One of my favorite analogies is The Tree of Life. The tree looks deceptively perfect from afar, but upon closer inspection, you see knobs, chafed bark, and gashes filled with insects. Each of us is like a squirrel climbing the tree, looking for acorns, and choosing between branches upward without a clear view of where each will lead. Choose carefully, but don’t overanalyze. Adjust course as you go. Squirrels that keep moving gather the best nuts.
My first job as office manager/accountant involved many dull and repetitive tasks, so I applied my computer skills to automate them. This improved office efficiency and garnered praise from people I respected, but most of all, it was fun. I had discovered the trunk of the career tree I wanted to climb. I became a business systems analyst and entered the fast-growing telecommunications industry of the mid-’90s.
Thinking hard work directly correlated to success, I worked endless hours. Then a colleague was promoted to the role I desired. Swallowing my pride, I asked why I didn’t receive the position. I was told to “manage upwards.” I was the quintessential inventor who wondered why no one appreciated her ideas, but had done nothing to market them.
I worked on getting my voice heard and understood. Success followed, with rapid rise to management. Then the industry changed. Layoffs occurred quarterly. I tightened project control and asserted expertise. After my technical manager yelled at me, calling me a control freak, I realized that less management and more leadership was needed. I empowered staff, coached them, and sought buy-in. My team became happier, and thus more effective.
As I migrated to the media industry, and later to government contracting, success continued. To share it, I mentored others, especially those often overlooked. This was extremely gratifying.
Then life around me changed. Financial pressures escalated during the housing crash, family responsibilities increased, competitive coworkers abounded, and my brother battled and ultimately succumbed to ALS. I lost sight of the ground, fell, and hit it hard. It was a humbling lesson on the importance of work/life balance.
With a renewed perspective, I’m concentrating on building my business development expertise necessary to grow my own company one day.
Pursue your dreams with courage, seek feedback, coach and mentor others, balance work and life, and enjoy the climb.
Is there a role model who has had a profound impact on your career and/or life? What did he/she motivate you to do?
I’m fortunate to have known two outstanding professional role models my entire life: my parents. Both are entrepreneurs who started and grew businesses, overcoming many political, economic, and personal obstacles on their path toward success. I continually reflect on their unwavering focus, persistence, and optimism especially when times are difficult and I must keep pushing forward. My mother has played a key role in cementing this perspective and reminding me to keep perspective when office politics and other issues appear. Career success can easily be sidetracked by falling prey to such distractions.