36. Seven Years Later

 
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Happy Friday! I hope you had a great week!

This Monday is my 7th anniversary with my current company. It’s also been 7 years since I made my career transition from laboratory chemist to data analyst. I’m really amazed that it’s been 7 years because it’s about 5 years longer than I expected to be here. When I first started, I thought I’d made a terrible decision - the culture was completely different than what I was used to, I was working in a completely new space, and frankly, the company wasn’t doing well. Things got really dire around the 2 year mark, between company issues and a terrible boss, and at my lowest point I considered walking away, even without a job, but my husband convinced me to stay. Then there was a time where I expected to be laid off along with 10% of our headquarters staff, but somehow I stayed on. Over time, things have gotten better, both for me and for my company.

Along the way, my life and priorities changed. In my 20s, all I cared about was my salary & vacation time, but as a married woman having babies, I care about maternity leave, flexible work arrangements, etc. The two biggest things that have kept me at my company are my benefits (including the maternity leave) and the way the entire corporate culture has evolved for the better in the last 5 years. I get to work with really smart, talented people each day, and I report to a leader who provides guidance but gives me autonomy, and I get to enact real change, which is very gratifying. I legit like what I work on, and I get to make meaningful changes that impact customers directly, which is really cool.

I’m not sure if I’ll make it to the 10 year mark at this company, just given our family priorities, but it’s been a great 7 years that have taught me so much. It hasn’t always been great, but overall it’s been a good 7 years. And frankly, I’m happy I left the lab when I did and made a career change.

Things I Read This Week:

The CEO of a Major Headhunting Firm Says the Best Resume He's Ever Seen Had These 6 Things (MSN)

Buyer Beware When Shopping on Amazon (Jezebel)

The Unspoken Hurdle of Getting Funding for Plus-Size Fashion Brands (Glamour)

The True Story Behind Mindhunter’s Atlanta Child Murders (Vulture)

The never-ending, very confusing battle for Etsy’s soul (Vox)

White-on-White Violence: How a Bedbug Diss Teaches Us Everything We Need to Know About White Male Fragility (The Root)

Chrissy Teigen wants her husband to take more pictures of her—and we can so relate (Motherly)

Kissing Ass At Miki Agrawal's Butt-Con (Jezebel)

Hollywood Almost Broke Renée Zellweger. Now She’s Back. (Vulture)

I Tried 7 Top-Rated Mascaras and Found the Very Best One (Man Repeller)

Don’t talk to me if you don’t want to talk about “Are You the One?’’ (Just Good Shit)

Do I Pay Off My Student Loans Or Save For Retirement? | Ask CMO And Ask The Readers (Chief Mom Officer)

Congress promised student borrowers a break — Then-Ed Dept. rejected 99 percent of them (MPR News)

Bachelor star 'begging' wife for sex 4 weeks after birth highlights sadly common problem (Motherly)

"Crazy Rich Asians" Writer Leaves Franchise Over Pay Disparity (BUST)

One year ago, Botham Jean was killed in his home. The ex-officer who shot him is about to go on trial. (Vox)

Other Stuff:

Anyone else a Steven Universe fan? This Monday was the premiere of Steven Universe The Movie, and in preparation, Carton Network did a marathon of the entire series…so I watched a lot of Steven Universe this holiday weekend! It’s such a great show - really touching and heartwarming but also really funny and entertaining! The movie was really great, a continuation of the story but with new songs and a new character as well. 10/10 would recommend.

I think I mentioned that this year my husband and I are following English Premier League. We’re now 4 weeks into the new season, and who’s team is on top? Mine! Liverpool is currently in the lead with 12pts and Man City (William’s team) is right behind them.

I’m really excited to see Serena Williams back in the US Open finals! I’m hoping she can get her 24th major this time.

Have a great weekend!

21. The Face of a Working Mom

 
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I’ve been working since I was 16 - my first jobs were at McDonald’s and Gap. Over the years I’ve worked retail, in offices, I even was a docent at a museum. Working - having a job, and a career - is just part of my DNA. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a working mom, who always told me to make sure I had my education and my own career. I spent my childhood watching her rise from an admin role to a professional career in state government, while also taking classes at night and raising her family.

