“A strong woman looks a challenge dead in the eye and gives it a wink.” Those are the words of American filmmaker and musician Gina Carey, and they sound good, right? Easy...at least, until you face a challenge so seemingly insurmountable that instead of winking, your first instinct is to run.
Fight that instinct. Although it can be scary to embrace chaos, especially when that chaos affects your financial stability or career trajectory, struggling to overcome huge hurdles such as losing a job, starting a business, or changing careers doesn’t equal failure, and big changes like that definitely aren’t the final say in how your career or life will pan out. As recruiters Dana Hundley and Jenna Richardson, cofounders of Career Cooperative, told InHerSight when the unemployment began mounting at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, “Some of the most interesting career paths aren’t linear, they are full of twists and turns that lead to great learning opportunities and multi-dimensional skills. Regardless of how topsy-turvy your career can seem, every experience is part of your unique story, and you learn and gain something from each one of them (even if it’s learning what you don’t want).”
Change can be used as a catalyst for reinvention. All you have to do, as Carey said, is learn how to look change in the eye and wink.
Mindset is everything
Khaleelah Jones, the founder of small business and startup marketing service Careful Feet Digital, did just that. In 2017, Jones, who holds a doctorate in philosophy, made the leap from freelancer to business owner. "I really struggled in the transition from freelance to owning my own company and managing staff,” she says. “It was obviously an exciting time with lots of good growth opportunities, but there were a lot of challenges as I struggled to accept that I had control over a lot less factors than I did when I was working solo with just a few businesses."
Instead of balking in the face of something new, Jones shifted her thinking. "I had to change my mindset; realizing that I’d learn and grow from what I was facing. So, I embraced being uncomfortable and accepted that control is an illusion."
To be proactive, Jones enlisted the help of a business coach. “Working with her has really helped me identify thought patterns and habits that don't serve me, my team, or my business,” she says. Jones also committed to a more flexible work schedule, trading 60-hour work weeks for more reasonable office hours. "Giving yourself time every day to break from the hustle for a walk, yoga class, or nice dinner, to rest up and reflect, is critical," she says.
By taking these steps, she gained more clarity and achieved a more productive thought process. She’s also been able to improve her time management skills and learn how to effectively delegate responsibilities.
"In my opinion, the biggest thing that changed my life was to get a business coach,” Jones says. “I have worked with her for almost two years, and she has helped me grow in every possible way, from the bottom line of my business to the mindset that fosters it."
The founder of Millennial in Debt, an online platform dedicated to promoting the power of responsible money management, echoes Jones’ sentiment.
She paid off more than $100,000 in debt to improve her finances, but getting started was understandably daunting. "I started focusing on my debt-free journey in 2013 when I attempted to get pre-approved for a mortgage at 25 so I could move out of my parent's home. I wasn't approved for much and realized I wouldn't be able to move into anything but a doll house."
She unwittingly became an inspiration to thousands of other women with similar goals. Her five-year, debt-free journey came with a series of changes, such as reducing impulse purchases and cutting out fast food trips. Still, she knew she had to make those changes to meet her ultimate goal. "It prompted me to reinvent myself because it made me more cognizant of what I was spending my money on, and how I shared information on financial literacy in general."
Millennial in Debt, who chose to go by her platform name only, defines change as a "shift from the norm," both in terms of thinking and actions. "I struggled to embrace change when I began focusing on my debt-free journey,” she says. “That focus shifted how I viewed money and how I spoke about money but most importantly, how I used money. It meant no longer doing things I did regularly and thought I couldn't live without. I had to continuously remind myself that what I was doing was for a greater purpose, and every time I would pay off one of my student loans, it would be a reminder that this struggle is temporary."
This struggle is temporary
That focus on the transitory nature of adversity or “growing pains” is one we’ve heard before—and from women in even more public-facing roles than Jones and Millennial in Debt. Since the end of her husband’s presidency, former First Lady Michelle Obama has talked openly about struggling to transition into the White House, particularly when it came to raising her children. In 2019, Obama described this opportunity for growth during a press stop for her memoir, Becoming. "Having young kids, [that] you want to raise with some values and sense, I had to say, 'We will not live here forever,'" Obama said. Obama’s simple yet effective words are a reminder that the discomfort of change is uncomfortable but it's also temporary.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, wife of the late Elijah Cummings, too, dealt with grief and immense change when her husband died. But she also knew there was work to be done, and she stunned politicos across the nation when she decided to run for her late husband’s seat in Congress. In 2019, she explained on The Rachel Maddow Show, "I've been on this path for fighting for the soul of our democracy, for fighting for health care, education, for a better America for all. And so he wanted me to continue this fight, and I’m going to continue this fight and run the race, and, prayerfully, win." You can’t not do something you’re called to do just because getting started is painful or you didn't expect for things to turn out the way they did.
Millennial in Debt says women need ingenuity, focus, and motivation to get through rough transitions. A little fear might even be useful, too. “Whenever you feel the most afraid of making a change, that is often because you are heading in the right direction,” she says. “The fear is what keeps holding you back, don't ever let it!”
"The biggest thing I've had to work on is mindset shifts to step into the role fully and be present in it." Jones says, adding, "I used to think that mindset was a bunch of hogwash, but it is actually so important to be mentally healthy and be set up to handle success and failure."
The message from these inspiring women is clear: Decide that you're open to change, adjust your mindset, and remember that change is constant, but temporary. From there, you can use change, whether by choice or through circumstance, as a tool to become a better version of yourself. It all starts with you.
Do it yourself
If you want to capitalize on change, start with pinpointing the big thing, or things, keeping you from attaining the life or career you want. You may find that you’re stressed over your current workplace, your job hunt, or uncertainty over the next steps in your career because of circumstances that are out of your control, like a recession. Now create a new goal that acknowledges the difficulty of the situation, but also provides a tangible way to achieve a positive outcome. For example:
Problem: I was recently laid off , and I’m worried I won’t be able to find a job in my chosen industry.
What you can control: I want to work at a place where I'm respected, and I have X number of transferable skills. If I want to pursue my dream career, I need to attain X skills, regardless of job title.
Goal: I’ll apply to companies with good reputations and positive company cultures that are hiring for roles that call for my transferable skills and offer me the opportunity to learn something new. I’ll prioritize positions that offer learning experiences that could eventually lead me back to my desired career path.