Imagine if you could pivot and relaunch a new career anytime you wanted.
Often our passions come to us later in life, and pivoting careers has become the rule–not the exception. But where do you start when you realize it’s time to make a change? And how do you ensure you’re taken seriously in a new career?
Wendy Sachs started as a press secretary on Capitol Hill, then pivoted to being a CNN contributor, then she pivoted to becoming a Dateline NBC producer, where she won an Emmy. She's also worked as a PR executive, and editor-in-chief for Care.com. Her newest book is: Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers.
I recently interviewed Wendy on the LEADx podcast, to get her thoughts on the fundamentals of switching careers, and how to do it right. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity)
Kevin Kruse: You say, “Change your words to boost your brand.” What do you mean?
Wendy Sachs: Well there's been an interesting thing that's happened over the past couple years. With realizing―and this is sort of a linguistic trend― where women were constantly saying, “Sorry.” Sorry, sorry, apologizing. Almost apologizing even for just taking up space. This whole sort of “sorry” thing is a very much of a British linguistics trend that was picked up in the States. Pantene did a really satirical commercial looking at the way that women apologize. Apologizing when a man bumps into her, apologizing when a guy is taking up space on the subway. Apologizing when what looks like her husband or partner's coming home from work and she's handing the baby over to him. It was a present stream of “sorrys”. Amy Schumer then did a very funny piece about sorry also, and it became this sort of outrageous parody on her show that then went viral.
It was “Why are women always apologizing?” Why do we use what people would call these, “Shrinker” words that diminish our power? Putting in things like, “Just,” and, “Actually.” “I just want you to take a look at that,” or, “Actually, this is what I think.” We're diminishing our power with these little small words because it's almost like we're trying to deflect coming across as too brash, or too forward, or frankly, too bitchy.
When I was looking at the language, and then also looking at what was happening in our election, and the way that Hillary was being scrutinized. “She's not smiling enough,” or, “She's too direct.” It became this whole situation of realizing how do we as a culture look at women's power, and then how are women actually diminishing their own power by the way that they're presenting themselves? These two sort of situations collided. I really wanted to make sure that women come out strong, come out bold. We can be well liked by not taking away our strength, and the way that we're perceived.
As I was writing this, Kevin, you know, I was very much living this too. I went through this whole phase when I was really leaning to “sorry” a lot, because I was told in a performance review, that I came off too strong, I was too brash, I was too bitchy. I was horrified by this. I mean, I never thought of myself as being mean, or being bitchy. I felt that I always sort of presented with confidence, but then I wanted to dial it back a little bit. Of course I wanted people to like me. I started saying “Sorry” all the time.
The irony was I was actually working at Grey Advertising, and Grey is the one who produced the “Sorry” Pantene commercial. Immediately I dropped saying “Sorry.” I mean, the sorry was working like a charm there by the way. I realized I was dealing with all these hotshot guys, and I kept saying like, “Hey sorry, don't mean to interrupt,” or, “Sorry, as I walked into the room.” Everything became sorry, even though I wasn't really apologizing for anything. I hadn't done anything wrong. It was just a social lubricant; basically, it was a way to fill this space. To come off a little less edgy, a little less sharp. It worked really well, until I saw that ad. Then realized, “Wow, I don't want to come across as apologizing all of the time.”
Kruse: You talk about the importance of engineering serendipity. What do you mean?
Sachs: I love that expression. I think most of us think of serendipity as a happy accident. It's just these great things colliding, and great things happen, and it's this fabulous accident. When actually, there are companies that are really trying to engineer serendipity. They realize that great things happen during certain collisions of creative forces. Those forces can be “Engineered.” If you look at creative agencies, or startup companies, or tech companies, like the Google's, Facebook's, and a lot of advertising agencies. Where they're putting the beer garden in the office, or the cafeteria, or the water fountain. They're creating spaces where they know people are going to be able to connect and come together.
