The day I told my mom that I was pregnant, she cried. And not the happy tears that one expects with a pregnancy announcement, instead, they were tears of immense fear. I was 18, a freshman in college studying economics, with a full scholarship and my whole life ahead of me.
We decided to keep the baby and figure out a way to still accomplish the same goals, maybe just a bit more creatively than originally expected. While I can go into humorous detail of what it was like to be the only pregnant student on campus, I instead want to focus on the things I learned while entering the workforce at 22 with a 3-year-old.
Needless to say, the odds were stacked against me.
Align Your Strengths to Your Role and Industry
Growing up (and to this day), I often hear people say that if you follow your passion, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. In college, I was lucky enough to land one of the most prestigious internships available at Lehman Brothers. It was my dream job, dream salary, and based in my dream city.
However, once 2008 rolled around, the United States was experiencing a series of events that led to the crash of our financial system. Lehman Brothers was no more. I quickly had to figure out what to do next and where to go. I did not dream nor did I have a passion for what came next, a role as an Account Manager at a translation company.
But it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened in my career. While I didn’t know it at the time, my soon-to-be-manager saw what I couldn’t; late nights out with investment bankers would not have been nearly as rewarding or long-term for me. She helped me see that my strengths align well to working with customers, and I realized quickly that I enjoy taking the time to understand customer challenges and provide value in those relationships.
Some of you reading this may not know this about yourselves yet (like I didn’t back then), but it’s important to remember to lean on those close to you. Rely on their expertise and experience. Everyone has strengths in the workplace, and the more you can find the areas in which you excel, the easier it will be to land in a role where you can succeed.
Find the Right Mentors
In college, our career center taught us to find someone that you’d like to be your mentor, ask them formally, set up time with them, and learn everything you can. But there are more layers to mentorship.
Become an observer of your space and those around you. Who is succeeding? What characteristics or traits do you want to have? Who has built something foundational for your company (or another around you)?
A mentor can certainly be C-level or VP-level, but there are other options beyond just seniority. A mentor can also be someone that has been in your role previously, someone who sits across from you, or even just another peer from your industry. Many of my closest friends that I made through work in those formative years have all been mentors to me at some important juncture, and I’ve worked to help them at various times later on.
When the role at Lilt was presented to me, a job with big responsibilities and big challenges, I leaned on my entire network. Most notably, I got in touch with two women, both of whom were roughly two years ahead of me when I started in the industry. They helped me understand what to expect, how to prepare, how to build and scale, and much more. Most importantly, they helped me realize that it was the perfect opportunity for me.
Joining a special project, committee, or internal task force at work can be a wonderful opportunity. Being asked in the first place makes you feel recognized for your efforts, it gives your ideas influence within your organization, and it can simply be exciting. But it also takes up a lot of additional time and adds a lot of extra work. So how do you recognize the opportunities that are best to pursue?
The first true opportunity that I faced came when I was asked to play a key role in maternity leave coverage for my boss. At the time, it felt like three months of a never-ending to-do list, late nights finishing work, and a few tears; but in the end I learned a lot. In fact, once the haze of tiredness subsided, I knew I wanted to keep going and tackle as many of those tasks as I could.
There were a number of reasons why I took on that opportunity. First, I owed it to other women. I had a massive support network in college of strong, bright, and determined women supporting me, and I wanted to pay it forward. Second, it only took a month after her return to see how much it would accelerate the trajectory of my career. It provided me the opportunity to see what the responsibilities of the role above me entailed, what I liked, and what I struggled with. If I could do parts of her job, I could certainly do my own. I took time to reflect on the experience, write everything down, ask her to review it with me, and then offer to do it again.
Ultimately, building a career isn’t an easy thing to do. It takes a lot of introspection to understand where you are and where you’d like to be, and it takes a lot of learning in order to grow. While some of those aspects of professional growth can be out of your control, there are things you can do to help push yourself forward.
Personally, finding the right industry and role for me helped me understand my strengths and how best to apply my skills and knowledge. In addition, working with mentors that understood me and my professional goals, challenged me to take advantage of the opportunities in front of me, and pushed me further than I thought possible. By doing these things for yourself, you can find a path that challenges you now, and sets you up for success in the future as well.
About the author: Sylvia Borek is the Head of Revenue, Americas at Lilt. She has nearly 15 years of experience in the localization industry, leading teams and building scalable programs to help solve customer problems. Sylvia was born in Poland and is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.