Mother earth gets a little break. As a byproduct of remote work and shelter in place, our beautiful planet has begun to see lower levels of pollution. Which benefits us all in the long run.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Mitchell, certified professional career/life coach and mom of three, thrives anytime she can be of service to another individual.
After a successful career of over 15 years in IT Project Management, Jackie launched her first business CJ Matthews Consulting in 2014, designed to guide C-Level Executives and corporations through project and program management.
Understanding that the need for mentoring never ends even when you are at the top, Jackie launched her second business in 2015, Jackie Mitchell Career Consulting. Jackie teaches a unique methodology, empowering executives and young professionals alike with the confidence to effectively communicate their needs as well as meet and exceed their career ambitions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I have always been very driven and most would say a high achiever. I think I have these qualities because I was brought up by parents who were not from this country. My family is from Jamaica and I grew up in a household where getting anything below an ‘A’ was frowned upon. I think most children with parents who were not originally from the US, are brought up like this. There’s this belief that you have to work hard to prove yourself to your family. It’s rather interesting because being born in this country with parents who navigated their way through corporate America, you see things a little differently when you’re on that path as well. As I watched my parents climb that ladder to success, I always said to myself, ‘I’m going to do that. I’m going to challenge myself to do what they did.” They didn’t let anything or any setback stop them as both of my parents are high achievers. My mother was in sales and marketing and became an entrepreneur, while my dad was an Actuary and transitioned into the strategic statistical side of marketing for global firms. College wasn’t an option in my household either. My siblings and I all went to college. We never competed with each other, just with ourselves. I think this because my parents instilled in us that we’re here to support each other and not compete with your siblings.
So how did this interesting experience and family dynamic lead me to my particular career path? Once I realized what I was good at, planning and strategizing, I wanted to take it further. When I saw the limitations of being an employee for one company and then being presented with more opportunities when I left, I realized that I needed to do something that supported my view on growth. I saw the ceiling as I grew in my career. I also saw the limitations of being one of, if not the only black woman in a leadership role, in many of the IT organizations I worked with. That didn’t sit well with me, and taking my parents’ lead on creating opportunities for myself, I started contracting myself out to various companies. Not too long after, I started my own boutique consulting firm for both IT and Career Development. My career path has always been to help other people while having the autonomy to work where and when I wanted. Starting my own businesses came out of watching my parents, although successful, not fully realizing their potential. They wanted that for us kids. I think I’m fulfilling what they started so many years ago.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
I had a tough decision when I had to decide on instant gratification or long term gratification that resulted in discomfort for my family. I walked away from job offers that were lucrative because I didn’t want to be held back and work within the confines of one organization without the ability to do the work I love at the same time. When I started my company, I was still working as a contractor for an IT organization. An executive I had worked for previously reached out to me for an opportunity to lead an entire department for a Fortune 500 company. I said no. I didn’t want to give up on my dream, even if it meant that I had to be uncomfortable for a while. I didn’t want to be distracted from my goals. Shiny objects will always come your way when you’re good at what you do. The key to success is to stay in your course and be true to yourself.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At my IT consulting business, I am leading several new and exciting initiatives and programs. Unfortunately I have a NDA in place and I can’t really speak in detail about what it is. What I can tell you though is that I am helping millions of economically challenged people get connected and stay connected affordably in these uncertain times of unemployment and shelter in place. Oh how I wish I can tell you more about this project, but even non identifying information will give too much away!
However, under the Career Consulting arm of my business, I am working on my passion project, the C-Suite Success Network. This is a safe space and community for professional women’s personal and career development, mentorship, and coaching. I developed C-Suite as an answer to the lack of mentorship and guidance in the workplace for women eager to expand their networks and understand the nuances of professional growth. They understand that the ‘whole’ woman needs attention. Similar to my private one on one coaching practice, we address growth on a ‘wholistic’ level in C-Suite for women and by women.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been many people along the way who’ve helped me become who I am today. I’d have to say other than the strong female influences from my family and my high achieving intelligent father, there were two women in particular who, whether they know it or not, made me forever grateful for their help. This is going to sound odd but one of them I loved and one of them I hated. At the start of my career, I had a manager who hired me straight out of college with little to no experience in IT. I was working as an Accounts Receivables clerk while I was finishing my Bachelors. She saw so much in me that I didn’t see in myself. She had an open door policy and I took advantage of every second I could to sit in her office and be a fly on the wall. I helped her with many projects and watched how she worked with people. I absorbed it all.
