Embrace the Zigzag: Valerie Jarrett on Taking Career Detours

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Valerie Jarrett Book

Serving as a senior advisor to the President of the United States and writing a bestselling book about the experience was never Valerie Jarrett’s goal. Neither was becoming a CEO, founding a non-profit or being named a boardmember multiple times over. But that’s exactly where she ended up, all thanks to the decision to deviate from her original career path and walk away from a prestigious position at a highly-respected law firm to pursue her passion for civil service. Needless to say, Jarrett doesn’t put much stock in rigid plans anymore.

“I thought that once you start a job… you should will it to work. Sometimes, though, that’s not possible,” Jarrett said. “My family and friends were really proud and impressed by this fancy office and big salary that I had, but it wasn’t rewarding to me. And when I took that pivot into local government for the city of Chicago, it changed my life completely.”

Jarrett largely credits her life-changing leap of faith to finally listening to what was inside her all along: “I had to learn to listen to the most important voice — the quiet one inside of all of us that we all too often ignore,” Jarrett explained.

In the latest episode of Glassdoor’s podcast, IN PURSUIT, Jarrett discusses her career journey, her work within the Obama administration and her choice to embrace her authentic voice with Glassdoor Editorial Director Amy Elisa Jackson. Read on for a few highlights, and download the episode to hear their full conversation.

Amy Elisa Jackson: When you look back at your career, what has surprised you the most about it?

Valerie Jarrett: How much sense it seems to make now, and how circuitous it seemed at the time. I did a lot of zigzags. I was always afraid when I made these big changes, and I didn’t appreciate that with that fear comes exhilaration and a sense of adventure. And now when I look back, each of the different steps added up to a whole life. When I was younger, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but it turned out pretty well.

Amy Elisa Jackson: I love the line in your book where you write that you wish you would have “embraced the thrill of the zig and zag rather than crave straight lines.” What do you think has been your best detour?

Valerie Jarrett: My smartest detour was leaving a big law firm. I was about six years out of law school in the middle of a bad divorce, and I had just had my daughter, Laura, not long earlier. Going back to work, I thought, “I’m leaving my daughter to do something that my heart isn’t in. Will she ever really be proud of me if I’m doing this?” The separation was getting to me and the work was getting to me, and I thought, “Let me do something that I care passionately about,” which meant I had to learn to listen to the most important voice — the quiet one inside of all of us that we all too often ignore. I think that that’s what I’d been doing. I’d been doing what seemed to make everybody else happy. My family and friends were really proud and impressed by this fancy office and big salary that I had, but it wasn’t rewarding to me. And when I took that pivot into local government for the city of Chicago, it changed my life completely.

Amy Elisa Jackson: How did you find yourself having those conversations with your daughter? I think a lot of mothers struggle with saying “Mommy has to go to work,” or “Mommy’s traveling.”

Valerie Jarrett: One of the strategies that I had with Laura was to try to demystify what I was doing when I wasn’t with her. And so I took her to my office all the time, particularly on weekends. If I had business meetings around the city of Chicago, community meetings, I would take her to those. She traveled with me whenever possible, so she was able to close her eyes and imagine where I was. The other thing I always did, no matter where I was or what I was doing, was take her call if she called me because I wanted her to know that no matter what job I had, she was my first priority.

There are a lot of people who are in jobs where you don’t have that flexibility, but sometimes we just don’t ask for it — and if we asked for it, we could have it. Read more here…

Source: Glassdoor Blog

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