To say that 2017 had its share of ups & downs would be an understatement. It was a crazy, emotional, erratic year with many curveballs and roadblocks being thrown my way. I made it through on the other side, but it wasn’t easy. This post is real, from the heart, and a bit hard to write. But it’s my story and I felt it needed to be shared. Not only is this my outlet, but if I can help one other person who is (or was) struggling, then it’ll be worth it.
The year started off great. We just wrapped up a great holiday season in 2016, with it being Gwen’s first. I had just finished my first 90 days as an Operations Manager for a software start-up, which I really loved. I had recently joined this company in October 2016 after deciding to make a career leap from a company that I equally loved and highly respected. This last career move was meant to be it for me and I really felt like I had achieved the success I had been seeking for so long. It was certainly a position that had a great deal of responsibility, but it also had its rewards. I was part of a small, growing, thriving team and I truly felt like part of the team. I wasn’t looking to go anywhere anytime soon…
They say opportunity knocks, right? Well, it did for me in early February completely out of the blue. As I said, I was happy where I was and I wasn’t looking for another opportunity. However, a post that came up on my LinkedIn feed caught my attention and I felt intrigued by it, more like drawn to it. I can’t really explain it. It was an ad seeking an Operations Manager for a VC development organization in RTP (Durham, NC) and everything about the post screamed to me. Again, I can’t really explain it. After a bit of research on the company, the folks who were currently employed there, and the business in general, I decided what did it hurt to inquire. So, I did. I sent in my information and followed up with the job poster a few days later. Within a week I received a phone call to discuss the role, my interest, and possible next steps. From there, I had a formal interview set up with the team the following week. I met with the team and instantly felt that my decision to reach out this company was worth it. I hit it off with the CEO immediately. I left the interview feeling confident that I would hear back from them. And, I did.
A few days after my initial interview, I was asked to come back to meet with them. I had thought it was another interview, but in fact, it was to inform me that they wanted to hire me and that I would be receiving my formal offer soon. I was on cloud nine. I didn’t expect this, especially so quickly. I left this meeting with my head held high and on top of the world. Again, I wasn’t looking for this opportunity but here it was and I had an important decision to make.
I received the formal offer and it was everything I expected and more. This was the role that I felt embodied the culmination of my career thus far and I felt that it was the challenge I was looking for. It certainly was a step-up in all areas one would expect, i.e. salary, responsibility, title, etc. After the initial enigma of receiving the offer, I realized that suddenly I had to decide whether I would continue on with the position that I loved with the software company, or take a chance and begin my journey with the VC firm. I thought about it in earnest for a couple of days and finally made my decision. I would like to tell you that it was an easy decision, but it was anything but.
I eventually made the decision to leave the position that I just started 5 months prior and gave my notice. Even though I provided a 3-week notice, it was still hard for my former boss to accept that I was vacating my role after such a short period of time. It was hard for me to understand as well, but it just felt right to me. I didn’t necessarily leave on bad terms, yet I wasn’t exactly thrown a goodbye party either, which was completely understandable, all things considered.
In mid-February, I started my new journey with the VC firm. It was amazing. It was everything I expected and more. It was extremely fast-paced and no two days were the same, which is right up my alley. I had an insane workload and a great deal of responsibility, which again, was right up my alley. I even took on a new title of ‘Director of Operations’ in a very short period of time. The (small) team was amazing and great to work with. Going to work felt fun and at times didn’t even feel like work at all, even though I was putting in well over 60 hours a week. I had a lot to prove in this new role and it didn’t matter to me that most nights were spent with my laptop on my lap more than the remote in my hand. It was an exhilarating experience.
The next few months felt like over a year because of how busy I was, but it felt amazing. Then, the world came crashing down around me, at least professionally speaking. In late July, I went to lunch with my boss for a routine “catch-up” only to discover that my role was going to be eliminated. I hadn’t expected this conversation at all so this caught me completely off-guard. It felt like I had just been punched in the stomach and it hurt. A lot. I had a great relationship with my boss, the CEO, so this was hard to hear coming from him, but I certainly appreciated him being honest and forthright with me. But still, it was hard to hear. I didn’t want my journey to end with this amazing company and I certainly didn’t feel it was “my time”, but I had to defer to the higher powers and I had to trust that their decision was the best. I won’t go into further details out of respect for the company, but it was a crushing blow to my career, my confidence, and my soul.