Later in my career, as I got older and I think a little jaded, at that time in my life, I was extremely on guard so I didn’t let many people ‘in’. I was way too professional to my own detriment. I was just beginning my career in formal Project Management and I had a manager who I just hated. She pushed me as well, but her method was very different from my initial manager who helped groom me. This manager was very strong willed and direct. She said exactly what was on her mind. She gave me little to no direction and would find fault in almost everything I attempted. One day in our weekly 1:1, she said to me, “You know, you’re very stoic. You have no personality. Or at least, you’re not showing any personality. You can get more done through other people when you show more personality because they may be able to relate to you and respect you more.” I sat through what I thought was a berading and I hated her for it. That didn’t stop her from correcting me along the way in my time there. It wasn’t until a few months after she left her role with the organization, when I realized that she was truly trying to help me. How did I know this? I stopped being stubborn and implemented some of the tactics that she showed and explained to me. I implemented her suggestions on being more relatable and more human. I began to show my personality. After that, I saw results fairly quickly in that role. My professional connections became stronger and I was chosen to lead increasingly more advanced initiatives. I didn’t know it at the time, because I was just young and stubborn, thinking that EVERYONE needed to coddle and be nice to me. I now know that both women have shaped who I am. I am full of personality, assertiveness, and I can navigate my way with various personalities at various levels. Nothing and no one can scare me because of their role or position.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
The biggest challenge I face right now is preparing my son for online learning. It is a very different model than in the classroom. One in which, at 11 years old, there is guidance and self discipline required to be successful. I’m not really sure how to teach him that or fully prepare him for it. It comes with experience and he’s going to have to try to figure out what works best for him. As a mother, I know that in person learning works best for his social personality. He’s a people person. So for me, as a mom who has her projects to work on daily and meetings to attend almost every hour, I anticipate there will be some challenges. Also, just the simple fact that people are home with me during my work from home hours has been different. I’m used to working remotely so that hasn’t been a challenge. What I found challenging though, is having my two younger ones home all day. Although they are self sufficient, it’s not as quiet anymore. My daughter, the middle child, is in her second year of college. She’s also taking online classes from home and had to move back when schools shut down last April.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’ve had conversations with them about how we’re going to respect each other’s space a little bit more. We text each other to find out when it’s ‘safe’ to enter and I put sticky notes on my door when I need to be totally left alone. We’re doing the best we can. I also told my team that I don’t live in a library so they may hear dogs barking outside, a lawn mower, garbage trucks twice a week, or the sounds of the neighborhood, because I sit by the window. It’s important for me to have a window to look out of while I’m working. It helps me focus and refocus when I need to. It also brings my stress levels down especially since I have a view of gorgeous palm trees, all sorts of birds and even iguanas.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
I don’t know if being a woman has caused any more challenges than normal even if we’re in a pandemic. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything more than reiterating to my clients that I’m a mom with young adults at home and there will be times that I have to step away to be there for them. But I don’t believe those are challenges. I have a life outside of work and right now, the outside of work is blurred a bit.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I communicate my needs and expectations with my clients, as well as boundaries. I make it clear to them that there are working hours and non working hours. I respect that and expect the same in return, but sometimes I still have to remind a couple of them.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I think it’s a misnomer to label where we are with our kids right now as homeschooling. Traditionally, homeschooling as I know it, is when children are literally learning all day from a caregiver, a parent, or someone of the sort, outside of a traditional classroom. That adult becomes the teacher. If your family has never participated in homeschooling, this definitely isn’t it. I don’t even think this is a type of homeschooling. As parents, we make sure our kids stay on task. In my family’s case, with my middle schooler, he’s attending school virtually, so the teacher is there and there is no need for me to teach him. I am here to help him with projects and homework just like before, but the only difference is the timing of it all. They may be starting homework or self paced work earlier in the day rather than ‘after school’. So, for me, with my kids being older, it’s not that difficult. For those parents who have elementary aged children, I would definitely say to create a routine, and stick to it as much as possible. However, you have to be flexible because things will come up. If you have flexibility in your job, you may want to reserve a no-meeting day once per week where you can work on your stuff and help your kids with theirs. It’s a juggling act, and by no means am I suggesting that it is easy or going to be easy. You just really have to find what works for you and your family. There isn’t a magic one size fits all formula.
