My father gave me this advice when I was getting ready to leave for the U.S. “Don’t be a housewife. Have your own career and be financially independent.” That had always been my intention. I have worked continuously for the past two and half decades, returning promptly to my jobs at the end of the maternity leave after giving birth to you Jane and your sister. It wasn’t easy but I wouldn’t consider staying at home as an option. The choice became much harder when Jake was on the way. Honestly I don’t think I could have gone back to work full-time without the work-from-home option.

We spend the majority of our waking hours on the job and therefore it’s important to mindfully choose a career you love and a company that supports its employees’ professional as well as personal growth. Moving within the company enables you to learn different aspects of the business and eventually advance to the position that is the best fit for you. Look 10 years down the road, imagine what you’d desire to do for a living and work towards the goal with determination and persistence.

Having an experienced and supportive manager is the first step towards building a rewarding career. Use your network to find out what he or she is like before taking the job. You want to work for someone who is interested in you as a person instead of what you can deliver, who understands that you have a life outside work and who will appreciate you for going the extra mile.

Expectation management is key to work-and-life balance. If you have a good boss, he will serve as the buffer between you and all the projects coming your way. Or he may be someone who wants everything done yesterday. There are times when you have to work day and nights as well as weekends to finish an urgent project. But if this pattern continues and becomes the norm, you’ll have to draw the line somewhere and push back. Provide rational reasons as to why the deadline needs to be adjusted. Whenever you feel an expected delivery date is at risk, communicate with the related parties immediately. People don’t like surprises, but most folks can understand competing priorities and unforeseen complications.

Building friendship with peers and colleagues can turn even a mundane job into something fun and interesting. I stayed at Sears for 17 years not because I loved what I did but because of the people I worked with. I used to have a morning chat with Kathy about her daughter Sam and my boy Jake. I recommended green tea to my boss whenever I saw him walking around with a diet coke bottle in his hand. I brought food left on the office common area to my male colleagues’ cubes since these guys could eat anything anytime. Now I am making friends at my new job.

Communication and presentation skills are of great importance to career advancement. Don’t just gather data and make a report, tell a story of what the data means with illustrative charts and bullet point. Give your recommendations on what management should do with the findings. This type of creative thinking will be perceived as valuable and as a result you’ll earn you some well-deserved visibility.

If you feel stuck and unappreciated in a position in spite of all your efforts, you may either look for another opportunity within the company or externally. On my last day at Sears, many people wished me good luck and expressed a strong desire to leave as well but cited various reasons why they couldn’t, such as “I’ve got 6 weeks of vacation. If I leave, I’ll have to start all over again” or “This job is close to home. I won’t be able to find another one like this distance wise.” or “The grass may seem greener on the other side. Most of the time, it isn’t.” My vanpool buddies even said they’d keep the seat for me in case I decided to go back. The truth is you can be much happier and more valuable somewhere else. If you don’t look, you’ll never find the dream job. Being stuck is more of a choice than reality.

One of my dreams is to be an entrepreneur. Today that dream is still alive although I am quite content with who I am and what I have accomplished. Someday you may choose to work for yourself. Be aware that starting your own business takes tremendous amount of work initially without the promise of any return. But if you go after something where your heart is and find your niche market, being your own boss would be much more rewarding and fulfilling.

The first ten years of your career has an expediential impact on how much money you are going to earn. My advice to you Jane is no matter what you end up doing, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. ~Confucius

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