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Career: Fork-in-the-road

Time and time again (throughout our journey) we’ll find ourselves at the fork-in-the-road. Where we will need to decide which way we need to go to move forward with our lives. And it’s at that very moment we must evaluate what the best decision is for yourself now.

We want to keep in mind realistic expectations and outcomes, too. So I wanted to share my career journey with you to share how I evaluated and balanced by realistic expectations in a few seasons of my life in hopes to carry you through your challenges and obstacles along the way. There will be times, as you’ll notice on my journey, that we are given the opportunity to decide which direction we’ll head – and it’s up to us to make those decisions with courage, intention and prayer. I didn’t realize the full potential of relying on my faith and God until more recently.

When I was graduating from my undergrad degree in 2007, I was already 4-months pregnant and due to have our son in May 2008. I had to quickly decide if I was going to pursue a corporate degree or start my own business. I knew in my mind that I really wanted to be home to raise our little one so I decided to start my own business. I had real world experience within retail, restaurants, etc but never actually was taught how to “start a business.” At that time, I had the motivation and drive to figure things out as I went along. So in late 2007, I started PromoZone Live – a national staffing agency where I worked from our home in Central Florida.

The struggle was real and after 1.5 of raising our newborn son and starting a business – I found myself drained, lonely and on the verge of depression because I was missing a main component of business – which was real life human interaction. Most of my work was via phone and email.

So, my key lesson from this was I gained the confidence to build “a business” but what I quickly realized was since I wasn’t truly sure how to do any business development – I wasn’t going to last very long unless I was able to bring in new clients. I had to wear many different hats – which I found intriguing, exciting, and challenging.

Soon after, I decided to connect with my network and I went back into property management for about a year to enjoy some face-time and get to socialize again – I felt for a while that as a new mom I was losing myself. I felt free again – and more like JENA again. (Yeah!)

In 2009 – my husband had been laid off from him full time gig and our son turned two-years-old. The pressure was on to pay the bills and prepare for our futures. We decided it was time to relocate to south Florida and live closer to his side of the family. And that’s what we did. We moved in with my (now husband’s) mom, who is sweet as can be.

If raising a two-year-old wasn’t challenging enough (terrible 2’s and 3’s) we both decided we wanted to go back to school. While I was in a course to prepare for my MBA pre-schooling tests, the instructor explained that it’s imperative that students get more real world experience, this way when they graduate, they’ll have a solid degree and experience to align with it. Soon after relocating to south Florida – I decided to look for career opportunities in the workforce, and was hired by TEAM enterprises. Which is an experiential marketing agency, based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. My dad would tell me, TEAM was like PromoZone Live on steroids.

I was finally able to see a company, first hand, completing the functions in real life. The many hats that I wore pursing PZL – was now tangible and visible to me. I was amazed. I was able to find fulfillment in both my personal and professional life – finally!

Soon after in Fall 2010 – my husband and I both enrolled and started back at school. While this was challenging and like juggle many plates at once, it was what kept me going because we had lots of things to keep me stimulated and busy. I graduated in December 2012 – and felt “free again” once the weight of my studies was behind me. My husband continued with his degree; while this was extremely hard for me personally since I was the main one in the household working due to the intensity of his program – I experienced the challenges and emotional feeling of what being a breadwinner was like.

While I learned many new skills while working at team and gained experience that I could add to my career tool belt. During my time at TEAM, I had found out we were expecting in 2013 – which was exciting! Though as the time got closer, I began getting the ‘gut feeling’ that I wanted to be home again with our children – but wasn’t sure how to make that happen now that I was the breadwinner (soon to be family of 4) and had to ensure we paid the bills monthly.

One day in mid-2013, I decided to purchase a $30 template for a telecommute proposal to present to HR and my direct boss. At that time, I knew there was subcontract-type work but I wasn’t extremely knowledgeable about remote-work / telecommute opportunities. So, I decided to prepare a presentation (I went ALL out with music and all – image, Whitney Houston’s ‘I’m every woman’ – literally) to share why working from home 2-days per week was the ideal situation after having our newborn daughter in April 2014.

Unfortunately, the proposal was denied and I’d have to return full time in July 2014.

By late 2014, I noticed my enthusiasm for work start to diminish. While I was grateful for the three months’ home (exhausting all our savings – but savoring our time together) with her after she was born, but I noticed I really wanted to be available and home more for our children – husband and my own sanity. I had been commuting to and from work about 1.5 (round trip) each day. Which, in my mind – wasn’t very productive or a good use of my time. And on a side note, there were many days I’d drive her to daycare (across the street from TEAM buildings) and she’s get car sick – so imagine a newborn, throwing up on the highway, and then having to clean the car seat, change her clothes, while wearing heels / nice work outfit.

I knew I had to make a change. I decided to invest in myself and meet with a career coach weekly to better understand my next move, when the time was right. She had me complete an assessment, career evaluation and do LOTS of research to ensure my next steps was intentional and planned. This allowed for me to feel equipped and prepared for what lied ahead on my journey.

Fast forward to Friday, February 28th, 2015 – my daughter had her immunization shots a few days before and wasn’t feeling like herself. She had gotten a fever that day and just wanted to cuddle. Thankfully, her daycare was across the street from the TEAM buildings where I’d frequently hang out with her during my lunch breaks and whenever I could sneak some time in to rock her in the nursery.

With God’s grace, by February 2015, after 4+ years, – I was laid off from my position after the company had gone through three rounds of reorganization. I felt a sense of relief that I’d be able to ‘redesign’ my career (once again). I was excited and scared all at the same time – I was at the “fork-in-the-road.”

