Book Launch

When a fast no, became a slow yes, a new path revealed. Initially, I said no to the invitation to speak at a conference in 2017. Truth was, I didn’t feel like what I had to say would be all that insightful. Flash forward to this year, where we surprised the audience with advanced copies of my first book, Office Hours: How to Go From School to World Rule, inspired by the speech I almost didn’t give. The book follows the lives of ten folks in transition and offers lessons learned from my own work-life journey. These last 12 months reminded me that while the world moves fast, and decisions often keep pace, slowing down can unearth the next great adventure. What’s waiting for you?

If you’re #Ready2Rule or in the midst of just trying to figure it out, join me at krystaljalene.com. Let’s see what happens next, together!

To get your copy order today here.

Berkeley Women in Business | Female in the Faculty

Professor Krystal Thomas is a lecturer with the undergraduate program at UC Berkeley – Haas, and an alumna from 1994. Her professional experiences range from change management consulting with Accenture, to strategic marketing, to media, where she helms her own content development and production company, Pooka Ventures. We, as the community of BWIB, are so grateful for her time and thank her for sharing her wisdom with us.

Ruler: Kylan Nieh

KYLAN NIEH
TECHNOLOGY

THE FAST FIVE

The Short Story: Kylan is a Senior Product Manager at a Fortune 100 Silicon Valley technology firm. Three years after graduating with his undergraduate degree, Kylan was named to the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list in Enterprise Technology.

Biggest College Fear: “My biggest fear was being stuck in a job or career that made me unhappy. I feared the idea of being chained to a desk from 8 to 5. The idea of going from controlling my own time in college, to being on someone else’s schedule in the real world was a big concern for me.”

Virgin Business Lesson: “Internships and college begin the process of exploring who you are. But these opportunities are experienced in a bubble, so to speak. It’s refreshing to step out of the bubble every now and then to evaluate where you are, what you are learning, and how you are feeling. Look for opportunities to transfer learning from one bubble to the other, and don’t be afraid to burst the bubble, when you’ve outgrown the environment.”

Industry Uniqueness: “Technology operates like a pulse. A project can have the highest of highs, and spectacular lows. Managing innovation requires a clear vision, a purpose for what you are creating. Constant iteration takes perseverance and internal conviction to stick with a concept through all the peaks and valleys. At the end of the day, technology is really about solving problems, and making the world better in someway.”

Right Now YOU Should Be: “Perfecting your communication skills. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t communicate it effectively, it’s never going to happen. Regardless of what industry or what career you pursue, the ability to speak and write drives success or failure in any role. You can always improve your skills because there are so many styles of communication; and the best communicators know how to adapt their styles to engage specific audiences or individuals.”

MORE FROM KYLAN

I questioned where I wanted to be and what problems I wanted to solve.
In college, I had a list of things I thought I wanted to do, but didn’t know the dream job or the ideal industry. I explored my hobbies and interests, which at the time included technology, exploring new ideas and creating opportunities. I didn’t know if I wanted to create my own start-up, work for an established start up, or work for a large company. As I searched for opportunities, I came across the job description of a Product Manager, I immediately thought, that’s me. Essentially, the role functions as a “mini CEO” of a product. You interface with all different types of stakeholders from designers, to analysts, to engineers, to users in order to shepherd a product through all stages of the life cycle. So I started talking to alumni in the role, and researching internships that would give me hands on experience in someway.

The fears I had of the real world while in college never materialized. Fortunately, I learned the right tools in college to think critically about what companies would be right for me. Understanding corporate culture is so important to assess your potential in a given environment. My first day as an intern, I knew I wasn’t going to be chained to a desk. I immediately began working with people, and taking meetings outside on a sunny day. I also really wanted to make a difference, change people’s lives in my work. Being hands on with products where I could see the impact made me happy. In all, LinkedIn and I shared the same values, so I felt confident that this was the right organization for me.

