In January, I transition out of my role at a company that I co-founded. This time off has allowed me to examine what is important to me and how I want to live the rest of the time I have on earth. I’ve spent time volunteering, launching a digital media project, visiting with family and friends, checking a few things off my bucket list and providing strategic guidance to other entrepreneurs. Each of these activities have allowed me to press the reset button to get very clear about what matters most to me while acquiring valuable skills that I will take back to the work world.
As I near the end of the time that I allotted for discovery and restoration, my attention has turned to my job search. It has been difficult to align who I am with the standard job seeker box. What I mean is how to I present who I am as a complete person to potential employers without seeming unfocused or disjointed because I find joy in and am good at so many seemingly disparate things?
For example, when updating my resume with a professional coach we struggled to articulate all the interesting and important things I’ve been doing over the past few months because they don’t fit into the box of a “real job”. This is important because employers routinely overlook people with “gaps” in employment so it is imperative that I’m able to account for the time since leaving my “real job”. Go figure, because the strongest advice I got from some of the smartest professionals I know was “If you can, take some time off to do things that feed your soul, it will be the best thing you ever do.” I’ve also met many others who have taken time off after being downsized or because they were just burned out. We can all admit that being out of work is initially panic inducing but eventually you come to see this time off as a gift that should not be squandered.
It is unclear to me why time off is deemed a detriment in the business world where as academics have long embraced sabbaticals to refresh and re-sharpen their intellect.
I’ve also been very cautious not to post much about my “non-professional” interests or pursuits on LinkedIn even though they are readily available on the web and many are very much applicable to my professional life. It’s that same old song, “You don’t want a current or potential employer to think you are too involved in outside pursuits to fully focus on the job they pay you for.” That’s fair…to a point. One is paid to devote the agreed upon hours and effort to the job at hand. Since when did that agreement include every hour of someone’s life? Why do we continue to perpetuate this in the business world? It’s unhealthy and I agree with Melinda Gates that this demand for more and more of employee’s time is driving top talent away from some companies.
So in the spirit of bringing all of me to the table I want to share some of the new skills I’ve acquired through my side pursuits and during my time off.
Financial Business Acumen – I purposely joined the finance committee of Louise House ,where I serve on the board of directors, to grow in an area that I don’t have a natural affinity for. Those folks who know me will chuckle about how far I’ve come in my understanding of complex financial models. After completing my doctorate in Health Policy and Administration (We weren’t required to take finance), I started a career in the private equity world. As one can imagine it was heavily driven by the understanding of such models. I’m proud to say that I became proficient at understanding them but non-profits are very different. I’m happy that I have pushed myself to have a working knowledge of both arenas because spreadsheets are not my favs.
Digital Platform Development – The pivot of my mobile app to a web platform with an expanded scope has honed my skills in so many amazing ways. Through extensive market research, I identified a gap in the market and developed a compelling platform that has resonated with both contributors and readers. I want to pinch myself daily knowing that Corynne Corbett, a veteran of beauty publications like Elle, Mode, and Essence contributes a weekly column to our site because she gets to write about beauty the way she wants to. It went live in mid-July and one of our articles has been shared over 400 times and several others have been shared more than 100 times. We’ve been re-tweeted by a Top Chef and we are being followed by celebrities and influencers. Kim Fields even came on our Facebook Live to talk about her new book! Once again, all of this happened without a background in tech, digital media or social marketing. I ask questions, read voraciously, and study people who do it best.
Innovation and Staying on the Cutting Edge- For the past few years, I’ve served as an advisory board member to help select the healthcare related presentations for SXSW Interactive. Being involved with one of the world’s largest gatherings of thought leaders and technology innovators keeps me on the cutting edge of ideas. It is the perfect outlet to stretch one’s intellectual and creative muscles in a way that day to day work rarely does. I’m also an adviser to a project aiming to create the nation’s first fully connected health community. It’s a big idea wrought with policy and systems challenges but one worth pursuing. Again, opening the mind to imagine and create what can be.
Me at my best is an amalgamation of all these experiences and skills.
Here’s how I know it is true. For the first time in my years of academic and professional speaking, I received a standing ovation at the HERO Think Tank dinner from an audience of highly regarded professionals from Fortune 500 and 100 companies along with esteemed academics from universities across the country. The success of that talk can be directly attributed to bringing my full self to the stage. I used my academic background and professional experience to site relevant and compelling statistics, suggested alternative frameworks of well-being from our founding principles at GW4W, noted real life examples from my work with St. Louise house, utilized key components of great storytelling that I learned for my website, and best practices about innovation from the tech world. It all worked together perfectly!
If you are ever charged with evaluating candidates for positions, admissions, funding, awards or otherwise, I implore you to dig beyond what is on their resume and ask questions to delve into the skills they may have acquired during a gap. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find out when you create a safe space for people to share their full selves. Without outing my colleagues, I will tell you that I know senior level professional who are expert knitting instructors, authors of novels, actors, members of bands, filmmakers and much more. What’s interesting is they are all top performers in their fields while doing things they love outside of work. Their employers are benefiting from that richness without knowing it in most cases.
I’ll close this with a quote from a not yet published article in the monthly, What the Mountains Know series on Ms. X Factor, “I know I’m talented, and I desire the opportunity to embrace, and shine, my unique light”. I’m not sure what will look like but I’m going to remain open to opportunities where I can bring my full self.
Everyone has a story. What’s yours? We want to hear from. Click here to share.