Growing up I didn’t know anyone who had a stay-at-home parent; or maybe I did and I just didn’t realize it. I assumed that every family had two working parents, like mine. I never gave much thought to being a working mother myself, because for the longest time I didn’t think about being a mother at all. But once I got married and committed to the idea of being a parent, I just assumed that I’d be a working mom like my mother was. The idea of staying at home didn’t appeal to me at all, so I didn’t even entertain it. And surprisingly, no one asked me if I was staying home either - I guess they all assumed I’d be a working mom too.

I spent my 12 weeks of maternity leave (fully paid, btw!) completely infatuated with my daughter, but I found myself bored around week 10 or so. Josephine was a really chill baby, and fell into an eat-play-sleep routine that left me with a lot of time on my hands. I was itching to get back to work, to adult conversations and an existence that didn’t revolve around my child. I was able to transition back to work on an abbreviated schedule, yet it still took time to just adjust to a different world that now involved daycare pickup and pumping sessions twice a day. I had moments of missing my baby girl, but I so loved the joy I felt when I picked her up, and her smile when she recognized her mama’s face.

I’m very lucky to have the privilege to be a working mom, and I wouldn’t be so successful at it without the abundance of support I receive. The company I work for is very supportive of working parents, with great policies and amenities. Changing managers has also helped a ton - I now report to a fellow working mom and her flexibility is invaluable. I also have a husband who is extremely hands on and an equitable coparent. And our daycare is the most essential part of our life, because I couldn’t be the working mom I am without knowing my daughter was in a nurturing educational environment. Josephine has gone to the same Montessori daycare for her entire life, and the teaching staff is beyond phenomenal and devoted to the children in their care. Its a little out of the way from our home now that we’ve moved, but it’s worth the drive to keep her in a nurturing environment with the friends and teachers she loves.

Being a working mom is by no means easy but I would not trade this life for anything. And one day I hope my daughter will look at me the same way I looked at my mother - in awe that she did so much and accomplished so many things in addition to raising children.

Things I Read This Week:

A New Diet Study Confirms Your Worst Suspicions About Ultra-Processed Foods (Gizmodo)

7 Ways Fear Is Holding You Back (And How To Overcome It) (Girlboss)

Ava DuVernay’s Fight to Tell the True Story of the Central Park Five (Vanity Fair)

Christians Are Upset That Incels Are Co-opting Celibacy (MEL Magazine)

These Office Etiquette Rules Will Help You Crush It At Your First Job (Girlboss)

RIP Dressbarn, The Worst Named Clothing Store (Jezebel)

The Cost of Being Disabled (Design*Sponge)

my coworker wants the company to pay for a week-long sex romp with his fired girlfriend (Ask A Manager)

How the Instagram Era Changed Boudoir Photography (MEL Magazine)

Beyond the Hype of Lab-Grown Diamonds (Deadspin)

Hospitals Are Performing Episiotomies Way Too Often, Despite Decades of Warnings (Jezebel)

You Don’t Need to Meet Every Qualification to Apply for a Job (Harvard Business Review)

Another Twitter Thread on Abortion (Design Mom)

End the Plague of Secret Parenting (The Atlantic)

Be Upfront About Your Parenting Responsibilities in the Workplace (Lifehacker)

Amazon Goes Full Black Mirror by Turning Grueling Warehouse Work Into a Video Game (Gizmodo)

“I Flew Too Close to the Sun. No Question. Icarus”: Inside the Epic Fall of Michael Avenatti (Vanity Fair)

Reddit Asks the Question: 'Which Propaganda Effort Was So Successful People Still Believe It Today?' (Pajiba)

Separated by Design: How Some of America’s Richest Towns Fight Affordable Housing (ProPublica)

Other Stuff:

Need help with your resume? Book a Resume Review with me!

Last year I got a pair of Yummie Rachel high-waisted leggings on the recommendation of a blogger, and they quickly became my fave pair of leggings. I just got two new pairs and they are an absolute dream to wear.

How did you feel about the Game of Thrones finale? It ended the way I expected it to, so I can’t complain. Overall I wish the final season had gone differently but this Wired piece breaks down how the show evolved, and why this season has been so difficult for people. We got an end to the story, maybe not the end we wanted, but it’s nice to have some finality.

Also Pose is on Netflix now, so if you didn’t watch it before, you definitely need to watch it now. And Billy Porter is a got damn LEGEND and a national treasure.

Enjoy your holiday weekend and make sure you take a moment to acknowledge the sacrifice made by fallen soldiers this Memorial Day!