After the initial sting of losing a position that I had only just begun to really feel completely immersed in, that I genuinely loved, I knew I had to pick up the pieces and start trying to find my next amazing adventure. Sure, I took a few days to loaf around in my pj’s and watch daytime talk shows, why wouldn’t I? I have worked so very hard in my career – I deserved a few days to myself. The kids went to school and Mommy had much overdue “me time”. It honestly felt great.
I had new found energy to start pushing forward in my search to land my next role and did everything I knew to do:
- Freshen up my resume – Priority #1 (love NovoResume!!)
- Activate LinkedIn Premium – an absolute MUST for job seekers
- Create profiles with all leading temp, career placement agencies
- Reached out to my connections for input, advice, assistance, etc.
- Emailed CEO’s, hiring managers, and HR professionals like crazy
Within the few days of my search, I found a role that sounded great. It was a very similar role to what I had and in the bio-pharma space, which I loved. I sent in my resume and email and within a couple days I had an interview lined up. I was elated. Maybe I wouldn’t be unemployed that long after all? I met with the CEO of the bio-pharma company and we hit it off immediately and I was starting to feel deja vu. Could this be? The role sounded exciting, the company appeared to be great, and I liked the CEO very much, but it just felt too good to be true. That’s how I felt anyhow. Before I even got home I emailed the CEO to thank her for her time and to tell her how excited I would feel to move forward in the process. Well, wouldn’t you know that she responded immediately to tell me that she wanted me to work for her and would be in touch once she returned from vacation with my formal offer? Wow. I was stunned. Not because I didn’t feel worthy, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen that quickly. Even though I was eager to get back to work, I figured what’s a couple weeks, so I waited. I still put myself out there for other roles in this time period but knew I had something great in the works. Or, did I?
Once the CEO returned from vacation I was told that the position was filled by someone that her Board decided on. Wait, what? That was my reaction precisely, I can assure you. I thought I had this one in the bag, especially considering that the CEO herself had told me I was her choice. Another setback. Time to move on.
During the next month or so, I must have been on 5-7 face to face interviews. You might say this was great to actually have interviews as some don’t even make the initial phase of being sorted from a stack of resumes. Sure, I was appreciative, but do you know how mentally exhausting it is to prepare for face to face interviews, let alone do well during the interview itself? I like to think I interview well, but it’s taxing mentally, physically, and of course, emotionally. You get excited that you’re called in for an interview, and this is 95% of the time after the phone interview, only to wait days or weeks after the interview before you hear about next steps. It’s a complete drain on the psyche and it can certainly decrease your confidence and motivation, trust me. I went through the process of interviewing for over 4 months before landing the role I’m in now. Even though some would say that I was lucky to have only been unemployed for 4 months, to me it felt like an eternity.
These 4 months were hard on me, in more ways than one. I started feeling helpless and my confidence waned. I knew I had a lot to offer and would make a welcome addition to a great team, but having to convince someone that you were what they were looking for wasn’t easy. During this time, I became extra sensitive, increasingly irritable, my appetite was all over the place, and I fell behind on basic life events. I knew I had to do something but I also knew I needed help and didn’t know how to address it myself. I made an appointment with my Dr. and explained the course of events over the previous few months and that’s when the floodgates poured open. I was a bucket of tears and it’s as if the weight of the world was lifted, even if it was just in that moment. My Dr. could immediately see the stress I was under and how I lacked the ability to cope with it. I’m a strong person, but I started feeling like I couldn’t handle this 100% on my own. I was prescribed Zoloft and I didn’t feel an ounce of shame in it. Up until this point, I hadn’t taken anything daily other than a vitamin and a birth control pill. So, I bought a pill-minder to help me remember to take it. After a few weeks, I did start to feel less anxious, more positive, more energetic and less drained, and most importantly, less irritable to my family who relied on me. It gave me the boost I needed.
