Are you trying to figure out how to execute a career pivot in an effort to create a professionally and financially rewarding career? Me too!
That is why I was excited to come across Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers by Wendy Sachs on my Amazon suggested reading list. It wasn’t quite what I expected, however.
After skimming the description of it, I thought I would walk away from it with a game plan for how I would execute a career pivot. Instead, I got an interesting and fast read that offered profiles of women (and one man) who had themselves executed career pivots (with varying degrees of success).
What I Liked the Most
I found the writing most effective when the subject of the story was someone who didn’t have it altogether (including, by her own admission, Wendy Sachs). The discussion of failing was particularly interesting because of the focus on what came after the failure.
The women profiled admitted to a period of mourning and self-reflection that was completely relatable. It is scary to lose your job (and your benefits) and hard to resist aiming lower the next time to avoid another flop, or to give up and just not try at all.
How these women relaunched themselves inevitably relied on hard work and reaching out to their network to identify new opportunities. This allowed Wendy to reinforce what I thought were the two biggest themes of the book: building and maintaining your network and being ready to recognize and seize opportunities that come your way.
Building Your Network
Several of the women profiled were building the platforms through which women can network and get that next job. Not being in the Public Relations or the Tech industries, I hadn’t heard of any of these but I am definitely going to check them out in the future. Après and Landit seemed most relevant to me.
- Après looks like Muse only for mid-level professional women either looking to pivot in their career or re-enter the paid workforce after taking a break to raise children. I have not used their services but based on their website, they offer a curated jobs board and a blog, and connections to career coaches and other women in similar circumstances.
- Landit appears to focus more on identifying your personal brand and the coaching aspect of career pivoting (although they also offer curated job posts).
Other women profiled shared stories about how their network saw strengths in them that they didn’t see, and connected them with other women and opportunities that kept them moving forward. As made clear, an effective network can (and should) raise you up because, as Wendy notes, “when we pay it forward and share our resources, we all win.”
But while knowing the right people is important, it isn’t enough: you have to put in the work. In discussing seizing opportunities, Wendy argues that there is less randomness involved with something fabulous coming your way than may be apparent to others.
This discussion centers around the “adjacent possible,” a concept from Steve Johnson that he discusses in his book Where Good Ideas Come From. I loved the idea of being surrounded by ways to reinvent my present and my future if I choose to do so. It is scary, to be sure, but also exhilarating.
My favorite profile illustrating this concept was of Meredith Sinclair, who blogs at MeredithPlays and is regularly featured on the Today Show. She has cultivated success on her own terms and by working really hard, including regular segments on the local news station’s morning show that gave her the confidence to move to a nationally televised show.
It would be so easy to tune in one morning and think, “Oh, she is so lucky that it comes so naturally to her.” She may have natural talents but that isn’t why she is where she is today. She is there because she worked really, really hard.
What I Liked the Least
Even as she emphasized the importance of having a network, how to build a network was muddled. Wendy readily admits to not liking what most people think of when they think of “networking” and it comes through in how she talks about it.
First off, this is the only time she profiles a man instead of a women which I found strange. Having read Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World by J. Kelly Hoey, I know there are some kick-ass female net-workers out there.
The man Wendy profiled, Michael Salort, is undeniably successful when it comes to networking. He comes across as one of those people who knows everyone (and when I looked him up on LinkedIn, he is 3rd connection to me which seems unbelievable given I am in a completely different field).
But between highlighting someone who is so different not only from me but from the other women she profiles, and multiple times pondering the lack of immediate return on the time and money you invest in conferences and networking events, it sends mixed signals.
That I should have a network is clear. But how to go about developing one if I am not living in New York or California, an alumnus of Harvard or Yale, or have been named to some top 30 under 30 (or top 40 under 40) list is less clear.
She does provide a fun chapter on serendipity, relaying stories about meeting women in line for food at a Bat Mitzvah and through her kids day care. Serendipity is, I think, her answer to skipping boring after-work cocktail parties. But I am not quite sure.
Given that it is a quick read and includes some really interesting stories about smart women who have succeeded, then failed, then succeeded again, I would definitely recommend reading this book. But there is another reason too.
Throughout the book, Wendy touches on a lot of the big questions circulating now when it comes to women in the workforce. It isn’t just the struggles women face returning after a break to stay at home with the kids but the struggle to get start-up capital and to sell employers (and ourselves) on how our skills will successfully translate to a new career field.
I have been with the same employer for the last 12+ years (albeit having held 3 different positions during that time) so these discussions have held less relevance to me. But now, as I contemplate my next move, I found Wendy’s references to them very thought provoking.
What Did You Think?
Have you read Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers? What did you think? Let me know in the comment section below.