Internships serve different purposes depending on what you are seeking. Regardless of the kind of internship, there are three important benchmarks to assess the experience: 1) Am I getting an understanding of how this world works? 2) What skills am I learning that I can do in any future role regardless of the industry and 3) Do I like this? Can I see myself doing this in the future? I had different internships, first was at a start-up gaming company, the next was at an educational tech company. My first internship gave me the experience of a start-up and working with customer perceptions, the second was more process oriented and less about the technology. By the time I got to LinkedIn as an intern, I had a good sense of what it was like to work in a company, and a sense of what I wanted or didn’t want to do. But if I hadn’t established a framework to evaluate my previous experience, I wouldn’t have known what to look for when I landed at in my ideal company. LinkedIn was the first company I’d been at with a strong mission statement, a defined culture and people who walked and talked those values. That’s when I realized I could be happy there.

Balance has been important for me since I was a kid.
As a competitive gymnast throughout my childhood, I trained several hours a week and went to school, while competing with athletes that were home-schooled. Early on, I learned the importance of prioritizing my day. Work life integration or balance, whatever you want to call it, really depends on what makes you tick and how you work.

It’s easy to get caught up in the world of Product Management because you have so many responsibilities. There’s always work to do, but understanding what hobbies bring me happiness actually makes me more innovative in my job. I’ve always enjoyed swimming and volleyball, and recently began competing as a triathlete. I’m also acquiring new habits like yoga every Tuesday night. Cooking has become a real passion; an activity that I find myself getting lost in. Getting lost in something is important because it rejuvenates my mind. Balance is really a personal commitment to make sure you are in the mix of your priorities. It’s about creating a schedule to make time for the things that you love, then sticking to it. Keeping to the plan may not work immediately, but just having an approach will at least guide you to recognize the need for a break.

At this stage in life, you aren’t going to have all the right answers.
My life has always been my ship to steer, though I’ve been fortunate to have guidance along the way. Having high expectations of yourself or pressure from others is tough; but it’s important to remember that we don’t have all the answers, and we aren’t always going to get it right. I feel like life is a journey, and I’m going to have a whole lifetime of figuring out what I want to do because my wants and needs will change over time. Hopefully, molding into a direction where with each decision I will become happier. I completely own the fact that it’s my life. I take what people around me have to say as constructive learning and ideas to consider. But it’s my choice, my destination. Therefore, I’m empowered to make the best decision for my journey. And if it my choice turns out to be wrong, I know I’m strong enough to learn from my mistakes and keep moving forward.

Don’t let what’s happening around you impact your own focus.
Opportunity is really what you make of it. I’ve met some of the greatest leaders in my industry that didn’t finish high school. They simply saw a problem, and got to work solving that problem, growing their skill set, leveraging their confidence to keep moving forward. At the same time, I’ve met graduates from top universities who didn’t take advantage of their platform to connect with others, figure out who they are, seek out experiences and launch with both feet into their destiny. Starting a career from any transition point is about taking the time to form a clear vision for yourself; really exploring the question of what you want to do. Your vision can and will change over time, but once you have a direction you can put everything, all your energy, research, time in that arena, shadowing folks, building products, networking and failing in that arena. When you fail fast, you learn fast, which is why driven people aren’t afraid of failing.

There can be angst associated with not knowing what you want to do and being in a position where you may be watching those around you move ahead in a major or in a career. It’s ok to not know. It’s normal to be on a path to figure it out. Listen to your voice, follow your own heart, work hard and be yourself. Eventually, you’ll land in the right place where you can be or grow to be the best version of you.

Ruler: Jess Mersten

JESS MERSTEN
APPAREL MANUFACTURING & RETAIL

THE FAST FIVE

The Short Story: After completing college two years ago, Jess accepted a position in a rotational marketing program at a global apparel brand manufacturer and retailer. She’s just started her new full-time role as Analyst for the Japanese Market focused on a specific product brand of the retailer.

Biggest College Fear: “I didn’t know what success was supposed to look like once you start working. In college when you get the A, you know you’ve reached the epitome of success. There are very few qualitative metrics used in a classroom and expectations are pretty clear. But in the workplace, I wasn’t sure how to figure out how I was doing. Yes, there are raises and promotions, but those tend to be longer-term goals. You don’t have constant reinforcement in the real world. The gap of feedback in between goals seemed intimidating.”

Virgin Business Lesson: “Regardless of your role, it’s important to feel comfortable voicing your opinions and when necessary challenging perspectives respectfully. In my various internships, I had to deal with sensitive topics like race, culture, gender, and socio-economic issues. In France, as an intern, I had to learn a whole new culture. While it was important to acknowledge a different way of doing things, or respect delicate topics, it was equally critical to get my ideas across in a way where they would be understood and recognized.”

