Wendy Sachs, the author of Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers (AMACOM, 2017), spoke with AMA Quarterly about the inspiration for her book and the idea of pivoting to remake your career. An excerpt from the interview:
What was the inspiration for writing this book?
Wendy Sachs: I was fired from my job, I was let go. I lost my job and I needed a new one. And I was interviewing all around New York City, at these bright and shiny Starbucks, for companies that I thought I wanted to go to. I was too qualified, and definitely older than everyone I was meeting with. And I couldn’t get a job. I was trying to figure out what I was doing that was holding me back. Was it that I wasn’t selling my story properly? Was it that I wasn’t presenting the narrative in the right way? Was it that I just wasn’t connecting with all the Millennials who were interviewing me? What was it that was holding me back?
It was at that moment that I sort of turned to Silicon Valley, which is sort of our North Star for the moment [in business], and wondered what they were doing there. Was there a way that women could own some of those successful lessons coming out of the startup world and apply [them] to themselves and their careers?
So that really started me on this journey of how do we pivot? Pivot, of course, is the term that is very much adopted in Silicon Valley, pivoting when businesses aren’t working. It’s all about the pivot and being agile and being able to stay relevant. And so all of these ideas, what if we applied them to ourselves? How do we stay agile and relevant? How do we pivot? How do we create serendipity, and how do we really leverage the power of networking? How do we do all of these ideas that are very much part of the ethos of Silicon Valley?
As you were doing your research, what was it that you found? What was common among the women you talked with, the ones who were trying to remake their careers and the ones who were successful doing it?
WS: I feel that it all comes down to confidence and the lack of it. Everything really circles back to confidence. So many women get stuck because they fear taking action. They’re afraid to get it wrong, they’re afraid to fail, they’re afraid to be judged, they’re afraid to humiliate themselves by trying something new.
They’re afraid of that whole impostor syndrome, saying that they are going to do something else and feeling, “Well, I’m really not all that. How can I create my own business when I don’t even have an MBA?” Or, “How can I start a jewelry company when I really don’t know all that much about retail?” That whole thing of, we aren’t experts yet, therefore who am I to go and try something new? So really what I found is that so much of it came down to confidence, and women fearing the taking of risks…
What is one particular piece of advice that you’d give any woman who wants to make changes in her professional life?
WS: You really need to activate your network. You need to start pushing out of your comfort zone and seeing who you’re connected to on LinkedIn. If you’re not on LinkedIn, you need to get onto LinkedIn. You need to start letting people know that you’re looking to make a change. You need to start talking to people and telling them what it is that you want to be doing. And you need to create some visibility for yourself.
What are ways you can create visibility?
WS: Being on LinkedIn, being on social media, but also being on there in a way where it’s not that you’re posting pictures of the puppy that you just got or your children’s accomplishments. But depending on what it is you want to be doing, creating visibility in more professional places. Again, I go to LinkedIn because that is where everyone is, recruiters and your professional network. Maybe you’re posting articles that you’re reading that are relevant to the industry you’re looking to go into. So that’s where you want to be visible.
But you also want to be physically visible by attending either some conferences or networking events or meetups—something in the industry that you’re looking to go into. Find an opportunity to start meeting people face to face and creating some more connections that can help you as you’re looking to switch your job or to switch careers. You need to show up. People need to see you.
As business leaders, women must develop a powerful presence and hone their verbal and nonverbal messages.