Why I Left My STEM Career

This post originally ran on The Billfold in September 2017 - I was very fortunate to pitch this piece to them! The Billfold has since shut down but I wanted to share this piece for those who didn’t see it the first time. Enjoy!



 
Photo by  Rodolfo Clix  from  Pexels

Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels

 

Growing up, I was fascinated by science. In the eighth grade, I decided I wanted to be an engineer, and devoted the next seven years of my life to that dream. I started college at the University of Minnesota as an engineering major, but when I got into my first engineering course, I realized that I hated it! Turns out, I don’t really give a damn about how much is coming out of the reactor at time t. I wanted to know what was in the reactor and what reaction was taking place.

I’d spent the previous summer interning in a R&D lab, where I thoroughly enjoyed my days in the lab. Now I understood that, though I’d devoted many years to becoming a chemical engineer, I had a much stronger affinity to chemistry. After that revelation, I changed my major and focused specifically on polymer chemistry. The next two years of college were more suited to my interests, and I spent time interning in labs and doing an independent study in a research lab.

By the time I graduated from college, I had three internships under my belt. I’d learned a ton, including the fact that I absolutely hated working in a pharmaceutical research lab. This was an absolute bummer, as I’d spent years dreaming of one day becoming a pharmaceutical researcher. Turns out, it was more suited for a Type-A personality, which I am not. My internships also taught me that if I really wanted to work in corporate R&D one day, I’d need to get an advanced degree; otherwise I’d be relegated to the role of “technician” for my entire career. So instead of looking for a job senior year, I took the GRE and applied to graduate schools. I got into my dream school: Georgia Tech.

In the physical sciences, you apply straight into a PhD program, and I started mine just three months after I graduated from undergrad. I was an okay college student, so I was in no way prepared for how rigorous a PhD program at a top-ranked school would be. Frankly, it took all the fun and joy out of chemistry. I loved my classmates and I found my research interesting, but I hated how my professors went out of their way to make us feel small and stupid. My health started to suffer and I knew I needed a different environment. So, after I passed my candidacy exam, I decided to graduate with a Masters in Chemistry. Leading up to graduation, I started job hunting, and I found a job as a polymer chemist for Lockheed Martin.

My first “real” job as a chemist was an eye-opening experience; looking back, it was the perfect opportunity for me. I was hired into a lab where there hadn’t been a new hire in ten years; I was also the only woman and person of color in the lab group. In short, I worked with all old white guys who were getting ready to retire, with the expectation that they’d pass their knowledge onto me.

My labmate had worked in that same lab more years than I’d been alive, but surprisingly we got along great. He was a great mentor and taught me a great deal about corporate life, materials chemistry, and how to grow my career. He and my manager both gave me lots of opportunities to grow my skills beyond the lab, such as allowing me to be the project manager for a major laboratory renovation. At Lockheed I ran a materials lab, doing lots of testing on various materials to answer questions like “why didn’t my two-part epoxy cure?”

My job was fun, I had a great schedule, and I was paid handsomely for my work. But I hated where I lived. Orlando is not a fun town, especially for a young Black professional. So, after a few years in Florida, I started job hunting.

My job hunt led me back to the Twin Cities, where I took a job at a GE Water manufacturing facility. I was hired to run the analytical chemistry lab, but I was woefully unprepared for what that actually meant. I went from a pretty laid-back, low-stress environment to a very demanding, high-stress role that left me feeling like I was constantly underwater. I was truly challenged in that role, and working in a new industry taught me a great deal. GE is well-known as a Six Sigma company, and I learned Six Sigma methodology and completed projects before I’d even gone through the formal classes. GE also sent me, along with my lab group, to project management training.

I’ve noticed an interesting trend amongst all of my college friends: those of us who have STEM degrees all ended up transitioning to non-STEM roles at some point in our careers. For me, after six years in the lab, I was beginning to feel burnt out. I wasn’t eager to simply change companies or disciplines; I knew I needed a non-lab role. While I explored opportunities within GE, I got a phone call out of the blue from a Target recruiter. She explained that they were looking for people with technical backgrounds for data analyst roles, and asked if I’d be interested. I figured I’d give it a shot and see what came of it. After multiple interviews, they made me an offer and I accepted.

I started my non-lab career as a Senior Supply Chain Analyst, working on various projects for the distribution centers. My entire team was made up of former engineers & scientists, and we brought statistical and analytical rigor to our roles, which was a relatively new capability to Target. I spent two years as a supply chain analyst, including fifteen months working on Target Canada, before I moved onto a Senior Business Partner role in Store Operations. Essentially I am a process owner/project manager/analyst working on a variety of projects that impacted operations within the stores.