I went home that afternoon and explained to my husband we had a family of four – and neither of us had any income – except for the severance money; which would carry us for about one month or so.

After being laid off, I continued meeting with my career coach to navigate if I should interview and move forward with a stable corporate role or try to pursue my own business again. She recommended I navigate both routes and see which one transpires. She asked when my savings would be depleted and when would I have no other choice but to secure ‘a job’ to sustain my family obligations. I explained, “one month.” That time frame lit a fire under me to stay focused and make it happen.

Within the next two weeks, I began attending some SHRM local chapter events and began to network. I knew I wanted to do career consulting and recruitment. Fortunately, I received two referrals at my first networking event. I continued attending these activities over the next two years; on-and-off as I could. The first referral transpired within the next week and the second one over the next 90-days. I was thrilled – I could move forward and no longer felt stuck at the fork in the road. What an exhilarating feeling! J

By 6-months, the second referral transpired into a third client when one of my POC’s transitioned to another company and wanted me to assist with ramping up their recruitment efforts. I was thrilled!

I was VERY impressed with my courage + drive to bring on new clients, sustain them, and have them for more long-term periods of time. The first client had brought me on to cover a 3-month maternity leave working remotely and decided my performance was very good and kept me on closer to 9-months that year.

The only downfall was, I was waking up at 5:00am in the mornings and not back in bed until 10:00pm or so in the evenings. I was draining myself to sustain while my husband finished school. I didn’t make much time for him and I until closer to 2016 and I was quite tired and drained mentally to spend quality time with the kiddos when they were home. I knew something had to give. I was hard on myself, with negative self-talk, and trying to figure out how to be the best wife, mom, daughter, sister, etc I could be.

By 2016 -  I began to get burnt out and always felt there wasn’t enough time in the day to fulfill my professional obligations. I knew there had to be a sane way of going about this process and thought I had to create a process and structure to sustain the workload.

Before actually taking the time to focus on doing so, I decided to lessen the workload and enjoy my time with family a little vs. overextending myself. I figured, I only need 1.5 clients to pay the bills, have more time with family, and get my sanity back. I was also SO overwhelmed with how well I did from 2015-2016 I was almost afraid (negative self-talk) to set future goals because I knew whatever I set my mind to, I would achieve if I, ‘did the work.’

Thankfully, in the Summer of 2016 – my husband successfully graduated from his program. We would soon find out where he’d land a position and we’d relocate in a timely manner. Low and behold, he was extended an opportunity during his first interview visit to Pennsylvania – where I was born-and-raised. We were about 1.5 (one-way) from my side of the family.

So from 2016-2017, I decided to continue with only one client – to save my family and sanity from overworking myself. By this time, we had relocated from south Florida to PA and then within a short period of 6-months down to the Washington, DC Metro / Virginia Area from my husband’s career.

In early January 2017, I decided it was time again to ‘ramp up’ my efforts and look for contract / consulting work within the area. The challenge I came across was while DC / VA was known for remote and virtual work-from-home opportunities, I didn’t have any federal / government experience. After going to multiple interviews and meetings, I was given some insight into the industry and local market. I was told that I could secure a 90-day contracts, I would be able to gain experience and exposure into the industry to add to my resume (aka: career portfolio).

By this point, the one client remaining had peak seasons and slower seasons - and I was preparing in advance in the case they had layoffs; which was the case after working with them for close to three years.

Self Noted: I knew I didn't work well feeling like a caged animal. I had the experience to perform and meet goals within a given time frame. I just needed the work life integration and time freedom to make those decisions on my own.

I followed this process to the tee, worked closely with Randstad and secured a position with ICF – I was very specific about my expectations and what I need for this to work well both personally and professionally. The director was very understanding and responsive to my needs. After the 90-day period, I was offered a full-time position working remotely / telecommuting to the Fairfax, VA offices; which has been an absolute blessing. I decided, at this ‘fork-in-the-road’ I needed to secure a position locally that I would enjoy and be able to sustain our lifestyle locally; which isn’t cheap at all. Childcare, rent, insurance, etc is almost double what we’re used to paying in Florida and Pennsylvania. We’re enjoying ourselves and making the most of our current situation.

Due to the cost-of-living and the fact that I really enjoy being available and present for my children (and husband), I've decided it's best for us to have my daughter work-from-home with me on Monday's and Friday's. My husband's schedule is pretty unknown - but he's typically available to help out throughout the days since he's physically home as well.

The current position allow me the time and energy to work early mornings, late evenings and weekends; as needed to pursue my purpose, passions and hobbies on the side.

I'm very passionate about helping other women identify their purpose, passion + talents in order to secure an opportunity that aligns with their needs and sustained throughout each season of life.

Once my husband completes and passes his exams for work – we’ll be able to decide if we’ll be making this area our home – or if we’ll be looking to find another area to call home and establish ourselves and our family long term.

As you see, there are many times we’ll navigate through life and career decisions that we need to decide which way to go. It’s at those very moments that we decide if we’ll go left, right, or straight ahead. I’ve learned that while we might have anxiety or let fear creep in, we need to ask God to light our paths and pray about the next best decision. We simply need to evaluate our current situations, use the resources we have (or find additional new ones), and move forward with faith and confidence that everything will be okay.

So, believe me – I get you. I’ve been at the employee vs entrepreneur fork-in-the-road many of times. I’m in the process of identifying my purpose in life and really aligning my passions + talents on my journey.

I’d encourage you to do the same, to make time and space, to find the most fulfillment in all areas of life; allowing your faith to lead the way.

xo,

JV

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