Industry Uniqueness: It’s an exciting time to be in the industry; and retail is fascinating. With the massive changes driven by online shopping, traditional retailers are facing disruptors like Amazon. There’s a start-up mentality emerging in the traditional side of the retail business – a new attitude that’s like we need to make a lot of changes quickly, so let’s just do this and apologize later if it doesn’t work. Retail changes fast, but your actions can quickly change the direction of the business. As a strategist, my input can translate into immediate results.

Right Now YOU Should Be: “Exercising your extravert muscle. It’s important to get comfortable meeting new people and finding ways to be outgoing. In college, if you stuck me in a room with a bunch of strangers and I’d go hang out by the bathroom. You don’t have to be the life of the party, but it is critical to feel relaxed in social situations and put others around you at ease. The professional world favors extraverts. But the good news is those behaviors can be learned.”

MORE FROM JESS

The real world was a question mark and an explanation point. I knew I’d get there eventually, but I didn’t know what any of it entailed.
School was all go-go-go. My parents were always supportive of college, so my path was accessible and well paved. The end of college itself marked a big item off the to-do list I grew up with. But I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. In fact, the question mark still remains because I’m still learning what I want to do which is both exciting and scary.

In business school, the pressure was intense around the ABC’s, Accounting, Banking and Consulting. Those fields didn’t click with me. I loved concrete things, and seeing projects through from start to finish. Working with a tangible product that I could help create and work with through production to markdown appealed more to me. While ABC opportunities were easier to find, I had the challenge of seeking out roles that weren’t as readily available or the norm at my school. Keeping in mind that I also didn’t quite have a clear vision of the role I wanted to play in a company, I pursued rotational programs that would allow me to see multiple facets of the business. Seeing the big picture and how everything comes together in an organization was really helpful. I have a lot of confidence as I start my new role as an analyst because I know where my work fits in.

When I’m out of my comfort zone, I learn the fastest.
The most important criterion for me when evaluating opportunity is what skill will I learn. If I’m going to grow as a person, that’s even better. I think it’s important to be uncomfortable especially on your first job because you have so much to learn, and if you fall it’s not a big drop. Plus, there are a lot of people supporting you.

There’s definitely a large learning curve with that philosophy, but I’m at an amazing company that really invests in their people. During my rotational program I was getting paid to literally be in classes six to eight hours a week. I could email anyone in the company so I emailed the CEO and got a meeting to discuss business direction. I transitioned into a full time job because I wanted to demonstrate the skills I’d learned, settle into a team, and find ways to innovate the business.

Right now I’m learning the importance of self-managing and how to manage up. In school, if you check all the boxes and you don’t get the A, you have grounds to speak to your professor. But in the real world, your manager is managing a bunch of people, and they aren’t necessarily keeping your promotion and your goals on top of mind. So if you aren’t getting what you need or there’s a mismatch in working or communication styles you need to be able to vocalize and address the issue. Avoiding the issue or letting it continue won’t make your situation any better, and leads to unhappiness. I had three different managers in ten months so I learned quickly how to adapt to styles. Equally as important, I learned more about how I like to work, where I need help, and identifying my own behavioral patterns. I’m learning to recognize the difference between not getting what I need vs. growing pains in a new role. More to the point, do I need to change my mindset, or do I need more from my manager? It’s about making sure I’m clear on what I’m doing well, where I need to grow and asking for things that address deficiencies to make my work life better.

The novelty of having a phone call with Tokyo at midnight really hasn’t worn off yet. It’s so cool.
Having this job right out of college is so rewarding because I’m able to make an immediate impact on the business. I see the results of my work. In retail your hands are on the product. You’re seeing sales; you’re looking at customers shopping baskets and launching campaigns that affect their experience in the moment. There’s this intense creative energy happening. I mean it’s not Silicon Valley. There are established norms and ways we do things; but at the same time, we have established relationships with awesome suppliers and vendors around the world who you can engage with directly to rapidly execute new ideas.

Retail impacts billions of people around the world. And, it’s just fun to play with clothes. I see the product around the office and I get really excited. It’s a product that boosts people’s morale – whether it’s a job interview or dressing a toddler. It’s so motivating when I hear from customers, “I love this blouse. It makes me feel so good.” Or, when I’m sent a picture of a customer’s baby wrapped in our bear hoodie –a gift she got from the baby registry; it’s a reminder of how you show up in people’s lives.

