By Jessica T
Reinventing yourself at workUploaded: Mar 10, 2014
One of the topics we've discussed on this blog is how mothers make it worth their while to return to work after having children, particularly if their responsibilities in the workplace are frustrating or underwhelming.
I'm a big believer in reinvention. For me, this has meant changing roles (sometimes even locales) every several years. My pattern has been staying in a role for a few years - I join (or build) a new team, fix problems, establish processes, get the team in good shape, and move on. I have bosses who have been brilliant and upwardly mobile by "going deep" - continuing to specialize in a role year after year. In effect, their strategy has been to reinvent themselves in the same job each year. Either way works depending on personal proclivity.
We have had a number of role models in the valley who have excelled at reinvention. Steve Jobs is the most obvious example. He was dethroned from the company he built and then a decade later emerged as Apple's hero. He turned around the company's fortune with new, ever more ambitious product offerings (taking on computing, next music, then other digital media) and saved Disney and Pixar in the process.
Alas, not all working moms can be Steve Jobs. Sheryl Sandberg talks about her career more closely mimicking a jungle gym. She famously began her career at the US Treasury and then went from Vice President of Sales and Operations at Google to COO of Facebook. Career moves need not always be sweeping changes. They can be horizontal shifts - some rungs may be riskier than others at certain stages of life. In my life, the rung I choose has always been a reflection of what might (or might not) be happening in my family and my husband's career. It doesn't always make sense for two parents to be hanging from one arm from the top of the proverbial jungle gym.
We put our pursuit to have another child on hold when my husband and I decided to pursue jobs in India for a seven-month stint. We took our 7 year old out of school and enrolled her in a private Indian school. I accepted an assignment in Google's Hyderabad office and gave up my role in the US. (When it was time to return, I had to find a new role at Google's headquarters in Mountain View.) My husband accepted a Fulbright fellowship and negotiated a leave of absence at San Jose State that allowed him to teach at an Indian university.
Our stint in India reinvented our entire family. In India, far away from our families, friends, and culture, we felt vulnerable. But our faith in universal human kindness was renewed as we met wonderful people along the way and made lasting friendships. Professionally, it was also an extraordinary time for growth. I transitioned from a role in customer support to sales (and upon my return got to cut my teeth in marketing too). I managed a team that was double the size of any I've managed before or since. My husband is still in contact with many of his gifted Indian students. My daughter dabbled in traditional indian dance and is now fluent in Hindu mythology.
Moreover, the process of returning to the US (and finding work once more) was good training in the perseverance, the necessary ingredient for reinvention at every stage of my career. Because of the time difference, I had job interviews over video conference in the middle of the night. I once put on a suit for an interview held on a holiday at 10:30 pm. The process forced me to think more deeply than I might have about what I wanted to do next. By the time I returned to headquarters, I knew the role I had chosen was right for me. I had the right assignment in place and the right boss who would allow me to grow in new and interesting ways.
My advice to working women, whether they are just starting out or have some experience under their belts, is to consider the long-term implications of each new role. We have ~40 years of work-life to fill and can make it more challenging and rewarding by taking risks and embracing new opportunities. Reinvention is all about building the resume you want to have in the future (and patting yourself on the back when you get there).