by Guest Blogger Sybil F. Stershic
I happily accepted the invitation to participate on a career panel as part of Women’s Empowerment Week at a nearby university. My fellow panelists and I were asked to share “the paths we have taken to where we are today” in our careers and then meet in informal breakout sessions with students to discuss our work experience.
As a liberal arts major (B.A.in social psychology) who built a successful marketing practice, I’ve spoken at many career development events. But this time was different - chalk it up to my three-plus decades in the workplace.
The Early Years
After my first ten years in the job market (mid-1970’s to mid-1980’s), I had sufficient experience to help other young women as they embarked on their career paths. My advice centered on networking and professional development to build skills and credibility while making in-roads in a still-male dominated workforce. I remember that one of my duties as a bank corporate planning assistant was to make coffee for the Tuesday morning executive committee meeting. We had only one female bank vice president at the time – in HR – with a few other lower level women officers in branch admin, operations, and lending. I also recall a woman loan officer at the Assistant VP level who left the bank for a clerical position with a local Fortune 500 company – the new position paid a lot more with a lot less responsibility!
My career advice from the mid-1980’s to the late 1990’s built on the importance of ongoing professional development for career success with new emphasis on achieving and maintaining work-life balance. These were the hectic years of raising a child, transitioning from bank employee to self-employed status as I started my own business, and serving as a national volunteer leader in my professional association. It was quite the balancing act with the support of my husband, who was just as busy with his career while actively engaged involved in our local community.
The Third Act
Since the new millennium, I haven’t done much career development speaking. My experience as a Boomer is vastly different from those of Gen Y building their post-college careers – especially considering the impact of technology and global economy on the workplace. For example, when I started my career we actually transacted business without: cell phones, the internet, laptops, and PowerPoint. It’s a wonder any business was productive!
As I prepared for the university career panel, I discovered I have a lot more to offer these students than stories from my work experience. I now have perspective gleaned from a long (but nowhere near finished) career. Here’s the key message I shared:
While the term “career path” implies a straight line from graduation to some destination dream job,
the reality is stuff happens that make this line curve in unexpected directions. Accept these twists and turns as opportunities to “recalculate” your course through self-discovery and the support of your personal and professional network. There’s no definitive GPS for this – it’s a lifelong adventure.
Based on my experience:
- I graduated during an economic recession [stuff happens]. I was so desperate to find work, I called companies listed in the phone book. I struck gold in the “banking” section of the yellow pages and found a job as a mortgage clerk. After a few months I switched banks and eventually landed in corporate planning which evolved into the marketing department. I learned about marketing on-the-job and discovered I loved the work.
- With a new passion for marketing, I threw myself into learning all I could via professional development programs and becoming actively involved in my local and national marketing association. And with the birth of my son, I learned how to juggle personal and professional aspirations (another on-the-job learning experience.) Sadly, at this time I also discovered I was unable to have more children [stuff happens].
- I survived one bank merger [stuff happens] that resulted in limited opportunity to advance in the new bank’s marketing department. I changed banks and found myself in another merger situation [stuff happens]. With a great trepidation and the encouragement of my husband, friends, and professional network, I left banking to start my own business.
I’m now in my 23rd year as a solopreneur, having weathered several economic downturns [stuff happens]. I have no idea what the next 10-20 years will be like for my business … I just know that I need to be flexible as stuff happens.