When people hear about my background as a lab chemist, they always ask me how I ended up in my current role at Target. I tell them that it was a combination of luck and building my skill set. While I was a laboratory chemist, I accumulated a bunch of other transferrable skills. But I also got lucky and was recruited by a company that understood the value of a person’s skills over the subject matter of their degree. My project management and Six Sigma training have come in handy, and so has my experience writing lab reports, solving client problems and troubleshooting issues.

A STEM degree teaches you how to think critically and solve problems logically—both valuable skills in any job. My time at Target has added other skills to my toolbox, like SQL and supply chain methodologies. Almost every day I rely on a skill that I learned in my “previous life” as a chemist, but I apply it in a different way.

Addendum: since this post was originally published, I’ve changed roles within Target but I’m still a senior data analyst, just in a new business unit. I continue to enjoy my work at Target and growing my skillset.

The Greatest Lessons of My 10+ Year Career

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?

“Career” is not a word I knew when I was growing up. Everyone in my world talked about “having a job”. In school, teachers would ask us what jobs we wanted when we grew up. I knew my parents had jobs that involved dressing up everyday in “work clothes” and driving to an office. As I got older, I learned what my parents’ jobs entailed - my dad was a CPA and auditor in state government; my mom started out as a secretary and later progressed to an analyst role. Through my parents I learned little career nuggets, but my true learning began when I got my first job at 16, as a cashier at McDonald’s.

I transitioned from having jobs to having a career when I graduated from Georgia Tech and began my first full-time role as a laboratory chemist. That first corporate role was over 10 years ago - I think about how completely green I was when I first started, but I learned quickly and took a lot of mental notes. In the years since that first role out of school, I’ve worked for three Fortune 100 companies, and pivoted to my second career as a retail data analyst. I’ve experienced so much - promotions, bonuses, bad reviews, terrible managers, layoffs - you name it, I’ve probably seen it

Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my almost 15 year career journey.

 
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Loyalty To Yourself Is Most Important

My mom has been a state employee almost my entire life, and when she retires, she’s going to enjoy a fully funded pension as well as healthcare benefits. My paternal grandmother was a longtime GM employee, and she also retired with a full pension and nice benefits, after years of service. My generation is not so lucky - pensions are virtually unheard of, benefits continue to be scaled back, and too many of us are working as contractors instead of full-time employees. Add on wage stagnation and the constant threat of layoffs or corporate bankruptcies that can leave us without a paycheck at any moment. Our parents and grandparents made career decisions knowing that their employers would be loyal and hold up their end of the bargain, but my generation doesn’t have that luxury.

I got an up-close and personal lesson in why loyalty to oneself is so important in 2015, when my company held enterprise-wide layoffs. Approximately 10% of the entire company was let go in one single day, the biggest layoff they’d ever had. There’d been smaller, more targeted layoffs before, but nothing this massive or wide ranging. I saw people who had devoted decades of their lives walk out of the building with a stack of white boxes, filled with the contents of their hastily packed desks. I heard from so many people how they never expected that they’d be the ones to be let go, how they’d devoted so much of their time to their jobs. They’d worked so hard and given up so much and yet ended up with a severance package and a quick thanks.

As I’ve moved through my career, I’ve seen what can happen when you put loyalty to your employer above loyalty to yourself. I’ve seen people develop health problems due to work stress, or sacrifice their family time for work commitments. I’ve kept those scenarios in my mind as I evaluate my options and make decisions in my career. Not every move has been perfect, but I know that I’m the only one who truly has my best interests at heart, and I have to advocate for myself if I’m going to get to where I want to be in my career.

You Are Your Best Advocate

There are tons of books and articles out there about how you need to have a mentor, a sponsor and an advocate in the office to help you move ahead. All those roles are important, and can help you, but the biggest way you can boost your career is to simply learn how to advocate for yourself, instead of waiting for someone else to do it for you.

One of my favorite blogs is Ask A Manager, where the author Alison Green answers work questions. Almost everyday there’s a letter from a writer that boils down to needing to advocate for themselves, whether it’s their manager asking them to do something sketchy, or dealing with a chatty coworker who distracts them from work. Advocating for yourself starts by understanding what you want and then sharing that with people who can help you get it. Sometimes the what you want is a raise, or a promotion, or just a different role. Other times you want to not participate in the company rafting trip, or to not have to share a hotel room on that company trip. Sometimes advocating for yourself doesn’t work but it’s important that you try. As they say, a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.

