By Sara Tirrito
Just two months before his December graduation, Shelby Burford completely dropped his post-graduation plans. He had intended to start a dessert and coffee shop in downtown Waco and had already created a business plan for the project, but as he prayed about his future, Burford felt called to find work and join a church plan called Mosaic in Seattle.
“I tend to be very ambitious and kind of control every aspect that I can control, so in this when I felt like God was calling me to Seattle without a job and without a plan it was very counter to the way I usually am,” Burford said. “I just felt like I really needed to trust God on this and not know all of the answers for once.”
Matthew Armstrong, Burford’s section leader at Antioch Community Church in Waco, said that despite his uncertainty, Burford had never been one to shy away from God’s call.
“There was definitely uncertainty, but I never saw any fear in Shelby, I never saw any question in his heart,” Armstrong said. “He’s the kind of guy that once he feels like God is telling him to do something, he will give himself to it.”
And so Burford boarded a flight to Seattle on Jan. 1 without a job but with a plan to find one.
He had 250 cocktail napkins with him, each printed with his objective — “Seeking creative and entrepreneurial employment in Seattle” — followed by his abridged resume, contact information and seat number. After the flight attendants had served everyone’s beverages, Burford followed up with his specialized napkins, hoping someone on the flight might be searching for an employee that fit his qualifications.
But no one was.
So Burford came up with a new plan. He called the Seattle Times and offered to tell them his story, thinking if it reached the right people he might be offered a job.
And he was right.
Dozens of e-mails from people all over Seattle filled his inbox the day the story ran, and Burford ended up with 12 interviews.
Members of the corporate world searching for employees weren’t the only ones to express interest in Burford’s story, however. He also heard from a 12-year-old named Benjamin who wished he could offer Burford a job, an 86-year-old woman who wanted to personally welcome him to Seattle and invite him to attend her church and one businessman who simply wanted to meet the now-famous Burford.
“There was one company that I learned once I got to the interview that they didn’t have any openings, and he said, ‘I really wanted to meet with you because you’re a Seattle rock star,’” Burford said. “That was probably the funniest reaction.”
His other interviews did lead to several job offers, but Burford is still in the process of making a decision on where he will accept.
Although the process was somewhat uncomfortable, Burford said he is glad he trusted God’s call and went to Seattle.
“It would be a lot easier to do my usual — go somewhere where there are options and where things are easy and practical,” Burford said, “but God’s radical plans are always bigger and better.” Dr. Greg Leman, clinical professor and director of the university entrepreneurial initiative, and a former professor of Burford’s, said he was not surprised that Burford left for Seattle without a job.
“He’s a very kind of purpose-driven person, and it was clear in talking to him that it wasn’t just a whim,” Leman said. “He was a little gutsy in that regard, but again, that’s Shelby.”
Dr. Marlene Reed, visiting professor of management in the Hankamer School of Business, and a former professor of Burford’s, said she was not surprised by his actions either, because of his spontaneity and liveliness. Burford had been a creative student as well, she said.
“He’s a very creative person and just always thinking of ideas for businesses and projects that are kind of out of the normal range of possibilities,” Reed said.
“Most people wouldn’t think of the really creative things that he thinks of, or be willing to do something like apply to Wheel of Fortune.”
And apply to Wheel of Fortune, Burford did. He was accepted, and will have another 15 minutes of fame when the April 22 episode of Wheel of Fortune airs.