The “and” in the title is intentional.

My career transition and the global pandemic currently raging through our society happened together. I have found in this first six weeks of quarantine that there are ebbs and flows- living in this moment is not linear. Adjusting to a social-distanced lifestyle is an overwhelming task. I try my best to be patient with myself and want to share how I am continuing to push forward with the next steps of my career, more specifically, how I am continuing to develop professionally in this moment.

Let’s start on March 1, 2020. After 5 magnificent years, I left New York City and moved home to Athens, Georgia. That had been my plan for about a year. I knew I wanted a different job, but after reflecting, I also wanted a new way of life.

My original plan, before the pandemic, was to move home for about three months before moving again. The pandemic has halted my second move and has forced me to reckon with my professional self.

I am a social worker by education, with a specialty in social enterprise and youth development. I chose social work because of its flexibility and impact. The skillset of social workers has become more valuable in corporate and tech spaces. For 3 years I worked in corporate social responsibility through a non-profit. I provided social impact programming for corporations and high schools across all 5 boroughs of New York City (I emphasize all 5 here because I surpassed my step goal every day). This work was informative and though tough, really helped lay a good foundation for what I see myself doing (and not doing) moving forward. Again, I moved to have a change of lifestyle, which includes my day to day work.

In order to make the leap of changing jobs (for some of us it’s a leap, others might just need to hop, still others might just float to the next job without hesitation- whatever suits your journey), I had to first be honest with myself.

I wanted a change and I discovered I have the power to change my situation. To get my game plan started, I reversed engineered my goals by visualizing myself doing what I want to do and working backward. I did not want to just leave this job without first understanding what I wanted in my next job and even what I wanted from myself in my career.

Reverse engineering is a common exercise used by life and career coaches and can really be applied for a variety of goals. I’ll focus on the professional side of things for this. Here are some questions I asked myself:

Visualize yourself in 5 years. 3 years. Next year.

What’s different?

What are you doing for work?

What time do you wake up?

What are your outfits looking like?

What hairstyles do you feel comfortable wearing in the office?

Are you leading a team? Working for yourself? A part of a team? All three?

What do you do when you get home?

What kind of holidays/vacations are you taking?

What is your budget like?

I asked myself all of these questions and more to really get started on my game plan for leaving my job and moving on to the next chapter. I want to pause briefly and say the outfits and hairstyle question may seem trivial, but recognizing that I did not like the outfit culture (notice I did not say dress code) at my job was huge in understanding where I want to work next. Perhaps I will still dress in business/business casual, but in my new job will I feel comfortable to be more fashion-forward? Then maybe I can feel comfortable to bring more of myself in my place of work. It’s connected.

Sometimes starting from the finish line is key to getting there.

Once I left my job and NYC, I came home and COVID-19 ramped up. Stuck in the house and without a job, I began de-cluttering and organizational projects and reading. I just finished The Memo by Minda Harts. I highly recommend this book, especially to new professionals. The book is guiding my reflection on my last workplace. It also helped me form the language to describe my experience, to sharpen my resume, and capture the small moments that had a lasting impact on me and how I can better handle them the next time (because there will be a next time).

After reading the book, I set up a professional development notebook. I copied a few exercises from The Memo and set aside three blank pages to begin handwriting my network. Not all of my contacts on LinkedIn, but the specific people I would like to be able to call on for recommendations or professional advice in the future. I wrote names of folks who really shaped my journey and have committed myself to email/reaching out to them, just 2 emails a day. Using this time to handwrite a few notes to send to people or email just to say hi is a plus for professional growth but also may brighten someone’s day and we could all use some sunshine.

Zooming out a little bit, I want to call on the words of Dr. Cynthia Dillard of the University of Georgia and say that this time, for me, is about being in what she describes as “deep study.” Which is to say, doing the readings, investigating, becoming a student about your work. I am reading, watching interviews, and generally gaining new perspectives about my next career steps.

In the Netflix film Homecoming, there is a scene where Beyoncé talks about rehearsal, how it humbles you and it is the thing people dislike the most because you don’t want to mess up or look like you don’t know what you’re doing.

I think about this a lot and how I want to be in rehearsal consistently to do the work of gaining knowledge and figuring out what I do not know so that I can grow. It may be tedious work but the outcome is valuable.

What else is going on in my rehearsal time? Skillshare. Coursera. Youtube. All of em. There are so many courses out there. I joke often about wanting to learn how to install sheetrock, but there really is a video for that, too!

I am using this time to be a good student. To rehearse. To practice my elevator pitch. To figure out my personal brand. To do things that scare me.

I have the privilege to have the time and ability to focus on my professional growth right now. I understand that not everybody does. I hope that some of what I am doing can encourage saving some time in the day for even thinking about goals and next steps thoughtfully with your purpose, visions, and goals in mind.


GET TO KNOW CHERRANDA:

First and Last Name: Cherranda Smith

Hometown: Athens, GA

Current Job/Occupation: Social Worker (Youth Development, Program Management, Corporate Social Responsibility) 

Side Hustle: Writing

What’s the best advice you ever received as a student or young professional?

There are so many pieces of advice that can be best summed up in a quote from Zora Neale Hurston. “I do not weep at the world. I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” If the world is our oyster, you need the proper tools, in their best quality, to open up its possibilities. This quote summarizes the necessity of shifting focus, understanding purpose and going after what is divinely yours. Believe that you can find something special for yourself when you dig and do the work. Know that there is an art and science to the craft of being yourself.

How can people contact Cherranda for more information:

Instagram: @cherranda_

Email: cherrandasmith@gmail.com


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