Friday, January 1, 2016

Re-Entering the Workplace After Being a SAHM (and A Couple Things I Learned in The Process)

One of the things I've always valued about Mattel was the holiday break in between Christmas and New Years. What a great way to refuel your employees. I love being home with my kids during their school break... And I love being able to fit in a much needed blog post! The ability to hit up all of the post Christmas sales doesn't suck either!

The reason I've decided to write this post is not to say, "Hey look at me, I got an awesome job..." but to encourage any woman (or man!) out there who are thinking about going back in to the work place after taking a long break to raise children. And to debunk the myth that I was just handed this job out of mid air. I want to actually explain how hard I worked to make this happen, and how every prayer I said was answered- and then more.

First off, when I decided to go back to work about 7 or 8 months ago, it is not something I did because I believed in my ability to land some amazing job back in my old field of toy design- I will touch on my mountains of insecurities soon! It was because financially we were in a place were I needed to make an income. After a lot of thought my husband was leaving his job in Santa Barbara and we weren't sure where his next job was coming from. We'd lived modestly (on a youth pastor's salary) for our 9 years of marriage, but in order to do any of the things we actually wanted to do (like family vacations or send our kids to college) we realized I really needed to start looking to get back in to a career, for immediate as well as future needs. At first, I'm not going to lie, it was a daunting thought to me for so many reasons. Although I never set out to be a SAHM, I didn't hate it. I mean, it definitely didn't come as naturally for me as some of my other mom friends, but the thought of giving it up still stung. As a flight attendant my own mom was gone a lot working to provide for us so I'll admit I had pre-conceived ideas that I'd never see my kids again if I went back to a career. On top of that I'm a Christian and we all know the Proverbs 31 woman did not go to work every day... OH WAIT, YES SHE DID. I digress... Despite so many thoughts, I forged on and began brainstorming different career paths.

*Just to touch on my party planning business, Miss Party Mom Event Planning... It was a great run. I'm sure if you've followed me for any amount of time you know how much I enjoyed it. From filming for Nickelodeon, to an article in American Baby Magazine and numerous online features across all the party sites... It was a ton of fun and gave me so much creativity while staying home with the kids. For our family though, there came a point when I needed to make real money and I will be there first to admit, party planning is a hard industry to do that in. Plus, in all transparency... The messes drove Shawn nuts. And messes/chaos/putting things away for days after throwing a party are inevitable- ask any party planner! Bottom line, I really don't know how married woman planning parties do it... It was NOT working for us anymore!*

In brainstorming different career ideas, the first thing I acknowledged was that I never disliked designing fashion dolls for Mattel...And that I've always had a place in my heart for Barbie. Landing the job when I was 20 years old, after 2 years of college was a dream come true. I'd put in a few years in high school and college interning for Mattel and after graduating with an AA in Fashion Design, I pretty much said, "Now can I have a job designing for Barbie?" and to my disbelief they interviewed me and handed me a temp position as an Associate Designer. I worked my way up to Senior Designer and left there when I was 25. I designed concepts, features and fashions for Barbie, My Scene, Mary Kate & Ashley and more. Ultimately I was young, naive (and didn't realize how good I had it) and I left to open up a clothing store with my best friend Kelsey. There are no regrets with that, opening BFF Vintage Clothing were some of the best years of my life. But in deciding to return to work, Mattel was at the top of my list.