I would definitely say that you should take it easy on yourself and not create these perfect parent scenarios. Also, HAVE BOUNDARIES. Just because you’re working from home does not mean you work 24/7 for your employer. Don’t neglect your family for what you think can’t wait until tomorrow or what you think you can’t delegate and ask for help with.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
I’m fortunate enough to live in a space where I can go out and get fresh air either in the front of my home or the backyard. I don’t really like to walk so I sit out in the front or sit by the window while enjoying the view of the sky. I take long hot showers or long hot baths and I keep up with my at home self care routines. Those have definitely not stopped. I have an amazing ex-husband who knows how to cook and has a space that is our kids’ second home. We’ll do dinner with them anytime they want, no schedules required, and we actually prefer it that way. I am really blessed with the support I have, that we both offer to each other actually. For those of you who have your partner with you, I would definitely say to share the responsibilities now more than ever.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Humanity has survived so many things before and we’ll survive this. You really have to create your own safe space for you and your family, especially when you have children, no matter their age. And if you have aging parents living with you, it’s even more important to create a safe mental space for them as well. Here are my 5 reasons to be hopeful during this Corona Crisis:
Reason #1: You can use this time to reconnect with those who truly matter to you. Work is just part of your life. Reconnecting with family and friends, albeit virtually, is a good way to keep your spirits up and theirs as well.
Reason #2: You can use this time for growth, professionally and personally. Think about some of the skill sets you need to work on. During this time of social distancing, companies are being innovative in their offerings. In addition to being innovative, costs are down to entice more buyers. So why not invest in yourself because the return will be golden once we’re opened back up again? You can come out of this pandemic with a whole new career if you’re not careful.
Reason #3: Geography is no longer a barrier. Companies are welcoming remote workers now more than ever. Why? Because they literally have to right now. If you’re a job seeker, you can expand your search outside of your 30 mile radius, or whatever boundary you put on your commute preference. This pandemic has proven that there are more jobs that can be done remotely than previously believed. This is a new paradigm. The companies that are opened to keeping with this paradigm will flourish with a whole new talent pool to choose from, even globally!
Reason #4: Mother earth gets a little break. As a byproduct of remote work and shelter in place, our beautiful planet has begun to see lower levels of pollution. Which benefits us all in the long run.
Reason #5: You can change and adapt. If you didn’t have courage before, I think this pandemic is making us all take a look at ourselves and what we believe we can do and can’t do. What I mean by this is that this pandemic is making us really take a long look at how we live and interact with others. We either like what we see or we don’t. I’ve noticed that those who don’t are actively doing things to get better and be better. So whether that’s being out in nature, riding a bike or walking, or getting virtual therapy to help cope with this or past trauma, people are really taking a look at themselves as a byproduct of having to be ‘locked down’ with only yourself. We are really learning who we are. The collateral benefit is exponential when we’re all learning and growing.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I talk with them. I’ve opened the lines of communication and we talk about fears and anxieties. I try to put things in perspective and maintain a safe and healthy environment. The best thing to do is to be open and honest. If you, as a parent, have fears, express them with your children in such a manner that they can understand you better and relate to you. I wouldn’t scare them. I would just let them know that you have fears as well and examples of how you’re combating those fears. Use it as a teaching moment when possible. But just talking about feelings is important.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When you know who you are, the world opens up for you.” I truly believe that. Why? Because knowing that you can have the confidence to move in a world, ‘in spite of’, you create opportunities for yourself. So when you’re confident, a ‘No’ isn’t the end of your world. It doesn’t shake you, you don’t need to take it personally and It’s not a rejection. It’s a ‘Oh… you don’t know who I am and I don’t have to prove anything to you because I’ll take my talents elsewhere.” Rejection is about their limitations and it has nothing to do with you. You move, and you pivot. You hold your head high and have faith and trust in yourself. That has been one of the most important lessons in my life. Which, by the way, I had to learn the hard way. But, I learned that. So if I can help other women learn that early on or even just pass that information on to them and show them how to get there, I’ve done what I set out to do.
How can our readers follow you online?
My website is www.jackiemitchellcareerconsulting.com. On social media, you can follow me on Facebook and Instagram @jackiemitchellcc or Twitter @jackiemitchcc.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!