One of the delights of having a blog is the occasional e-mail from someone like Valarie Hogan who says — I am smack in the middle of dreaming and disrupting. Are you interested in my story? YES, I am. If you loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as much as I did, you'll especially appreciate Valarie's story.
The story of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory has taken on new meaning as I’ve gotten older, especially Roald Dahl's sequel “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator,” which is really where my story begins. Unlike regular elevators, which just go up and down, the Great Glass Elevator can go in any direction – up, over, under or sideways! Clearly, a great start for an adventure.
I started on my own adventure in 2006 when I graduated magna cum laude with a degree in international business and a minor in Japanese language and literature. I was 22 and I was ready to take on the world. My first stop was at a national consulting firm. My father was, and still is, a consultant and it seemed like a great way to start a career. Yet, after three months, I knew something wasn’t right. I had always been highly motivated and engaged in my work: always the first with my hand up and eager to get the highest grades. But, all of a sudden, it was gone. I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning and Mondays felt like a death sentence. I didn’t see the point of the work I was doing and I just stopped wanting to do anything.
So, I started pursuing a new dream — law school. Not very original, I know, but I thought, hey I’m good at school so going back to school will obviously solve all my problems. Famous last words, right? I got through it, but I was still having trouble feeling motivated. Propelled forward by the machine that is the law firm recruiting process, I moved to D.C. after graduation to work for a large firm. What seemed like a safe bet was, however, not immune from the bad economy and the firm closed six months later. Strangely, this was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me (although if you’d ask how I felt when it happened I probably would have just started crying).
It was the first time that I realized that I wasn’t completely in control of my life, let alone my career. I quickly landed at a new firm, but now I couldn’t ignore the feeling that something was missing – I wasn’t willing to spend more time waiting to feel engaged in my work. So, like the annoying kids who get on the elevator and press the button for every floor I started disrupting myself in ways both large and small to see what worked.
I took up no fewer than six hobbies – everything from sewing to cooking to creative writing. I joined professional and social organizations. I even changed jobs again to see if it would make a difference.
As it has a way of doing, though, life intervened. My boyfriend of four years was offered his dream job back in Canada. As it turned out, this was the disruption I had been waiting for. I bought a one-way ticket to Toronto and, amazingly, the stars aligned: a Canadian firm hired me to do work that I’m excited to do. Most importantly, I felt motivated again. Going through this latest disruption, a vision for my future came sharply into focus and I could finally visualize my dream and what success might look like.
When I was younger, I bought into the idea that you have to always be moving forward to be successful. My legal education reinforced this view of success: law firms are notoriously hierarchical – you either move up or out. However, I’ve learned that when it comes to careers, or life for that matter, there are no cardinal directions. In reality, and as my own experiences have shown, we’re all just like Charlie in the Great Glass Elevator: we can go up, over, under or sideways. We have control over what our own dreams and success looks like. So what are you waiting for? Push the button!
Are you going up, over, under or sideways with your dreams?
Valarie graduated from Harvard Law School in 2010 and almost immediately embarked on a disruptive path that has resulted in great personal and professional growth. She writes about transitioning from Big Law to Public Interest work for Ms. JD – an organization for young female law students and lawyers – and you can find her advice here: http://ms-jd.org/blogs/