This season of my life and career is really centered around learning. Since the launch of some new projects I’m working on, I find myself evaluating what I have learned to date, and how much I still need to know. The cool part about all of this is, deep inside I know that I’m ready for whatever this next step is. I know this because I’ve already played this role before. And if I follow the blueprint that I’ve laid for myself, I know how this ends. What role exactly? The role of a woman in transition. A woman on the move. To that, I’ll begin this weeks post.
I remember an interview I had for a Project Manager role at a large financial institution. I hate interview questions … to be exact, I hate the textbook interview questions. The kind that are devoid of soul or interest in really learning about a candidate, but instead, they are just to check a box to prove questions were asked. However, this interview stood out for having everything but normal interview questions. It was a panel interview…and no that’s not odd or different at all. They only had two questions for me:
1. tell me what you did to make your last project a success? Not your team, not the partners, I only care about you.
2. tell me how you tackle mountain.
I was so used to talking about my contributions as it related to how I supported my team as a whole. I seldom, no I never did interviews exclusively talking about myself. I’ve always believed that any successes to be obtained, would be done so by the entire team. Everyone’s small contribution achieved an overall goal. I struggled a bit to answer. He kept interrupting asking, “is that what you did?” I’d respond yes and they would return to silence. When I would talk through some of the challenges of dealing with objectionable leaders and how I was able to coax them along until we got their full buy-in, he’d interject again with “you did that too?” I wondered if he thought I was lying or if he was impressed. Finally, the 2nd question…how do you tackle a mountain? I thought it was a really dumb question, so I responded with a big laugh … “how does anyone? One stone at a time”.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I landed that project. It would be the role I took post a major tragedy in my family. It served me well for what I needed and when I needed it. It would also be a game changer for me professionally, teaching me to take notice, champion and celebrate my own accomplishments and not be ashamed of my success. To think, just years before this role, I was at a career all time low. I was working for a competing bank in Tech & Ops. My team was undergoing a lot of changes and they weren’t all great changes. I was frustrated to say the least. My manager at the time had taken another role at a new company and our team was absorbed by someone who was less capable and less experienced. I was offered a “promotion” in definition only. It was a new role with more responsibility. But it was dry (no pay increase, no title change). When I questioned the “missing parts” of this promotion, I was told I needed to strongly consider accepting what was being offered. If I didn’t, I would never be considered for another opportunity or a better opportunity in the future. I had until the end of the day to decide. My executive told me to “choose wisely and don’t keep me waiting”. To add insult to injury, she had my direct manager call to reinforce the instructions and tell me exactly what I should do. Which, in her words “you should take what she is offering you. Even if you don’t want it, just take it and don’t complain. Otherwise, she will tell the other leaders that you refused this”. I hung up the phone and spent the next hour thinking and choosing wisely.
At the end of the hour, I decided to send an email to my executive and copy my manager with my response.
“…. thank you for taking the time to speak with me today to discuss the role of XXX. I appreciate you considering me and believing that this role would be a good next step for my career. I also appreciate your confidence in my abilities. I heard everything you said this afternoon and I agree that I need to make the best choice for me. So, after careful consideration, I will have to decline your gracious offer. Additionally, I have decided that my current role and my continuance with this organization is no longer the best fit. Please accept this as my official letter of resignation. I am humbled by the wonderful opportunities I’ve had with XXX and I wish nothing but good health and absolute success for you, this team and this great organization. My last day will be …. Sincerely, Paquetia M Goodwin.”
And just like that … I had begun my quest to choose me.
2 weeks came and went super-fast and I was totally unemployed. I had a plan, but I didn’t have a job. I had some money saved and I had an amazingly supportive husband who allowed me space to grow and figure this out. I gave myself 90 days to get it done. I knew what I didn’t want. What I wasn’t going to accept in my new role. I also knew that I probably would have to compete with people who had more experience as project managers because they had the official titles and probably a certification. But I had experience. I decided that my next move would be on my terms. I knew what I was worth. I knew what I wanted as my new salary. I knew that I was not going to continue to allow someone else to tell me how far I could go. So, I got busy … I started remodeling our kitchen. I started a run challenge. I was running 4 miles a day because I was angry and scared. I updated my resume and social sites. I emailed all of the recruiters I knew and told them I was in the market. Meanwhile, I’d started this project in the kitchen … and we need to look at granite samples, buy a new sink and appliances. Yes, I quit my job and realized I loved decorating and design. I’m amazing at it. But I digress. I started lifting weights and took up a boxing class. I’m no longer angry, still scared though. Resolved.
I had church members and friends tell me that quitting my job without having a new one wasn’t wise. Wise. What is wise? Is it wise to stay in a situation that doesn’t affirm you? Is it wise to be limited by someone else’s vision of you despite what you know about yourself? I also need to buy a new sink. We found the perfect one… by now it’s about 45 days. I was transforming our home, still pounding away with interviews (which became a full-time job by itself). I was also running, crushing run times of runners in my Nike Run app. I was boxing, I was sore. I was busy. Keeping distracted and finding fulfillment in this moment. Still a little scared…but I was getting closer to where I wanted to be and further from where I once was. By now, it’s closer to 60 days
2 months unemployed. Lost weight, body stronger and my kitchen is shaping up to be absolutely beautiful. I was at the gym one day, running for my life. My phone rings and it’s the recruiter. I had just had an interview with a company and I was excited about them. I left the interview knowing that I smashed it. A few days had gone by and I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t let that bother me, but I knew I was their best option. I even told the hiring manager that he should cancel his other appointments and hire me on the spot. Not only was I his best option, I was the best… period. So, when the phone rang, I stopped running. I stopped running on the treadmill and almost killed myself lol. “Paquetia?!, hello?” I answered the phone with an OH MY GUH… Stephanie (her real name), “girl, what in the world” … I had to explain I was on the treadmill and blah blah blah. She called to give me the feedback from that interview. They called to make me an offer. She told me they cancelled their other appointments but wanted to make sure the budget could accommodate my rate request. Although, I’m sure they already knew what they could afford. They did! YES!! Wait … they really did. CRAP!! I didn’t ask for enough … I’ll do better next time. Negotiating 20K above my previous salary wasn’t bad for my first attempt. I accepted. I chose correctly.
At some point, all of us need to know if we are worth the risk. Worth the gamble. Unfortunately, there are times when you will be the one, the only one, risking it all. So, it’s important to know your worth. Know what you bring to a situation. Trust that YOU are the right choice. Obviously, you’re not making this decision in a vacuum. I knew that day would come for me. I’d been working my butt off, to grow in my current space. To be viewed as a formidable project manager. Training, learning every role on my team and preparing myself for my next opportunity. When an opportunity came, it wasn’t for me. I knew it wasn’t my opportunity. It wasn’t the one I was preparing for. I decided then that I would not settle for anyone’s crumbs. I wanted what I wanted. Not because I was entitled, bitter or anything like that. In fact, I was better than most. My performance reviews showed it and my unofficial 360-feedback validated it. I deserved it. So, when given the chance to choose something, I would choose me. The only choice that worked. The wise choice.
Guys, you are the wise choice. What makes our careers challenging so often is that we tend to consider ourselves last or never. The interviewer asked me to tell him “what were my contributions that led to success”, not what the team did. That’s my question to you, my readers. What do you bring to the table? How do you contribute to success? What have you accomplished? Why are you the best? Why should anyone choose you? Why won’t you choose you?
I tell my mentee’s all the time… don’t allow someone to give you their crumbs … especially when you own the buffet down the street.
Reaching your goal is not an option. It’s a requirement. Period!
~remember, these thoughts are simply ... ratedpg