Customer Enablement Consultant,
At the end of August, I attended a chapter sponsored event called Storytelling for Success, led by speaker, coach and leadership trainer Brigitte Iarusso. Brigitte’s company is called Embrace Change, which I found particularly aligned to my reason for being at the event. I recently transitioned to a learning and development role in the spring, making the leap from customer success management to customer enablement and training. While it is becoming more clear that L&D is somewhere I can find my passion, I am definitely still in uncharted territory. My instinct when I feel unsure is to seek out knowledge and the people who can provide it. So Brigitte’s ATD event seemed like the perfect opportunity to open my world up a bit more.
I had attended one other ATD Golden Gate event earlier in the year and the thing that stood out to me most is how incredibly junior I am in this profession. I knew that going in, of course, but I hadn’t realized just how long many of the other members had been dedicated to learning and development. This isn’t just a job for most of you, it’s a calling. It is something you have dedicated decades of your lives to and something you live and breathe every day. So many members seemed to know exactly why they are here, what they want and how they are going to get there. And to be completely honest, that isn’t something I’ve experienced yet, at any point in my career.
Comparison certainly is the enemy of joy in many respects. But it can be hard to resist the urge. Compared with many of my friends, peers and mentors, my career journey has been very indirect. I am not that person who did mock trial in high school, majored in history in college, then interned at a legal firm through law school until they offered me a job when I passed the bar. I wasn’t the outdoorsy environmental sciences student whose membership in campus conservation organizations culminated in a career centered on her deep passion for innovative environmental solutions and sustainability. And I certainly wasn’t like the nurses and doctors I know whose steadfast feeling of career belonging carries them unscathed through some of the most challenging workplace conditions and harrowing on-the-job choices I have ever heard.
When my parents asked my twin sister and I what we wanted to be when we grew up, even at age four she had a ludicrous but succinct answer at the ready: an astronaut with purple nail polish. What I really think she meant is that she wanted to shoot for the stars without sacrificing her femininity or individuality. Even now, she has an inspirational doodle of a female astronaut standing on the moon pinned to the wall of her cubicle. In her trajectory, I can see a strongly-woven thread leading from a little girl passionate about writing, to an editor of the school paper, to a literature major and part-time journalist, to now a marketing copywriter at a top retail fashion brand. And what was my answer to my parents’ question? I have no idea. If I had an answer at all, it has been lost beyond the depths of family memory. Knowing this, I can’t help but wonder at my own lack of direction, aspiration and conviction.
I can’t count how many times I have pictured a potential employer scrolling through my LinkedIn work experience and coming to the conclusion that I am indecisive or uncommitted. What story does my contribution to the workforce have to tell? What does a degree in linguistics have to do with marketing emergency clean-up services to insurance agents? What does making ski-vacation reservations have to do with creating social media content for a diamond jewelry retailer? How in the world does posting sparkly pictures on social media relate to helping customers use recruiting software? And how does any of this put me in a position to speak with authority to learners whose job I have never come close to doing myself?
One of the most important things Brigitte asked us to do in her workshop was to ask ourselves whether the stories we tell ourselves are true. Especially those stories that are rooted in fear and have the biggest potential to hold us back. With this in mind, along with the conversations I had with my partners during the workshop, I have started to change the lenses through which I view my career history.
Working as a field marketer for the disaster cleanup company taught me that an office is not sacred ground. You don’t have to be worthy to enter the towering glass buildings and marble foyers of San Francisco’s financial district. You just have to make sure you are bringing something of worth, whether that’s a good marketing pitch or some of the smoothest-writing, bright orange Bic pens you’ve ever used. Working as a reservations agent at a ski resort, I learned that the epitome of true leadership is having the respect to hold your employees to high standards without sacrificing the empathy that makes a workplace fun, and doing all of that through leading by example. Working in luxury jewelry retail showed me that great success can come from simply having the confidence to unapologetically take advantage of your own circumstances and skillset. I’m pretty sure that is the only way someone could transform a college hustle selling shell necklaces into a virtual diamond jewelry dynasty. And working in customer success has taught me which of my own innate skills and deep-rooted interests can set me on the path towards finding my passion.
I may not have reached my destination yet or found my life’s calling, but when I step back and look at it, I can realize that I’m closer than I ever have been. I look at some of the lowest points in my career, like fielding service calls at 3:00 in the morning or answering phones in a basement cubicle for eight hours a day and I am incredibly thankful for where my journey has taken me. I can spot a good (or bad) manager when I see one, I know the importance of offering customers something of value and I know that everything I need to build my own dynasty is already inside me. I’m thankful that my non-linear journey has led me to a role where I get to flex my creative muscles to solve problems, create something from nothing with my learning content and have an impact on my company’s goals that is based on the abilities I feel most confident about.
Perhaps the biggest lie I tell myself, the personal story that most needed debunking, was that everyone else has it figured out. My lawyer, scientist, and nurse friends probably don’t see themselves as the parabolic arcs of success that I do. And of course my sister would remind me of the years she spent selling stationary and high-end TVs. This was one of my most significant takeaways from Brigette’s workshop. Her own journey has been far from linear, but she has not let that limit her success. Moreover, the story she shared with us was profoundly relatable. And now I realize, so is mine.