Today I have two meetings not directly related to my projects — one with my coach and another with my mentor. I’ll meet my coach during my workday, and my mentor after work. In my current role, my coach was assigned to me. Their role is to guide me in the present and near future. They work to understand my strengths and weaknesses, provide me with feedback and help me get where I want to go. It’s a great part of my current role and it’s integral to the culture here – open conversations about how you are doing, where you want to go and how to get there. And there’s a true appreciation of experiential success – one that does not always need to be unidirectional.
When I first joined the ranks of “corporate America,” I held onto some singular hierarchical direction of what it meant to be successful. Keep moving up. Add to that a sense that I had to prove myself in this new world and I just kept saying yes without question. If it got me more — and sometimes that was the only operating principle — I said yes. But after a while, I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. So I jumped again and took a role as the deputy director of a small bilingual French school. I thought perhaps the nagging questions I had about getting back into “teaching” or “school” or “using my French” would be answered. But they were not. Instead, I learned to focus on what I like doing and how to keep doing it.
I had drawn some connections between teaching and managing. The end product was intangible – knowledge, experience – all-too-human. I thought I enjoyed “shaping minds.” But, when I was back in that business, albeit indirectly with the school, I realized how things continually shifted and how tiring it could be when you invested time and energy into something that was both shapeable, and shape-shifting. I missed creating a product – finished or not – that would not transform fantastically before my eyes the next time I encountered it. I missed spending hours one day only to return the next day to something that was fixed, and even kind enough to tell me exactly where I had left it, with a version number and date. Instead, the words, the ideas, the images I helped promote from one day to the next seemed to magically change, become other, and become unrecognizable to me.
When I found my current role, I knew I was making a lateral move and I was grateful because of the organization. There’s something new here for me. In addition to valuing the “good-old fashioned” kind of success and smarts, there’s a real appreciation for innovation, conversation, and a belief that it can be done. It’s very motivating.
My coach and I talk about the different projects I’m on and how I’m doing. I’m reminded to continue to have lunch with someone new each month, as I said I would when I first joined. We openly discuss where we each think I can be in three years and what I should look for and even avoid. It’s refreshing and reminds me of the cherished conversations I had with my dissertation advisor. Although he knew me much longer than my current coach does, I feel the same kind of thinking through things intelligently and authentically together. I always thought I made a great decision in choosing my dissertation advisor. To this day, I still do and am eternally grateful. But it took me a few years before I realized once again that it makes a difference who you work with, and sometimes you don’t always know what you’re getting into. If you can identify what motivates you and how you work best and find it, you’ll be so much farther along and happier in the end.
My mentor is someone from my earlier “corporate America” days — someone who has always been a great champion of mine. Not to say that she’s not objective with her evaluations. I’m late to meet her and I know she will let me know that I am late. She calls me by my last name. Even at my wedding I think she said “Congratulations, Fornabai.” She’s someone who could read my work and tell within the first few sentences if I hadn’t given it much thought. And she could usually determine why I had “phoned it in,” either because I had written it late or I wanted to move onto another more interesting project I had in queue. But she was never condescending or disingenuous with her feedback. She was always respect and insightful. She was able to cut through whatever else was going on around us – both her and me – and have me focus on the product, and what I could do to improve it. And she was also great at understanding when and how to discuss the other aspects of what I needed to know and do to be successful, like building relationships and benchmarking. In the end, I’ve always found her to be incredibly supportive because she’s honest with me about my strengths and weaknesses and tries to coach me on them openly and intelligently – even when I disagree with her.
It’s hard to say what’s next for me. But I know I’m open to exploring new opportunities with the right people and in the right environment. So I’ll keep trying and I may jump again. As frightening as that initial free fall can be, it focuses me. Eventually things slow down and take shape around me. And I remember what I like doing and why I chose to do it… again.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PwC.