You don’t have to follow the school of fish.
My parents are both lawyers. They did a great job letting my sister and me find our way. My sister is an actress turned wine distributor. For a while, I thought I wanted to be a chef, so they bought me a culinary set and a book on schools. They went with my whims growing up. I’ve always had an interest in business, and remember being in restaurants with my dad in middle school geeking out over the business decisions—calculating turnover, figuring out how much the waitresses were making. Fortunately they never said you must be a lawyer.

However, the ABC culture of my business school offered unique pressures to navigate. As president of the student association there were expectations about my career path. So me, having this mentality of I’m going to try a bunch of things that start with letters towards the end of the alphabet led to some interesting conversations. Fortunately I had professors on campus that constantly reminded me of the variety of options. And I took courses that really interested me, cultivating a pool of like-minded people to hang with.

It’s so important to build your support system. I was lucky to have a strong family support system. But I also needed to connect with organizations and clubs to extend that support network. Surround yourself with positive people on a similar journey. Don’t waste time on toxic relationships or feel like you should stick with a group of people because of a minor common interest. Learn when a relationship isn’t good for you. There’s a common thread of ‘I don’t know what I want to do’ in college. Know that it’s ok to be unsure. Don’t be shaken by other’s that appear to be sure; they just may be swimming with the fish because they don’t know what else to do.

Patience is really a virtue. Wait it out.
Patience is so big in terms of things like recruiting. Opportunities come up early, and if you don’t pause, take a breath and gain clarity, you’ll get caught up in the cycle and lose sight of your goals. It’s tough because when you are in a competitive environment the fear of losing out or letting something pass you by adds to the pressure of making the right decision. But taking the time to find the right match in terms of company, culture and function – finding something that really speaks to you will ultimately keep you happy and successful in the long run. Take the time to pursue your interest and figure out what you enjoy. Avoid the mentality to go into something because you’re told it or because everyone else is doing it.

I’m telling myself the same thing every day. I’m an intense let’s do this kind of person. And on my new job I’m ready to help out and make an impact. At the same time, I know I need to learn where the pain points are and understand how the tools, people and culture work. It’s important to sit back and wait. Because if you jump in too quickly, you are never going to have that moment back where you can just take everything in. And without that moment, you may lose the ability to make insightful decisions later on.

I thought after graduation I’d be ready. I’d be like adulting, immediately.
I’m still waiting for that moment where I feel like a successful competent adult. There are weeks where I’m like, I don’t want to do my laundry, I don’t have time. Or I spent too much money going out this week, my budgets off. I thought after graduation, magically I’d be this adult; have it together, be perfect at work, everything in place.

My big revelation is that we are all still searching for that moment where we can say, yes, I’ve got it down now. The truth is I don’t feel more grown up or more professional than a year and a half ago when I was a student, but I’m excited to continue developing into the person I’m meant to be.

 

Ruler: Jeremy Bergeron

JEREMY BERGERON
COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE SALES & RESEARCH

THE FAST FIVE

The Short Story: Jeremy is a college athlete turned sales executive for a technology company known as the “Bloomberg” of the Commercial Real Estate Industry. He’s been on the job for six years, and is on the verge of beginning the next phase of his life, which includes starting a family.

Biggest College Fear: “Everything up until graduating college was kind of like a script. There’s a syllabus in some form or fashion; whether it’s coursework, how your degree program works, where you’re going to live — the steps are all laid out. Once you finish college, the roadmap disappears, and that’s intimidating. There’s no one pushing you in a direction. Now, it’s all on you: your choices, your finances, your success, and your failure. Without a structure; there’s only the path you make.”

Virgin Business Lesson: “Schedule time with any Executive willing to do an in person informational interview. Whether you simply get the opportunity to ask questions or build a relationship, learning from the people who have tenure and experience is invaluable.”

Industry Uniqueness: “Commercial Real Estate is a big money industry with finite players and limited opportunities. Type “A” personalities make the environment competitive and at times, cut throat. It’s a numbers driven business and success is based on ROI. Regardless of whether you are a servicer or a day-to-day person in the business, compensation is based on how much effort you put in. I like that because I control my destiny–I reap what I sow.”

