Be daring

I’m about to make a big change in my professional life. As career change often does, this feels big, daring, significant.  I don’t often talk in detail about my “day job” in specific terms in this space, though anyone who knows me I’m pretty transparent about how I feel my work (until last week, at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota) and my passions (the stuff I do here at blend together. I love working, and I love writing – I would have far less to say about balancing work and life if I didn’t get up every day and go to a place I love to do a job that challenges my brain.

A few months ago, I was approached about taking a role at Optum, which is a part of UnitedHealth Group. It was an opportunity to do more of the stuff that makes up my favorite parts of my job, which is a great way to think about career progression – it’s not always about moving “up” (though that’s nice too), it can also be about finding roles that increase the percentage of your day spent working on the things that get your juices flowing, and decrease that spent on stuff that doesn’t. And this move means that I get to do this work at one of the biggest, most complex, fastest growing companies in the state.

Sounds great! So what’s the problem?

Every time I sit down to think about the changes in store for me starting next week, my head starts to swirl a bit and I have to sit down to regain my equilibrium. What, exactly, feels so heady and daring about this change?

Well first, there are lots of unknowns: a new role, fully intended to rapidly evolve in my first few months. I’m joining a large, existing, and by all accounts very high-functioning division, but my immediate department is newly assembled and the person I’m reporting to starts the same day I do. Optum is a high-performance and competitive culture – one which is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying to contemplate becoming a part of: will I be able to cut it?

Second, there’s a voice in my head whispering, “be careful what you wish for….you just might get it.” Everything about this decision has forced me to walk the talk I share here on the blog. I leaned on my personal board of directors – my career masterminds – for everything from the interview prep to the salary negotiation. I put on my big girl boots and was bold and advocated for myself as I transitioned out of one role and prepared to transition into the new one. I spent time thinking about this decision in the context of my long term career goals, and came to terms with the fact that I’ve got fewer working years ahead of me than I do behind me. I named my ideal role and articulated my conditions and while I didn’t get everything, I got a lot. And I’m proud of myself for all of that.

This is harder than it looks.

Let me tell you what – this stuff doesn’t come easy. I was sweaty on almost every phone call, had knots in my stomach for every hard conversation, spent more than a few sleepless nights contemplating my choices, and in the end made the decision to leap, to be daring. But that leap – the daring action – feels like I’ve stepped out onto a tightrope, and I know that I’m not supposed to look down. Yet that’s really all I can think about – DON’T LOOK DOWN – instead of looking ahead and greeting what ever is coming at me.

I suspect I’ll feel entirely different about this at the end of my first day, my first week, my first month. I’ll likely look back at this post, roll my eyes and feel the flush of embarrassment and say something like “it’s NO BIG DEAL Jen, it’s a new job. That’s all. Get over yourself – people do this every day.”

But between us, I wanted to acknowledge the fact that when we do what we say we’re going to do, to go after what we say we want, the back side of being bold and daring can feel scary. Here’s to keeping our eyes on the horizon, being bold, and taking the leap.


Jen S.

Jen Swanson (@jgswanson) a digitally curious designer of experiences, a mom, a wife, a reader, a gardener, a cook, and a little bit of a bad-ass. Professionally speaking, of course.

11 Responses

  1. Heather L. says:

    Congratulations! Advocating for what you want and what you are worth is difficult. Often we are raised to take what is offered, and be grateful we were invited to the table. You will be great and they are lucky to have you.

  2. megan f says:

    Great piece Jen – So excited for you to be taking the leap – eyes on the horizon is right!

  3. Jen,

    Congratulations on exciting new opportunity! I started following your blog via Pollen’s Work Redux on Voice about a month ago. I went to that event on day 2 in my new career- terrified and trembling about whether or not this was the right choice. I didn’t even really know how to introduce myself in this new role. I just didn’t have the vocab or the confidence.

    You and the other speakers really colored my outlook in this new opportunity. You all helped me realize that while, yes change is scary, you need to show up, be yourself, and bring fierce ideas to the table. And I know that’s what you’ll do at Optum.

    I know exactly how you are feeling right now. It is TERRIFYING. But you’ll do great! You are such an inspiration to young career-women like myself.

    You got this!

    • Jen S. says:

      Thanks Krystal! This makes me so happy to hear – both as a boost of confidence for my start next week, and to know that the Pollen Work Redux event had such an impact!

  4. Tina Uhing says:

    You. Are. Amazing. Proud of you..

  5. Libby Huebner says:

    Congratulations Jen! You continue to inspire me, and I think Optum will know very quickly that they are so lucky to have you.

  6. I love hearing the perspective on this Jen and I’m excited to hear about your new ventures with Keith at Optum. Most of all, I enjoyed the headline as it is one that I think about often, especially with future entrepreneurial plans arguing amongst themselves in my mind.

  7. Suzie Goan says:

    Jen – congratulations on the new position and what a great post! I passed it along to my twenty something kids!!

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