Career Musings from a Cancer Survivor

It’s been said that we are defined as a survivor from the moment we are diagnosed with cancer. For every day forward, you are surviving what is/was trying to kill you.

One of the first decisions I had to make when I was diagnosed with breast cancer was if I wanted to work during treatment, or take time off. This was a hard decision for me because I’ve always prioritized my career above anything else and it was a big part of my identity pre-cancer. I like to think I’m the type of person to always want to give 110% and compromising that stresses me out. So even though it wasn’t ideal, I knew not being able to give my all would inadvertently cause me more anxiety so I decided to take time off to focus on getting through chemotherapy, surgery and most of radiation. Given the intense stress of what cancer treatment puts one through, I know not everyone has the luxury of a choice to take time off and fighting cancer in itself is the hardest full-time job I have ever had. With that said, I want to take a moment to commend every single person who has kids/others to take care of and/or worked through their chemo/treatment period.  I couldn’t even muster the energy to put on pants or form sentences during the worst days, so I can only stand in awe at all those that could (and had to do more.)

This period of not working got me thinking a lot about jobs in general. As children, people always asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”( Essentially, what’s your dream job?) The truth is, most are still figuring that out even when they grow up and your dream job today may not have been/be your dream job five years ago or down the line. I thought a lot about how my dream jobs have evolved and how I got to where I am today – working for a company that I genuinely love. I thoroughly appreciated the time off but have really missed work, my co-workers, my clients, and just the unique culture that my company has created. It confirms the fact that sometimes, like the people you come across in life, some companies are meant to be a part of your story. I know for a fact, that so many factors led to me being at my current job and it is exactly where I belong at this time in my life.

For those wondering, I work for a company called LinkedIn. I’ve been an avid user for 10 years now and like that long-time, great friend, it’s been with me through a lot of chapters of my life, helping me along the way to check off my career goals. It helped me when I decided to make a career change in my mid-twenties, pivoting from fashion to tech and in turn, ricocheting from one coast to the other. LinkedIn allowed me to connect with tech recruiters in San Francisco, giving me the chance to convince them that this New Yorker fashionista deserved a shot at a career in tech. It helped me establish myself in said new tech career at a tech staffing firm by allowing me to find and connect with important decision makers in a world dominated by bad lead lists and cold calling (wish you were around then, Sales Navigator!). LinkedIn gave me an edge, helping me win sales awards, earn a better living, and break glass ceilings. It changed the landscape of blind recruiting by creating a canvas to paint intelligent conversation. It enabled companies to apply laser-sharp focus in targeting the right candidates for job openings and also allowed people to connect more vibrantly through common interests and backgrounds. When I felt like I had learned everything I could at that company, LinkedIn provided the network to some really great opportunities that would further my career growth and skill set. When I was on the market again from that last job, LinkedIn presented itself as an opportunity and here I am today. Being part of the LinkedIn family was my best career decision to date. I work with really fun, genuine people, phenomenal leaders, get to happily swim the constant ebbs and flow of tech, and I get to work in the coolest skyscraper in the best city. Even through treatment, it became apparent how thankful I was of my job. Medical teams ask me endlessly what I do for work and where I work and their reactions always bring a smile to my face. From “Oh! I LOVE LinkedIn” as the most common response, to my surgeon asking me upon our initial meeting “Can you teach me LinkedIn? I need to work on my profile” to my favorite chemo nurse sharing her excitement that she landed her job at that hospital because she was recruited via LinkedIn. It’s working for a company with products that are changing the way we connect with one another that truly defines dream job for me.

Through time, I’ve learned that the definition of a dream job often evolves and most importantly – it is in large part up to you to define it. As long as you stay focused on what it is you’d like to accomplish and what elements are important to you. You will learn to find your dream job. Some people are born to do something. It is clear what their purpose and calling is. Others, like me- have various skills we dabble with. It’s up to us to pursue the jobs that make us happy. Over the last decade, my dream job has evolved quite a bit but with every new job, it brought me closer to where I am supposed to be. The road traveled wasn’t easy and it took me a long time to get here. To LinkedIn. My best dream job thus far.

