Women's History Month: Sally Rogers
By: Sally Rogers
The Perfect Professional Narrative Was Holding Me Back. I Became My Best Self By Letting It Go
I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to be sure my professional life had this beautiful storyline/arc/narrative. There used to be this perspective that the fewer ‘questions’ on a resume (i.e. gaps in story, curiosities in narrative), and/or how seamlessly you could connect the dots, the better your chances were of getting the gig. I took that oh-so-seriously and was determined to keep my resume neat and tidy. For example, an undergraduate degree in English naturally connects to a master’s degree in journalism, to a first job writing for a newspaper, then editing a magazine, then starting a media company. It all neatly fits together. But at some point, I couldn’t resist my inner entrepreneurial curiosity any longer and decided to leave behind a corporate career, challenging the narrative of my professional path. The journey I’ve been on (starting even before my first corporate role) has helped me realize that the prescriptive, predictable narrative is limiting. Once I shed that tidy resume expectation, I found my strength, my resilience, and my daily joy in solving problems for people. And by focusing not on the what or when or where of my professional narrative, but instead on the why and how of my problem-solving, I’ve become my best self. These days, I just can’t be bothered to make sure there’s some underlying theme to my professional life and gosh the days are more satisfying than they ever were before I became an entrepreneur.
Whether you’re in a solid corporate career or are already creating anew as an entrepreneur, there are a few things I’ve learned about rejecting the expectation of a perfectly connected professional life, and instead using an awareness of who you are as your beacon. And if I could challenge some deeply-rooted beliefs, you can too.
Know What You Like To Do And What You Don’t Like To Do
This one seems so simple, but most of us sabotage any possibility to create our own story because we let the story tell us what we care about. I started a PhD program in musicology straight after an undergraduate degree in music because it was a predictable next step. Two years into the program, and close to finishing the master’s degree, I was absolutely miserable. I actually hated being alone and researching in a library most of every day. I looked ahead and saw 3-5 more years of that, plus a career in academia that rewarded that type of work. OMG. I had to give up on that story of me one day being a professor (the tidy path) because I just couldn’t sacrifice that much daily happiness for that goal. I figured out that whoa, I am not a person that can sit still and research and write all day. I loved being analytical, but I derived way more satisfaction when I was teaching and talking to people about music. I also learned that I could never have a job where I spent most of every day by myself. All great learnings that began to give me the courage to exit the traditional path of academia and try something new: working at a wealth management company.
Surround Yourself WIth People That Believe In You
Fast forward eight years. When I started to hear my own internal musings about how unhappy I was with my corporate work, I also started to have ideas and dreams (literal dreams) about quitting and building a company. Rather than hold those ideas close, I wrote them down. And then I talked about them. To friends and family. My urge permeated months of conversation until what started to come back was less ‘uh huh’ and more ‘why aren’t you testing this idea?’ Looking back at those months, I was riddled with an internal battle about my beautiful career arc (I’d already restarted once!), why my story wouldn’t make sense if I left a big bank and started a snack company (seriously, whaaaaat?), and how there was just no way. But eventually, the monologue of self-doubt turned into a dialogue of build-up and courage, and the people that believed in me were paramount to that mental turnaround. If people around you are holding up the mirror and telling you something you don’t believe to be true, don’t be so quick to dismiss them. And if you don’t have those people, find those people. They are going to be critical to your strength as you forge your own path.
Are You Leading In Your Path, Or Following In Someone Else’s?
It’s easy to get sucked into a daily or weekly or monthly routine with co-workers, and let potential opportunities come to you. And don’t get me wrong, if you’re totally satisfied with that day to day and whatever opportunities come your way, then rock it! But if you’re wondering how you could possibly exit your story and venture down another path, know that in doing so you’d then be in a position of leading. The new path has no one else on it, except you! What I found in that realization was complete liberation. I had been just existing on my current path with all these colleagues cheering me on after another promotion while I took direction from those around and above me. Once I left my corporate career, I was free to go as fast or slow because I was the leader in my new path. I truly had no idea how much I needed that until day 1 of my entrepreneurial journey. And every day since then has been incredibly satisfying because I’m the one responsible for the path.
Become Your Best Self
Ultimately, my freedom from narrative has enabled me to take on leadership roles in non-profits that are working on efforts I want to get behind. My freedom from narrative keeps me questioning my own desire to have an impact on the food system and supporting better-for-you brands. My freedom from narrative allows me to focus on leveling up my skills without being held back. My freedom from narrative pushes me to take on opportunities to be as supportive as possible of other female entrepreneurs. My freedom from narrative enabled me to go from a master’s degree in musicology to being part of YCombinator’s Summer 2019 program with Parsnip, a better-for-you brand platform. Every day I’m living my best life, and can’t wait to see what’s next. Follow along by signing up for our newsletter, connecting with me on LinkedIn, or saying hi!