Right Now YOU Should Be: “Practicing your presentation skills. The kinds of jobs you pursue fresh out of college rely on communication skills. In fact, success in the recruiting process depends on your ability to articulate your value to the company and potential co-workers. It’s all about pitching skills.”

MORE FROM JEREMY

About a year into my collegiate baseball career, I realized playing professional sports wasn’t going to be my path.

In high school, my priority was baseball, not academics. I chose the junior college route because it allowed me to continue playing ball. But as Scouts began to evaluate and recruit players, it became clear which athletes were in demand. As the injuries mounted, and my body became less stable, I realized I needed to shift the focus to school, ace my coursework and figure out next steps. It was a huge learning curve for me, but fortunately, my junior college had an honors program with a great filter system to larger Universities. In college, I was totally focused on getting a job in the sports business.

I thought internships operated like college; that it was the entry gig to your dream career.
After graduating from Berkeley, I did internships with the San Francisco Giants, The Golden State Warriors and the Recording Academy, determined to make my dream of working in the sports and entertainment business a reality. But internships don’t pay—and with student loans coming due, rent, and other financial requirements I connected with a tech recruiter who helped me start my current career.

I thought internships were another structured path just like college, where you get the internship, then the full time job offer, prove yourself and eventually get to do what you really want in the company. But that’s not always the case, especially in the sports business. There are a finite number of full time jobs, and internships are often bodies to fill part time work.

During my dream internship with the Giants, several front office executives were willing to speak with me about my goals. I envisioned being a Senior Executive for a professional sports team someday, where I’d be able to steer the ship. But I wasn’t sure of the path to reach that goal. Every single Executive I spoke with, including the CEO suggested I pursue sales whether I chose to stay with the team, the industry or went elsewhere, because as an Executive you are always selling yourself or the business.

Any job or internship that had the word sales in the title I automatically dismissed; didn’t even read the description.
When I was looking for jobs in college, I specifically avoided sales. Back then, it seemed like your entire job was to bother people by pushing unwanted products or services. I had a total misperception of the role. Sales is extremely entrepreneurial. You have to find the product or service that fits your personality. I like the company I’m at because I’m merging different products to create unique customer solutions, so there’s variety in my role. We only deal with C-level executives so I’m involved in problem solving for decision makers and get to challenge my brain. You get access and broad insight into how companies work—not just the company you work for, but also client companies. If you’re self-motivated, sales is a great way to control your own compensation and learn any industry.

In sports, you drill a skill in front of a coach until you perfect it.

Success in sales is earned through the same discipline you develop in sports—repetition. Anytime I’ve had trouble with any aspect of sales, whether it’s trying to learn another vertical, working on a pitch, handling objectives, or how to network, I’ve sought out someone who knows how to do it better. I’m a believer of asking questions to folks who know how to do something the right way, with the intention of taking the feedback to get better. I’ll ask for one on one time with a more senior sales rep, or the sales management team and drill, so to speak, until I perfect the skill. Some sales people may just float; try to figure things out on their own or on the fly. But that approach means putting opportunities at risk, potentially damaging a chance to earn the business. For me, it’s just easier to ask, learn, and have a trusted solution at hand.

Now, I pay attention to the higher conversations happening in the company. When I started working, my focus the first few years was to learn sales, the products and the industry. We’ve grown organically and through acquisition to be a large publically traded company with about 600 sales people and 4000 plus employees. It paid off to keep my head down and really master my role. Today, even though my job doesn’t have direct reports, I’m running a team of about  15 people and providing support at all levels of the company. Sometimes, I’m asked to sit in on more strategic conversations like competitive strategy, product improvement, staying at the forefront of the industry and partnerships. I’m learning what it takes to grow a company successfully. Rather than being compartmentalized in a given role, I always want to be in a position where I’m learning and growing.

Six years ago my criterion was about pay, a cool ideas, or a more challenging role. But now I’m facing the unknown, and it’s scary.
At 29, I’m heading into a new phase of my life, and forming different priorities, especially around family. How to evaluate the next opportunity is a big question, especially when you aren’t sure of your direction.