Upon telling a hand full of people that I was looking to return to work, I started doing a little panic dance in my head where I told myself all too often, "You're not good enough. You're too old. You don't have the right skill set anymore... The industry has passed you by" and so on. Even though early on I received tons of great encouragement and advice, if anyone mentioned something I needed to brush up on, I clung to it. During this crazy time (Shawn and I were moving counties, leaving a job- i.e.: financial security, pulling our son out of a school we loved and pretty much in all of this- having a hard time in life) I began seeing a therapist in Santa Barbara. I started to tell the therapist about how when I got moved back to LA I'd like to go back to work full time in to a career, but how this-this-and this reason, prevented me from doing so. Each appointment he told me that I needed to focus on my strengths and stop dwelling on my weaknesses. He said all the therapist cliches, "You ARE enough Kenna... Let's say it together... 'I AM ENOUGH'... Do you believe that?" HA! No I didn't believe that. He'd obviously never designed a toy before. I wasn't very receptive to his positivity until he asked me to list my strengths as a toy designer and bring them in next session. So I did. "Ideation, 3D Design, Trend Forecasting, Fashion Design, etc.". I thought he was pretty much an idiot because all I could do was think about my weaknesses- how behind I was on Photoshop and Illustrator and how my drawing skills were never the best... Why couldn't we just focus on that for a minute? I would argue with him that I had let this industry pass me by and that I probably needed to go back to school and get a degree of some sort to have a chance to go back to designing fashion dolls. But instead he told me to start taking the strengths that I identified and using them to sell myself in my resume. And so I did.

As soon as we got back from our road trip and settled in to our house in LA, I began searching for a job. Every morning I devoted the first 2 hours of the day to trolling every job website I could find. Incase you're not aware, LA is the hub of the toy industry. I sent emails to old colleagues and used LinkedIn to network as much as possible. I Facebook friended anyone I knew from Mattel. I tweaked my resume for each job I applied for and wrote new cover letters with each resume- I probably had 20 different resumes at one point. Within a week of being home from the trip I had (with the help of a friend) put together an online portfolio showcasing all of my work and had announced I was back in LA and seriously looking for a job. It's times like this you figure out who will help you, who will even take the time to look your resume over and give you some advice. During this time, the previous VP of Barbie Design responded to a Facebook status I wrote about being on the job hunt. From that point until the day I landed my job, she encouraged me in my job search. She sent me every job opportunity she came across and before interviews would prep me with any advice she had for that particular company. I will always be grateful for the time she invested in me and all of the wisdom she imparted and hope one day I can do the same for someone else.

The entire process of re-establishing myself back in to a career took about 2.5 months. Even as I type that I'm like, dang... That happened quickly, lucky you. However, while I was waiting out that time... It seriously felt like an eternity. We were eating through savings and I had unbelievable anxiety. I don't wish any of it went differently because it lead me to my current position... But I did learn a few things that I want to share. The first, and most important in my opinion, is to surround yourself with people that are rooting for you and pushing you towards your goal. I started taking advice from a lot of people, anyone really. Some that took me down the wrong path (unknowing on both sides) and some that spurred me on to make another call, or send another email. I don't know if my sister even knows how huge of an encouragement she was to me during this time, but she was literally my lifeline. If I sent out a resume and they didn't get back to me she'd say, "Their loss! Anyone would be lucky to have you, you're amazing!" To this day I still think about how powerful her daily words and texts of affirmation were to me. So, if you're looking for a job- get yourself a support system, like ASAP. Find a mentor like I was lucky enough to have with my old VP. Because unless you're THE most employable human on the planet- nothing will break your spirit more than looking for a job. The rejection is intense, and often if you're sending out resumes via job finding websites.

In all the advice, welcomed and unwelcomed I had wrapped my head around 2 things, #1- everyone getting hired in the toy industry had a 4 year degree now. #2, their skill set was a heavy illustration hand and advanced graphic design skills... Neither of which I possess. So, as I mentioned I was in self-doubt mode. One thing that I had forgotten about however, was the natural ability to get shit done, which I now know isn't something that can be taught. You either have it or you don't... and thank you Jesus, I have it. If you can get someone to recognize it in you, you're beyond grateful.

After about 2 months I'd had two phone interviews, a few phone chats with recruiters, a coffee "meet-up" (I can't even call it an interview) and two actual interviews. I was at a stand still and wondering how any SAHP ever goes back to work after raising kids... I was starting to get so bitter at Corporate America because I knew I'd be an asset to the toy industry, but explaining a 9 year break was A LOT harder than I ever imagined.