I love to work. I love having a career – To have lost it on me so suddenly, completely unexpected, and after risking the previous position which I loved, was the hardest part of all of this. My career is extremely important to me, and equally, so is my professional reputation, so to have this “lull” and short tenure in my career wasn’t exactly the best impression. I had a lot of explaining to do with the hiring managers and HR professionals that I met with over these 4 months, and these are just the ones that decided to give me a chance and not just immediately throw my resume out. It was a lot of repetitive conversations. I had to fight just to be heard, seen, and understood. I had to explain why a Director of Operations was suddenly looking for senior-level Executive Assistant roles and if we hired you, what would keep you challenged enough to stay? These were hard questions to answer, but each interview had a different circumstance. Was I looking for a role similar to what I had and at the same level? Sure. Absolutely. But, I was also looking to get back to work fast as the holidays were approaching and I knew the market would be drying up soon. I also knew that I was an exceptional Executive Assistant as that had been where the bulk of my career was spent. I was asked quite often, “Do you feel like this is going backward in your career?” And my answer each time was “No”. Certain EA positions, sure, it may have felt like going backward, but I wasn’t applying for entry-level roles that would have been beneath my skillset. I didn’t want to set myself up for a situation where I would be easily hired, only to leave a bit later when something better came along. I wanted my next role to be IT for me. Stability is important to me, and of course, having a stable income doesn’t hurt either.
It’s hard going from a top-figure income to nothing in such a short period of time, and it was certainly hard on my family. It was the hardest for my husband, without a doubt. Without even being asked, he started picking up extra shifts, day or night, whatever he had to do to help our situation. We made due. It wasn’t easy. Not even a little bit. But, through thick or thin, we had each other’s back. I used his shoulder quite often when I received yet again another rejection email or phone call, which there were many. Any rejection is hard to swallow, but when you feel like you aced the interview, received wonderful feedback, and were told “You’ll hear from us very soon” (with an exuberant tone), being told you weren’t the one is crushing. These were roles I became personally invested in and attached to. I saw myself working at these companies. I felt like I would have been a great addition to their teams. But alas, it didn’t happen.
I used every trick up my sleeve during my time of unemployment. In addition to the obvious (bulleted above), I reached out to companies that weren’t even hiring so I could introduce myself, I signed up on job boards on Slack, emailed former colleagues of mine asking for referrals, you name it… I did it. I’m not shy, nor afraid to ask for assistance. I’m also not one to back away from a challenge. But the most important part is I DIDN’T GIVE UP. Even when I wanted to. Trust me, I thought about taking the kids out of daycare full-time and staying home with them and having my husband being the only working parent. However, financially this just didn’t make the best sense for us. And, as I mentioned above, I love working. It comes down to what was best for us, and that was to continue pursuing my dream role. I love being a working mother. It’s a balance, for sure, but easily accomplished with the right parameters in place (wait for a future post on balancing the cliche “Work-Life Balance”.
Just when I thought I wasn’t going to be successful in finding a role before the holidays, I heard back from the company that I had really hoped would call me. They say timing is everything, and I believe that wholeheartedly. I am so completely happy with my new role and absolutely love where I am now in my career. I love the organization, the people, the role, the location, honestly… everything. And, the best part? It’s working with a non-profit with a 40+ year history and is doing amazing, worthwhile things for our state. Win Win. The best things really do come to those who wait, have patience, and the persistence to match. I will be glad to share more about my new role in a future post. It will be a fun post to write, I assure you!
If you take anything away from this post, hopefully, it’s to NOT GIVE UP. Ever. I felt like it constantly, but also knew I had a family counting on me. I was counting on ME!
Also, NEVER feel that you aren’t worth it or don’t have what it takes because you DO.
Lastly, it’s OK to change your path. Sometimes the best things are just slightly on the other side of that path. What do you have to lose?
Until next time…