One the one hand, being in sales at the same company for six years, is comfortable. The pay feels good. I’ve earned status, recognition, and achieved goals. Where I am has been a great start. But as I’ve begun the process of writing one year, three year, five year, and ten year goals, I find myself exploring questions like: Do I want to stay in sales? What would it mean to change industries? What kind of change would compliment me holistically—skills, wants and needs? Change may force me to start over on some level, which affects things like compensation, status, or the ability to negotiate for work life balance. It’s not just about me anymore. My thought process has shifted from satisfying short term gains to thinking about what’s better for the long term; what’s going to make me happy, what can I be proud to put my stamp on in my career and what makes sense for the people around me as I move forward.

Coming out of school, the world is full of opportunity and we believe we can do all things at any given time.
When I think about what makes me happy, undoubtedly, I get super passionate about the sports business. I’m still pursuing opportunities; and when I’ve been on job interviews it’s like I feel my lights coming back on. However, I haven’t been chosen for an opportunity, nor have I found something that’s the right fit. Rejection is hard, especially when your friends and your family know it’s a passion and are rooting for a win. In thinking through my future plans, it feels like I’ve got a window of three years where I can take chances. Pursuing a job in sports will definitely mean starting over—a cut in pay, title, role, and ego. I recognize that it’s ok for me to take a step back in order to leap forward. But again, it’s not just about me anymore. My personal priorities are tied to the Bay Area, which limits my ability to pursue smaller sports markets where getting a start may be easier. To continue to pursue this dream and keep my priorities in place, I may have to start thinking about sports differently to find the right opportunity.

Keep setting goals and stay connected to your network.
Out of school, I think I did a good job of finding mentors or people to bounce questions off of. But once I got a job, I just kept my head down, and got into the day-to-day groove. I wish I’d stayed more in contact with some folks and asked more directly for them to take a vested interest in me.

Also, setting goals coming out of school, even if it was a tentative plan, really helped. Continue to set goals, even as you progress in your career. Think about what makes you happy in life: career wise, socially, family, and financially blends together as you get older. It’s been a relief to step back and figure out what I want for myself even if I don’t have all the answers just yet. The process of planning gives me something to fall back on, while keeping the future in mind.

Ruler: Belle Lopez

BELLE LOPEZ
SOCIAL ACTIVIST & UNION REPRESENTATIVE

THE FAST FIVE

The Short Story: Belle is a Dental Assistant turned Social Activist, with a couple of stints as a Sales Associate in between. She’s completing her AA degree at Antelope Valley College in California, and applying to transfer to the California State University system to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Communications.

Biggest College Fear: “There have definitely been times where I’ve asked, ‘is this college thing worth it?’ But as a first-generation college student, I want my little sister to see me finish. I want her to know that you can overcome all the obstacles, financially and emotionally.”

Virgin Business Lesson: “I’m very nervous when I speak. So when I would have to do phone banking, which basically hours of cold calling and conversations with union members, I’d be like, please, just let me do anything else but this! Speaking is one of those things you just have to keep practicing. My Supervisor constantly reminded me of the bigger picture. In order to accomplish tasks that would really help those I serve, I needed to grow my communication skills and get comfortable talking.”

Industry Uniqueness: “Campaigning takes a lot of heart, emotion, and empathy. But at the same time, it also takes logic and analysis to determine what reasonable steps you can take to solve an issue or to make something better. It also takes emotional strength, because the journey to resolution can be draining.”

Right Now YOU Should Be: “Learning how to network. Seek advice from other’s who are doing what you think you might want to do. Learn about their journey to help create milestones for your own. Do your own research, watch interviews online, read articles, search professional organizations. Build a solid base so that you can keep moving forward with a roadmap, even if your direction changes.”

MORE FROM BELLE

My family was ripped apart when we moved from Los Angeles to the desert.
I was born in Los Angeles and moved to Lancaster when I was thirteen years old. The desert was the most affordable option, given our financial challenges. I went from six people living in a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, to living with my Mom and little sister, in a place where I knew no one. My older siblings were adults and stayed in LA. My father was working in a different part of the state. Moving had a big emotional effect on me; so the first couple of years of high school were about getting my act together.

I trained as a Dental Assistant in a high school occupational program.
Luckily my high school had this regional occupation program where they trained you in trade skills to start a career. I was thrown into a dental office class and was on my way to becoming a dental assistant. It’s so random to think about it now, cuz I’m just like, ‘I was really thinking that that was going to happen!’ It was freshman year, and I thought the subject matter was kind of interesting. And, it gave me some direction, so I thought, ‘why not continue to purse it?’ In retrospect, the program was very helpful because it taught me skills like building a resume, how to interview– things they don’t teach you in normal high school curricula that gave me a big advantage. So even though I didn’t follow through with the dental career, it has shaped a lot of what I know now.

