There can be pressure to make all the “right moves,” especially in your career. Though, life is full of twists and turns, so naturally our careers are too. Life shows us inflection points. What matters most is what we do with them. This is the important notion I sat with the past several months. I cherish my reflections that I am more than my career, and I am better for it.
I hope while reading my story you feel inspired to embrace your own. Perhaps you relate as a woman of color in leadership who is resilient in the face of adversity. Maybe you’ve endured the global pandemic, its ensuing economic instability, and company layoffs put a wrench in your career plans. The possibilities are endless.
Whatever your story, I hope you have courage to honor your values and prioritize being places where you feel appreciated. Know your worth. Give yourself grace. Entertain the possibility that what is waiting to be unleashed within you lies buried somewhere in your discomfort zone.
A chapter of my story
In early March 2022, my then-fiancé and I moved into our first home. A mere six days later, an unlicensed teenage driver jumped the curb, crashed into our fence, and left a gaping hole. We experienced one challenge after another, including failed wedding plans due to COVID. Despite all of this, we were excelling professionally and delighting in our personal sense of accomplishment. As my career progressed, I joined Chief, an exclusive women’s leadership network, and laid plans to pursue professional certifications for continued growth.
Then, everything changed when I lost my job. It was blindsiding. I sit in deep empathy with anyone ever in these shoes. I’d worked uninterrupted since my teens, only pausing to give grad school my undivided attention–seemingly making all of the “right moves.” The stakes had never been higher for me and my family. My HR expertise, positive career trajectory, and professional aspirations moved from being central in my life, to abruptly sidelined.
I knew it would take time, I never sugar-coated hard days, and I was determined to bounce back. As the great Muhammad Ali said, ”You don’t lose if you get knocked down; you lose if you stay down.” Thus, I accepted the first of many invitations for VP of People interviews the day after I lost my job. And many more since, as I’ve continued interviewing.
Resilient in the face of uncertainty, I decided to busy myself planting new seeds to feed my soul. I turned 36, stepped into my year of “Yes” and embraced my discomfort zone. Everything on my life’s backburner, especially planning our wedding, received the equivalent of a Delta Airlines “You’ve Been Upgraded!” email and shot to the top of my priority list. I heeded my brother’s advice to start each day making a list of what I would intentionally achieve, and celebrate every win. Self-taught, I stripped then sanded, stained, and reupholstered a set of dining room chairs. I petitioned the city for neighborhood traffic calming, got new sidewalks poured, had new trees planted, painted our front door, bargain-hunted on NextDoor for furniture, negotiated the repair of our fence, started consulting, snagged podcast guest slots, rescued a second cat, played volleyball again, spent more time with my family, and focused on an important role change to wife.
Investing in myself, beyond my career identity, I found new purpose and unearthed creativity I’d previously left no space or time to nurture. I went from timidly introducing myself to new faces, wincing at the thought of answering the fateful, “So, what do you do for work?” question, to intrepidly owning a transformational period of my life. I deeply respect why my husband asks, “So, what do you do for fun?” instead of work because he insists on valuing the whole person, and empathizes with the unemployed and under-employed experience.
I’ve fallen in love with my whole story. I’ve learned to relish each facet of my life, far beyond my passion for HR and intentionally model multidimensionality. I’m keenly aware of my personal values: Empathy, Integrity, Authenticity, and Excellence, and committed to honoring them in every role. And, until my next role, each day I’m purposeful about having the job I want to do. If I could, I’d tell my younger self to resist letting what job I have (or don’t have) dominate my identity.
Learning to love your own story
An article I recently read in The Atlantic came right on time – everyone is better off doing the job they truly want to do, as opposed to the job that they want to tell others they do. The principle is widely applicable. It’s important we chase the experiences we genuinely want to have alongside the people with whom we genuinely want to have them, not just for the social media post and soon-to-be forgotten photo or video stealing space in our phones.
Life is drawing without an eraser. Perhaps you wanted to draw a straight line with the sequence of events in your life and you ended up with something squiggly. Perfectly straight lines are boring anyway, right? Generally, perfection is a fool’s errand. Whatever the line drawn, follow it. Embrace any hard resets or unexpected chapters at your line’s inflection points and curves. Find the key learnings. Run your own race. Stay the course.