Kevin Spence has created one of the best blogs for job searchers, career changers, and entrepreneurs; Careerthoughts. He was nice enough to interview me about my dream job, being a wedding officiant in NJ and NY for his series, “Do What You Love!” There are some fascinating profiles of a wide variety of pros. All good reads. Here is mine!
Celia Milton Loves to Marry People
Celia Milton is a wedding pastor and marriage officiant who serves the New York and Jersey area. She officiated the first gay wedding at the Empire State Building and has been featured on TLC’s “Four Weddings”, has been featured in “Contemporary Bride,” and was named “Best of the Knot” in 2011 and 2012.
Celia agreed to share her perspective on what she does and why it’s such a perfect fit for her. She also has some really great advice for others who dream of having a career doing what they love.
To learn more about Celia (or to contact her about officiating a wedding), visit her website.
To start off, can you tell us a little bit about what a wedding officiant does?
The easiest answer is that we marry people. Some of us write ceremonies, some of us perform ceremonies that are part of our church or synagogue’s body of ritual, but we bring two people together, lead them through a ceremony that includes the legal requirements, religious requirements (if applicable) and then follow up with the paperwork required by the state. Cocktail hour is entirely optional.
You ran an upscale catering business for about 20 years before you decided to close the doors and become a wedding ceremony officiant and minister. Can you tell us a little bit about how that transition happened?
During most of the weddings that I write, I suggest that life gives us many gifts if our hearts and hands are open. Those gifts don’t always come on the timeframe that we’d hope for, and sometimes they come in the disguise of great tragedy.
I think everyone should be in a food related business at least once in their lives. Working as a line cook, a cater-waiter or bartender teaches you skills that the best MBA cannot; time management, diplomacy, efficient work habits, and decision making on the fly.
I loved my catering business; our clients often used us to celebrate their marriages, their children’s births and graduations, even their divorces. As much as I loved it, I began to doubt my ongoing enthusiasm for digging guacamole out of the delivery van’s dashboard for the rest of my professional life. I needed to figure out what to do next. Having been a business owner and entrepreneur for that long, I was completely unemployable as an underling of any type.
I started my M. Div in theology at Union Seminary, in NYC, thinking that I might go into parish ministry ‘someday.’ I went to Celebrant USA and learned how to create rituals, specifically weddings. Maybe I’d do that. I had no idea, but at that point, I didn’t need to have a solid plan; I just needed a dream; even a wispy vague one would do. Someday, I’d make a change.
When my business partner/ex husband/best friend died in 2007, that change tromped up on shore and stared me down. It was less a decision on my part than a divine intervention of magnificent proportions. I dissolved the company and took a job as an employee, but I was the most horrible employee ever. I took a long hard look at my limited array of saleable skills; I love to write; I love to talk, I love to make people laugh in situations that are not typically thought of as funny. What else would I do except become a wedding officiant? It’s the perfect job, and I get to wear black, which is very slimming.
You do a lot more than just read a scripted passage, cash your check, and go home. It sounds like you’re really involved in the whole ceremony, from the music, to the message, to the overall tone that the couples want to achieve. Can you talk a little bit about how you work with people to give them a ceremony they’ll love?
Well, first they have to realize they need someone like me, and to do that, they usually have to decide on the ceremony they’ll hate and realize that they want something completely different. Then we talk. We talk about why they hated every ceremony they have been to. We talk about what they love; what makes them unique and what they want to tell their guests about their relationship. Are they serious foodies? Shameless tech-geeks? Do they want to include their parents or their dog or their cousin who plays Klezmer music? We talk about how they met, how they navigated the bumps in the road, how they got engaged, what they hope will happen next.
What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
Besides working in my jammies in an office off my kitchen? I love my couples. I love that moment when they realize that they don’t HAVE to have words that make them uncomfortable or prayers that don’t reflect their spirituality (or lack thereof). I love having their relatives come up to me after the ceremony and ask me how long I’ve known them! (I never tell…..)
You are a great example of a person who found something that they loved to do and just ran with it. What advice would you offer to others out there who might be considering turning their passions into a career?
The most important thing to realize is that your passion, in itself, is not a career. It’s part of it, (and it’s a part that no real successful entrepreneur can do without), but the other part is creating and marketing the need for your passion. If you decide to bake the most delicious cookies or paint fantasy murals for kids’ rooms or sew adorable dog clothes, you also need to create the market for it. Without marketing, your fabulous invention is just another cave painting without an audience. You can market; the internet has made that easier than ever, but your marketing work will take up at least as much time as your creating work will.
There will be a scary time. It’s that time when you are standing on that cliff deciding whether to throw yourself off and see if you can fly. Don’t wait. There will NEVER be enough money, enough hours, enough clients. You either take a leap of faith and work your ass off or you don’t.
For me, it came down to a very simple question. Would I be willing to work as many hours on my own business as I would for an employer without the guarantee of any return of success? The answer was yes. If the answer had been no, I’d spend the rest of my life wondering, “what if?,” and that is a terrible way to live your life.
What does a typical day at the office look like for you?
See, ‘typical’ is one of the reasons I do this….there is no typical. I might get an 8 AM call from a couple who wants to get married that afternoon. I might have to talk one of my grooms off the ledge when he realizes that 187 people will hear him say his intimate vows to his fiancé. I might have to find a dog wrangler for an unruly flower dog or figure out how to get four sets of divorced/remarried parents down the aisle without anyone attacking anyone else.
That being said, a typical day includes a four minute commute past the giant poodle into the home office, with a pit stop at the coffee maker. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and blogging first, then returning phone calls and emails, some proactive networking calls and emails and then writing ceremonies. I do edit calls and interview Skype meetings at night, and all of this is punctuated by occasional disasters, regular accounts of fabulous honeymoons and tear filled phone calls. All in a day’s work.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
- Don’t charge what you need, charge what you’re worth.
- Get to “No” (in other words, have the hard conversation, get rejected and move on).
- The way you do anything is the way you do everything. (Be consistent whether you’re feeding the dog or writing a million dollar proposal. It’s basically all the same stuff.)
What are the few of the qualities that a wedding officiant or pastor needs to have if they want to be great at what they do?
A real willingness to listen to their couples, a genuine enthusiasm for the work, curiosity and a lot of black pens.
Thanks so much for your time!