In high school, they really push the “four year plan” – emphasizing the idea that if you don’t go to a four year college right after high school, you won’t go to college. But they never ask, “what are your interests?” or “what can you see yourself doing for the rest of your life?” The four-year plan isn’t for everyone. When I think about what I want for my little sister, now a sophomore in high school, I want her to have the chance to really think about a career now. And to have access to structured programs like I did that will allow her to learn basic professional skills.

Financially and emotionally, I wasn’t stable enough to go to a four-year college. After graduating from high school, my initial plan was to ride the dental career train for as long as I could. Pasadena City College offered a dental hygienist program, but the universe works in mysterious ways. I missed too many application deadlines and wound up having to take a semester off. I’d also been applying for dental assistant jobs to help pay for college, but kept getting rejected due to lack of experience. The job hunting process was frustrating because I felt like I’d completed four years of training with internships, which meant I had some experience, but kept hearing, “we can’t just trust a trade program from high school,” or “you just don’t have enough experience”. How was I supposed to get the two years of experience needed if no one would hire me? I became discouraged with the dental world, and wound up enrolling at Lancaster Community College as a full time college student.

At first, volunteering was just an excuse to go back and hang out in Los Angeles, but then I realized I was intrigued with union organizing.
As a Home Healthcare Worker, my mother had been active in the union since I was eight years old. I’d seen aspects of the operations like phone banking and recruiting members. So during college I volunteered for my mom’s labor union, observing the behind the scenes action.

Today, I’m the co-founder of Children Over Politics, an organization inside the SEIU Local 521, where I help organize the sons and daughters of labor workers to become more involved in their communities and social justice issues. We give young people space to talk about what’s going on in their communities and to figure out what they’d like to do to help the situation. The organization is led by youth for youth. Members of the organization are 14 – 25 years of age and include the children of SEIU members and the children of partner organizations. COP Chapters are located in Los Angeles, Fresno, San Jose and Oakland. Our goal is to encourage the youth to speak out on the issues that affect them. Now more than ever, my job is to give them the resources that they may need to navigate the political times; whether that’s legislative options or simply hosting the next talking circle. In short, my job is to engage and empower youth.

This job gives me a unique opportunity, because the union is open to hearing our ideas. We are rarely told this isn’t something you should be doing. We have free reign about the issues we pursue. I like the entrepreneurial aspects of the job and knowing that what we do isn’t just about hitting sales numbers and making money. It’s about how we can make a real difference in a life. The work I do here is more big picture and for the common good of everybody, not just one company or one group of people.

Right now on the job, I’m learning how to capture stories to convey meaningful messages.
Communication is so important. I’ve changed my major to communications and learned more about theory, how to convey a message, how to persuade or engage an audience. When I was volunteering in member services, anytime a member had questions about their time sheets, or their clients, I’d help mediate. So I learned how to communicate with the members, and mange relationships with outside sources that affect their job.

Now, I’m focused on telling stories powerful enough to drive change. For example, there was a documentary called “Rape on the Nightshift” that illuminated the sexual harassment and physical danger female janitors face on the job. That film played an important part in a campaign we joined with USWW to fight for a bill that would force companies to conduct background checks on janitorial company supervisors. You’d have thought many of these companies were already conducting these kinds of checks, but they weren’t. It’s a great example of how storytelling can translate into positive action.

People skills are so important. Whether it’s the empathy required to hear numerous stories of such horrific personal violation, or the ability to listen and find the real question a union member is asking you, I’m learning the power of connection and how to convey the right message at the right time. And, I’m really improving my Spanish speaking skills!

I keep finding new aspects of the communication field.  When I think about my future, I know I’d like to continue in communications. I do enjoy forming stories, building relationships and having the skills to launch a social media campaign. But the exact next career step, I don’t know because there are various aspects to communications. I know I’ll find more to explore in my next academic experience too. Someday, I would like to challenge myself working more on the political side of things. My Communication Professors have also been cool to engage with, so I’ve been thinking about teaching also.