I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career, but ultimately my career is what I make it, so I had to learn to ask for what I wanted, and make moves to make it happen. Most recently, I knew that I wanted a new role with a new leader, but I also wanted to stay with my company. Waiting for a new role to fall into my lap wasn’t an option, so I turned to my internal network to help me find a new role. I talked to everyone I could, both to learn about new opportunities but also to sell myself and my skills. After months of searching, I successfully transitioned to my current role. I have the skills for the role, but my network and advocating for myself definitely helped me land the role.

Relationships Matter More Than You Think

It’s important to be good at your job and have the right skills, but the relationships you develop as just as important to your success. I’m sure you know someone who is technically excellent but just can’t seem to get ahead, or move up in their company - many times it’s because the person is missing the relationships piece. Relationships are critical in almost every career - it’s rare to find a career where you can be successful all on your own, and you never interact with anyone else. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone, but you should be able to connect with different people and find those who can vouch for you. People are going to talk about you and your work, and you want to have strong relationships so those people say great things about you and your work product.

I try to approach relationships in an authentic way, meaning that I’m not doing it because I know I need to network or share what I’ve been working on. I genuinely like people and I love connecting with different people and collaborating. I’ve also been involved in various Employee Resource Groups throughout my career, which provide an avenue to meet people you normally wouldn’t work with. In my career, I’ve had so many instances where my relationships have been instrumental to my success. My relationships have been key to finding each of my last three roles. Even when I’m not looking for a new role, I make sure to keep up a connection with former teammates or key partners, even if it’s just a social connection. With current partners or teammates, I like to get to know them a bit on a personal level, and I’ve found that it’s easier to get the work done when you all know a bit about each other, understand your motivations, etc. You don’t have to be best friends and braid each other’s hair, but having a rapport really helps in the long run.


What have been your biggest lessons in your career? Share in the comments!

I'm Giving Up My Career For "Just A Job"

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I had a revelation a few weeks ago: careers are a scam. My generation has been bamboozled into thinking that a career is the best thing since sliced bread, and that we should all pursue it at all costs. We spent our early years with a constant refrain: "go to college, get a degree and start your career. work hard and you'll be rewarded!"

Implied in that message about getting degrees and having a career was a message of what not to do: don't just settle for having a job, because a job isn't as prestigious or important as a career. Unlike most of our parents, who worked the same job for 30+years, we'd have a career and all the other shiny accompaniments - the salary, the retirement plan, the title, and the company car.

Yeah...I've realized that was all bullshit. And now, eleven years after I first started my career journey, I'm ready to just have a job. Yall can keep this "career" nonsense. It's all a swindle and I'm tapping out. 

For a lot of us, having a career means being invested in the work in a deep way. It was a motivation to get us to get a company phone (or access our work email on our personal devices), so we could always check in and answer questions. It drove us to work remotely on weekends or in the evenings, or even take a call or two while on vacation, because we knew we needed to get the work done. It led us to sign up for extra projects, or put in more face time in the office, in order to get that promotion to the next level.

But at what cost? What did working all those extra hours get us? How about logging on while we were on vacation? Maybe a promotion, but most likely all it got us was a brief "good job" if we were lucky. We did it cause it was expected of us, and because our peers were all doing the same thing. To do less than the extra was to be at a disadvantage, to be seen as less dedicated to the work. And so we fall in line with everyone else. 

I've never been one who enjoyed working a lot - work/life balance was important to me even when I was a single woman. But now, as a wife and mother, I value my time outside of work even more than ever. My daughter already spends so much time without me, I don't want to spend the limited I time with her working instead of playing. And while work is fulfilling, and I'm glad I'm a working mother, my priorities are to my family first and work second. Work allows me to have the lifestyle we have, but it does not define me. It's a means to an end. 

And so, I'm dropping out of the race. I will show up on time and complete my work. I will go to meetings and give suggestions. I'll even bring a store-bought item for the team potluck and a gag gift for the gift exchange. But I will not give my nights and weekends to the work. I will not grab my phone to check email. When I walk out the door at the end of the day, I will give work zero thought; instead I'll be focused on my family, and my personal pursuits. For me, it's a better use of my time, and much more valuable to me.