After my second child was born, I decided to leave the teaching profession. It was a tough decision and one I sometimes regretted, especially when my baby’s first birthday came around and the search for a new job wasn’t going so well.
Around that time, I was at a local park with my kids on a Saturday afternoon when I started talking with another mom. It was immediately apparent that she wasn’t into idle chit-chat. In the first few minutes of our conversation, she told me about how her family had dropped everything a few years back to move to another country, and how it had also prompted a change in her career- she and her husband had begun to work for themselves as freelance brand strategists. “Wow,” I said, impressed. “I wish I could do something like that.” I went on to say that I was a writer – of fiction, mostly – and that I’d like to freelance for money, but I just didn’t know how to go about it. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I believe it was along the lines of, “It’s too late to start something new,” or “I’m too busy.” I’ll never forget her response, though. She looked at me with a serious (almost stern) gaze and said, “You can do that.” It wasn’t a patronizing, casual, “You can totally do that, girl!” It was serious, focused, and sincere. Next, she asked, “When can we have coffee?”
Needless to say, we had coffee. A few short months later, I had a portfolio site and my first client and had started contracting with two website design studios. I worked hard to carve out a new career for myself. But I attribute my success, also, to the generosity of another woman who had no other motive than to see another woman succeed.
What I take from the experience is this:
First, try to skip the small talk. If you’re a stay at home mom, or a freelancer, or have a full time job and limited social time, you may not want to spend your time with other adults talking about diapers and preschool. When you meet another mom at the park, dive into the deep waters. It might seem uncomfortable at first, but chances are the mom you’re talking to is a little tired of talking about her darling’s latest milestone and may welcome the chance to talk about the documentary she’s just watched, the one that inspired her to finally start working on a documentary of her own. This is how real connection happens and (insider tip!) this is also called networking (yes, even if you’re at the park).
Second, make it a goal to be a hand up to other women. I am telling you, if it hadn’t been for that woman’s advice, I never would have launched my own career in freelance writing. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to have coffee with other women – friends of friends, former students, and acquaintances – to help them flesh out a creative idea or move their current work in a new direction. Chances are the person you’re helping out will have a lot to offer you, as well. Which brings me to my next point.
Don’t be afraid to accept the help that’s offered to you – or even to ask for help when no one’s offering. Recently, I’ve been trying to reach out to others for help more often, even when it means being in the role of student instead of teacher. I have former students who are ad executives, social media strategists, lawyers, botanists, even costume designers – I love reaching out to them for help on projects.
Our creative process, our end products, and our inner lives are all enriched by our positive connections to other people. Skip the small talk, lend a hand, and ask for help. It’s your new strategy for success. You’re welcome.