During treatment and even yesterday, I’m often asked “are they (my employer/co-workers) nice to you?” and “are they being understanding” or things along that vein. I always find those questions odd. As if employers aren’t capable of empathy. After all, I’m freaking dealing with cancer! But then I realized I’m the naive one. There certainly are plenty of employers that don’t care for what you’re going through so that’s why those are necessary questions. For a variety of reasons, not everyone will have a “dream job” and that is perfectly okay. My career has and always will be a big part of what makes me happy. Will I be at LinkedIn forever? Who knows. But getting to a place where I can be excited to go to work every day is not something to ever be overlooked. I thank my lucky stars every day.

With that said, I wanted to share a few top lessons on how to get to your dream job:

Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to take risks

One of the best decisions I made early on in my career was to take a magazine internship so I could learn key skill sets. Sure, it was only a 2 day unpaid internship and I had to find a temporary, flexible job so I could make freelancing work and pay for rent (and life). It was really hard working multiple jobs to make ends meet but it ended up opening doors and giving me some really great foundational professional skill sets like work ethic, time-management, and grit.

Lesson #2: Learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to make them

Everyone makes mistakes and falters. It’s how and if you pick yourself up that really matters. Some of my greatest growth periods came from making mistakes. Great leaders know that and some of the best ones allow you to learn your own lessons so you can grow.

Lesson #3: Say yes, even if you’re not ready

This was a huge one. I was riding high as a top sales performer at a previous company and loving my role. However, an opportunity came up to head up their headquarters sales office and manage large teams of recruiters and sales people. I wasn’t ready, was really happy with where I was at the moment and was super scared. But I took the opportunity and it was the best decision ever. I still get so much joy hearing from the folks I used to manage and watching them grow in their respective careers. Management has its headaches but I’m a firm believer if given the opportunity, everyone should try it at some point.

Lesson #4: Know what you want and work hard to get it

It’s important to know what you want out of your career, even if you don’t have everything figured out, you should have little incremental goals that get you closer and closer to your dream job. Keep tweaking and funneling down and remember that success most often is the result of hard work (sometimes dusted with a little luck). Know that your dream job may also change with time and experience. We spend a great deal of time at work so if given the choice, find a company that mirrors your values and contributes to your goals. But be realistic – no dream job is perfect.

Lesson #5: Never stop learning

My dream job may and most likely will not be your dream job but know that good jobs, are ones that challenge you and have you excited to come back each day (or after a long hiatus like myself.)  The minute you stop learning and become complacent, it’s time to look for something else. Life is too precious to be bored. Lastly, remember that you’re going to have jobs you hate but you need them to put food on the table, or you need them to learn valuable lessons and to build necessary skill sets. My first few jobs paid basically nothing but were super glamorous (think photo shoots, celebrities, and lots of really fun parties and clothes). I learned a ton about working with very intense personalities and built a really crazy work ethic. These were foundational skill sets that would prove extremely useful for my career long term. Not to mention, I got to stay true to my promise to myself throughout each job. I never stopped learning and stayed curious.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the chance to thank my incredible LinkedIn family through all this. From a co-worker starting an Avon team for me [Check it out HERE. Although I’m not up to walking this year, kindly consider donating any amount to help find a cure to this awful disease. If you are in the NYC area, please join us for a celebration after the walk, contact me directly], to a massively long and beautifully made tear-jerking/laughter inducing video, countless homemade Valentine’s cards, gift packages, and so many kinds words, emails, cards and overall support. I do not have the words to tell you how full you made my heart and how many smiles (and happy tears) you brought to me during some of my lowest moments. Even though battling cancer enabled me to find so many more facets of my identity, part of my most valued self will always be being a great, and driven (co)-worker. Thank you doesn’t even begin to cover it, but it’s a start. 


 

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