I may not have had a million interviews, but I did settle on this amazing
romper as my go-to interview piece! I mean, priorities right?
Around this time I was convinced I needed to do something to up my skill set so I could up my resume. My friend and her husband came over to talk to me about next steps in the job search and after an hour, they had pulled up an online graphic design course located in LA for me to look in to. When I first saw the price, I thought there was no way in hell that was happening. But you know what they say... Sometimes you need to invest money in order to make money! I thought about it for an entire week and then I asked my mom for a loan to prevent us from tapping in to more savings. My mom has always been my biggest supporter and she was happy to help me out. I started the 3 week graphic design course, commuting every day to downtown LA, an hour and a half each way. The class was intense- certain things I picked right up, and other things were so hard I was wondering if I'd retain any of it. During the 3 weeks, I missed both of my kids first days of school as I was gone from 6:45am-6:00pm. But I was learning so much good stuff- things I had wanted to learn for literally 10 years. I updated my resume (with the help of another friend) and was working late nights to constantly upgrade my online portfolio.

Earlier I mentioned that surrounding yourself with encouraging people during your job hunt is a must. The second thing I want to touch on is taking any opportunity that comes your way. No matter how much it might seem like it'd a dead end... You never know where it might take you. This next story is going to tell you exactly why!

A couple weeks in to my graphic design class, I got an email from a Mattel email address... I stepped out of class (strict no cell phone policy!) and opened that email within 5 seconds of getting it. To my total let down it was a PR company Mattel had hired, not someone responding to my resume as I was hoping for. The email wasn't exactly "to me"... But more like to any LA "mom blogger" that blogged to the PR company's desired niche. The email simply asked if I would be interested in attending a Barbie concert at the LA Paladium in exchange for a blog post about where to purchase tickets. Because I get so many of these offers a week for anything you can think of that one does not actually need... I wrote the offer off at first. I really didn't want to drive to Downtown on a weekend after driving there to class so often. However, I couldn't stop thinking about it because it WAS a Barbie concert. So I emailed back and asked if any Mattel employees might be attending the event. I was told probably not, as the agency had been hired to put it on and Mattel employees would not be working the event. At that point I figured I'd do the blog post and get my name on the will call list and if I decided to make it, great. After a couple days I had rounded up a crew of 4 year olds and thought, hey- we're broke and this is a fun free event for me to take Birdie, my niece and another 4 year old to... WHY the heck not?

We'll get back to the concert...

By the end of my second week of class, a toy company that I had already interviewed with called me back for a 3rd interview, with their CEO. The agreed to my asking price, which was highly motivating and gave me back some of my long lost confidence. They asked me if I would be ready to accept an offer if they made one- I was thrilled. The job wasn't totally ideal because it was a crazy commute, but regardless of that, YES I was ready. I was recommended to them by my old VP who had great things to say about the company so I was willing to make the commute in order to get my foot back in the door in the toy industry. Mattel hadn't gotten back to me at this point and so I felt I had to move on from the idea of going back there.

Back to Concert Day. We got dressed to impress, met up with our friends and were ready to have a blast... We arrived to walk down a hot pink carpet with photo opps galore and drinks like "Barbie Pink Lemonade"... I was so glad I made the decision to go... Birdie and Co. seemed to be having the best day ever. Little did I know deciding to attend was maybe the smartest decision I'd ever make!

An hour in to the concert, drooling over the beautiful Zendaya and dancing our 4 year old (and thirty-something) butts off to a routine we were learning from a choreographer, I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned around to stare at my old friend and colleague, who was now the current VP of Barbie Design... And pretty much the one person in the entire world I'd want to run in to. I was literally in shock. I think I even said, "You're not supposed to be here, I asked!" which she probably thought was incredibly odd. I told her how I'd blogged for the PR agency in order to get free tickets to attend and from there we caught up on everything, including how I'd been trying to get an interview at Mattel and now was looking in to taking a job at another toy company. From there things just began to happen. A Mattel recruiter contacted me that Monday which gave me hope and anxiety all at once. I'd wrapped my head around the other job and felt really hopeful about it. Although Mattel was my first choice, I also didn't want to miss the other opportunity by waiting on Mattel.

