‘Resilience is key’ to future career success
At the start of the year, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Park had 30 confirmed events.
“It was going to be an epic year… And then March hit, COVID happened, and then New York got so out of control so fast, and then everything shut down,” she said.
Park said living through the New York lockdown was “shocking in itself”, but to then see 100 per cent of her revenue attached to live, in-person events disappear overnight was devastating.
Faced with no income, a property lease coming up for renewal, and a rejected Green Card application, Park decided to return home to Sydney, Australia.
“After the initial shock of COVID and everything being ripped away, I sat for a minute and thought: what am I going to do and how am I going to make this work?
“I’m not a fan of virtual events; I don’t particularly like them. I think that every virtual event I’ve seen this year, and in the past, has not come close to replicating an in-person experience, and it’s not my speciality. So, I didn’t want to just flip into that,” she said.
Park considered what she had planned to achieve for the year, and noted that her end goal was to produce her own educational and personal development events, where she would be on stage with all of the speakers that she looked up to.
“For the longest time I’ve wanted to create online courses and education to help people fast-track their success; it’s such a passion of mine. If I can share my knowledge and skills, and help an up-and-comer that might not have access mentors or resources, then I really want to do that,” she said.
And so, Park put the plan to work and will soon launch her online masterclass, 7 Steps to Event Success.
Her masterclass – including seven modules, more than 30 videos, templates, checklists, and activities – is also a way for fellow event professionals to upskill during their downtime.
“I’m adapting my goals. I’m looking at 2020 goals, and asking: what from this can I still do, or what can I adapt to still move in the right direction to get there?”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also taught Park that she was completely reliant on one stream of income – a position she never wants to be in again – and this is something she is actively addressing.
And while Park has certainly had tough days, she admits that “resilience has been key” during this time, and that she has had to remove expectations.
“I’ve had to reshape the way I think about productivity. I think that is important for everyone. I don’t know a single person that hasn’t been affected somewhat by this (COVID-19). It’s a complete shift,” she said.
Park has used this time to reflect on the kinds of events she wants to work on in the future, what types of clients she’d like, and reassessed what’s important to her.
“For me, it always comes back to this: I need to be so clear on my goals, but civil in the way that I reach them. It comes back to being able to adapt. The essence of it is: know where you’re going but be flexible in how you get there.”
And that’s a sound piece of advice we could all benefit from right now.