Letter to My Daughter

posted July 20th, 2012 by Janet Graham - One Comment

I’m a wife, mother, family member, friend, writer and career woman. I am blessed to have a daughter and son and son-in-law. When Janet Graham and I first met, we conceived the idea of writing a series of letters to my daughter that would distill some of the lessons I’ve learned juggling career and family. While these letters are addressed to Lesley, they are also sent with love to Brian and Greg.

July 3, 2012

Dear Lesley,

It has been a long time since I wrote one of these letters but as we both know, life has a habit of getting chaotic from time to time. Today I’ve found some peace and quiet, an ideal combination, and I thought you might be interested in a few incidents from my early career days.

During university I studied mathematics, a horrible choice but what did I know at the age of seventeen? At first I imagined teaching, a traditional role for educated women, however, that option grew less and less appealing as I went from second year to third and then fourth. Happily I discovered computer science and looked to start a career in that exciting new world.

A much smaller group of employers interviewed on campus, but I do recall meeting with one of the big banks and a question that caused my hackles to rise. The man – middle aged, dark-suited and uptight – asked whether I planned to have children. Today that question would be considered taboo. I had two choices, lie or tell the truth. Needless to say, I did not receive a job offer.

With a bit of help from my father – then as now connections are useful for that very first job – I secured a position with an organization called Bell Northern Research, the research arm of Bell Canada and Northern Telecom (Nortel). What a fascinating place to work. I remember being in awe of all the PHD’s and Masters degrees my colleagues had, a lesson in humility. When I failed to be appointed project leader for a significant project, I was distressed. The new project leader tried to make me feel better by referring to me as Mother Mary, by which he meant that I was the one everyone else talked to while he had the boring tasks of managing the budget and project schedule and going to meetings with more senior folks.

A few years later, I returned to school, taking Computer Science at the Masters level no doubt because of all those brainy folks I met at BNR. What I should have done was a business degree but that’s with the benefit of hindsight.

Joining IBM was a happy accident. Dad and I needed the money since he had another year of law school to finish and IBM Vancouver was hiring. I was able to work full time and continue with my thesis. When we returned to Toronto, IBM found another role for me. Like many large companies, they trained me in management as well as sales and marketing. I learned about corporate politics, found a mentor, mentored others and changed roles every two years, which kept me challenged and interested.

Why am I relating these old stories, you ask. I think it’s because of what I learned about myself.

People skills are critical – some of the brainiest people I met were absolutely dreadful in the interpersonal realm. They rarely advanced in the organization.

A career path is squiggly – serendipity often takes you from one organization or role to another. Be open to such unplanned events as they can lead to exciting opportunities.

Organizations have cultures – you have to find one that suits your needs. BNR was all right but IBM suited me much better. The corollary is that culture changes – the IBM of the 80s bears no resemblance to today’s environment, as you know I discovered during a short-lived stint with them while living in Hong Kong.

Don’t hesitate to look for a mentor – such individuals can be of great assistance during your career. They offer advice, open opportunities, provide critical feedback outside the realm of your chain of command, and help you understand the bigger picture.

Manage your politics – by this I mean manage the necessary connections within and beyond your immediate group. Perhaps this is similar to EQ but I think of it as a more deliberate course of action.

Exceed expectations – I suppose this is obvious. Those who exceed expectations are recognized and secure new opportunities.

Discover what makes you tick – for me, it was management roles. I loved managing a team of people, helping them succeed, dealing with problems, and juggling lots of balls in the air. If I’m honest, I also loved being in charge of my little part of the world.

No doubt you’ve already had your own set of insights. We should compare notes!

This post was written by Mary Tod.  As you can see, Mary is a wonderful writer.  This is the third in a series of exchanges with her daughter Lesley.  I know Mary would love to hear from you (and so would I). Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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One Response to “Letter to My Daughter”

Comment from Bernie Sutton
Time September 8, 2012 at 5:59 am

Great insight – at any age and stage!

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