By creating this―“engineering this serendipity”―you're sort of putting forces into place that are going to allow for great positive results to happen. When I'm turning to ourselves, how do we create serendipity for ourselves? A lot of that is tied to how we put ourselves in opportunities, and in places, and frankly in the room, where things are going to happen. We're putting ourselves out there so we can let great things occur. When we look at these networking conferences, different networking events, or places to go to. Personally I don't want to put a whole stereotype of women in general saying, “Women don't network well,” or, “Don't like to network,” or, “Resist going to events.” I don't think that's actually true.
The most effective things that happen at events generally happen after the conference. They're at the cocktail reception, and those are the times when a lot of women frankly aren't there, because maybe they have decided that it's more important, more valuable to go home than to be hanging out at a cocktail party. How is it that we actually put ourselves into spaces, and open our minds up to the possibilities, and make sure that we're meeting the people that we need to be meeting? Sharing with them what we're working on, and keeping an open mind about how we can explore new opportunities for ourselves.
There's a whole bunch of forces that come into play when we walk into a space with an open mind and think, “How can I connect to that person in the corner, who I know is working on a project that might be helpful to something that I want to be working on? I need to connect with this person over there because I want to learn from them, because they're doing something in the field that I'm trying to go into now.” It's creating opportunities for ourselves, that then can sort of … You know, doors opening, doors opening doors. It's this sort of incredibly organic process, but one that can also be set into motion. It's up to us to set that into motion.
Kruse: How would I start to pivot if I'm already gainfully employed?
Sachs: I really think that everything we need to know lives online these days. I mean truly, everything is a YouTube video, or an online seminar that you can be taking that's also opening up other events, and conferences, and classes to do. Whether it's online, or you actually go to a concrete space. I think here's where you can engineer your own serendipity, and open up new opportunity for yourself if you're that lawyer who says, “I want to go into a creative field of advertising.” There are so many different resources online to start exploring these new interests, and then figure out what conferences are open to go to, and find out how to network with the people who are in these fields. To start exploring that, while you're not giving up your day job.
I think it's easier than ever to really be able to transform our careers, just because so much we can learn, we really can learn online now. Particularly in fields that are really emerging. From social media experts, to a lot of the different sort of social, and content-oriented lines of work these days. There aren't a lot of experts yet created there. You can actually become an expert relatively easy, just by reading, and following, and seeing these videos of all of the different ways to sort of learn and grow into these new fields.
I would never say to someone, “Completely give up your day job.” I would tell them to just start exploring, and start reaching out to the people within their networks, or other people that they're connecting to online who are in the fields that they want to go into. Start going to those events that might be outside your comfort zone. Start meeting with the people who are not part of your networks.
There's something that I read about, about the weak ties that are really the strongest ties of personal networks. It's the people who are not your best friends, or the people who are in your immediate network. The people who are a friend of a friend, those can often be the most effective resources to moving into a new career. People are generally open to helping someone out. Honestly, it's about reaching out. It's about reaching out and making that first connection.
Kruse: I like to challenge our listeners to become 1% better every day. What would you challenge our listeners to do, in order to be a little more fearless and free today?
Sachs: You know, I think it's really looking at what you want to do next. Looking at what you're afraid of. Taking the risk, and trying to move forward. For some people it's those small steps. Other people like to take big leaps. Most of us I think are somewhere in the middle. Figuring out what is it exactly that you want to be doing. Whether it's that you want to write a book, you want to write the great American screenplay, you want to launch a business for yourself, you want to become a pilot. Whatever it may be that you really want to be doing, what's the first step that you can take today to actually make that happen?
For some people that might just be starting to rewrite their resume, and really getting that done. For other people it might be going online, and downloading a new podcast, or watching a video, or becoming a little bit more fluent in the industry that they're trying to go into. For someone else, it might be signing up for that networking event and actually going to it.
It's those small steps that really lead to big steps, that I think lead to change. The more that you can put yourself out there and take a risk, the more confident you're going to become. Confidence really is something that can be grown and created. I believe, truly deeply, that it's the root to all of this.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.