I told the recruiter on a Monday that I had an important interview that Friday at 3pm so anything Mattel was going to do interview wise, had to be done before then. Talk about a time crunch and putting pressure on the one company you're dying to get in at!

That Friday morning around 10:00am, I accepted an offer with Mattel after interviewing with a 2 people I already knew and had the utmost respect for. I immediately called the other company and let them know I'd accepted another offer. A few people disagreed with my choice to not go to that third interview but you know what, I did what I felt was right. I was handed exactly what I wanted and to me there was no reason to go and fake interest with another company when I had what I set out to get- a job as a Project Designer for Barbie. A dream come true in my book.

For weeks (and even now) I was in awe of how things came together- I felt like I was walking on clouds, like it had to be too good to be true. I couldn't get over how God answered every prayer, down to the exact position on the exact brand. I believe He paved a way for everything to happen exactly how I desired, because He delights in giving us our desires. All the tears shed and anxiety in the process and yet the entire time I felt Him saying, "Wait on me Kenna, my timing is perfect." I recently remembered back to a low point when another toy company never got back to me after what I felt was a perfect phone interview, or the one that did and told me about the salary which was 1/2 of what I was asking. I re-discovered in this process of looking for a job again what true determination looks like and how pushing through rejection sucks big time- but is so worth it.

I've never felt more gratitude than these last few months of being back at Mattel. Jumping back in to a job that I feel I was created for... There are days I feel like I never left. And the things that used to drive me nuts about Corporate America, like meetings... I feel almost honored to get a meeting notice now. I adore my manager and ironically have had framed Barbie illustrations drawn by my Senior Director in my home for over 10 years. How amazing that the artist in our house would one day be my boss and the colleague I had a great connection to in my previous life at Mattel, would one day be my VP!

In terms of switching roles with Shawn as the financial provider of the house, we've had a pretty easy transition which has surprised me. If anything, "trading places" has given him the ability to see how staying home with the kids is an actual J.O.B. and for me to feel the pressure of being the one to earn our income... It's no joke! It's been great for us in understanding each other. Shawn's been freed up to work on his doctorate, he enjoys cooking our meals, helping with homework and taking the kids to sports and dance practice. I no longer have to stress over cooking, which I've always hated... And I'm able to get the adult stimulation I'd been missing for years. For me to get up every morning and care about being fashionable again and put makeup on... It's done wonders.

Of course, the kids miss me and there are days Cormac will say, "I wish I saw you more"... But you know what, they said that when Shawn worked full time too. It's life. Someone's got to work. Our weekends are spent as a family and I'm much more choosy about what I do in my family hours because I know it's more limited now.

The last little nugget of advice I want to give is this: love where you're at in life, don't take it for granted! I was recently at the Manhattan Beach mall on a lunch break from work and I saw this group of cute moms wrangling their toddlers near the water fountain. I just stopped and stared at them, like... Wow, how sweet is this? I wanted to walk up and say to them, "I hope you're enjoying this time because you're making me miss it"... But of course I didn't, I'm not that crazy. But you know, there are some days I do miss it. But when I had "it", all I could think about was working full time again and how I didn't want to chase the toddler in the mall anymore- I wanted to come to the mall on a lunch break... Alone. Oh irony, you're so silly! So this time of returning to the work place has taught me to be content. Happy in whatever the current situation is... Because honestly, both roles- raising kids at home or working- BOTH are equally important. Neither one is more fulfilling in my book, just different. And you have to decide which is for you, which lends more to your family dynamic... Maybe there's a few years where one role is for you, and then you switch over. It's an ebb and flow, marriage and raising children. You're constantly navigating how to make it work the best possible way.

All in all, The O'Briens are on the up and up. It's been probably the hardest year of our marriage (maybe I'll blog about that next) but we've made huge changes and persevered. I'm incredibly thankful to each and every person who helped us end 2015 on a high note... I truly hope you know who you are.

Blessings Upon You in 2016!


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