By Annaliese Bennett
“We have to be able to try things out and to fail forward.”[O]ut of all the brilliant insights from the many talented women I’ve had the opportunity to listen to over the past few days during the Female Founder Collective’s What’s Next Fest, this simple reminder from Nadia Al Saeed, CEO of Bank al Etihad, has stuck with me the most.
The Female Founder Collective’s What’s Next Fest is usually a three-day summit held in-person with plenty of opportunities for networking and chatting with the powerful women in the room. But since this is 2020 and nothing is as it was anymore, the conference has been transformed into a completely digital experience. This in and of itself is one of the many dual-sided situations I have found myself in over the past few months. If the pandemic had never happened, I probably wouldn’t have been able to attend the conference in-person due to travel expenses and school obligations. So while a Zoom call may not have been the same as traditional face-to-face networking, this transition to a new digital frontier has afforded me an opportunity I likely never would have previously encountered.
Throughout similar conversations over the course of the conference about finding the silver linings in the world we are now living in, I found myself thinking about how some of these discussions relate to where I am in my life and career. For many, the pandemic simply brought their busy lives to a halt for a brief moment or necessitated them to set up a work-from-home space. But for college students like me with graduation looming in the near future, it can sometimes feel like we’ll never get a fighting chance to jumpstart our careers or pursue the life path we truly want. We are experiencing several simultaneous crises: a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a human rights crisis. Some days it can feel like an insurmountable wall. Other days, it can feel like the brink of a total transformation of how we think, work, play, and live. Here’s some advice from the powerful women at the What’s Next Fest that helped me better understand what it means to be resilient in the face of uncertainty and how to create a career from a crisis.
The Double-Edged Sword of Remote Work
After six months of working from home, the question of whether we will ever return to fully functioning offices and in-person workspaces is on the minds of many. Without warning, we were forced to transition to a completely digital work environment and quickly adapt our communication styles. Companies that had been reluctant to institute internal communications technology had no choice but to get on the bandwagon or fall to the wayside.
As a college student, this meant that not only were my classes online, but also that any chance of an in-person internship or other learning experience was pretty much out of the question. Fortunately, I’m a journalism major and many of the companies that were hiring remotely were looking for communication services, which led me (gratefully!) to my position as an intern here at little word studio. As discussed in one of the leadership panels at the What’s Next Fest, the widespread implementation of remote work has essentially opened up a global pool of talent, allowing employers to connect with prospective employees across the world they may have never previously had access to.
While this creates the possibility of a bigger and brighter job market, there are pitfalls to remote work. I am fortunate enough to have a functioning computer with reliable internet service and a quiet space to work. But accessibility is a major issue and I’ve witnessed some of my friends struggle to keep up with remote classwork and other responsibilities simply because they live in a noisy, crowded house with multiple roommates. The pandemic has revealed deep divides and inequalities throughout the world and if this is the future of the workplace, we must not only consider the opportunities that have been created, but also those who will be shut out by fully remote work.
In a panel focused on how to rebuild your life in the “new normal,” Lakechia Jeanne, founder and editor of Girls in Science, described how working from home made her realize that just because her schedule had always been jam-packed before the pandemic, it didn’t necessarily mean she was being productive. In many ways, the pandemic has made us slow down and consider whether what we are doing is truly meaningful and re-prioritizing what we think is worth our time.
While I was initially upset that the pandemic was robbed me of what was supposed to be the height of my social life, I’ve since realized it’s helped me get a serious grip about what life will be like outside of the college bubble. I’ve spent more time focusing on what I truly enjoy doing versus what I’ve always felt obligated to do to maintain a certain status or strive towards a certain goal. This free time has helped me understand what really brings me joy and how I want to incorporate that into my career. Getting intentional with your passions and aligning your goals with how you actually feel (instead of how you think you should feel) is something everyone looking to start on their career path should seriously use this time to consider.
Innovation and Failing Forward
Any environment where you can no longer do things the way you always have is a breeding ground for innovation and creativity. While we may not have asked for it, the opportunity for change has been presented and it’s up to us to decide what we want to do with it. Despite the endless reports of quarantine boredom and burnout, I’ve found that the pandemic has allowed me to tap into a creative side that I had quieted before. Incorporating creativity and creative problem-solving in my work style has allowed me to connect with others and build professional relationships on a more empathetic level, giving networking a new meaning.
In these “unprecedented times” (as if we haven’t heard that phrase enough), a traditional approach to job hunting and building a career isn’t really an option. Taking risks and allowing yourself to consider possibilities you never would have before is part of the inevitable failing of figuring out your path. I don’t have all the answers to where I will be five years from now and I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to not plan so far ahead. Instead, I know I’ll have the resilience and adaptability to look at whatever’s thrown my way and say, “Bring it on.”