Valerie Jarrett on Being Flexible in Life

Valerie Jarrett to Wellesley College graduates on May 31, 2013:

If you are willing to be flexible, you will find your true passion. So don’t restrict your options, and limit your potential, with arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines. During my senior year of college, I made what I thought was the perfect plan. First, I would head straight to law school, then find the love of my life, marry by the time I was 26, have my first baby by 30, ever mindful of my biological clock, and make partner at a great law firm by 31. Well, I went straight to law school. I married the figurative boy next door. After three years of practicing at an excellent law firm, I moved to another firm that I thought was even more prestigious. And my daughter was born just before my 29th birthday. Right on schedule, huh? Not so fast! By 30, I was separated from my husband, and I clearly remember sitting in my lovely office with a magnificent view, staring at a very lucrative pay stub, and bursting into tears because I was just miserable. So, I had to make a decision. Keep following my plan, or be honest with myself, and search for my true passion. A year earlier, at the recommendation of the senior woman partner in my firm and my first real mentor, I had participated in a young leaders program that exposed me to a diverse range of business, civic and political leaders, all working to make Chicago better. That experience motivated me to finally consider public service. So, I took a leap of faith, and began my career in the public sector. I moved out of my cushy office, and into a tiny cubicle facing an alley. But from my very first day, I knew that I was right where I belonged.

And as a bonus, four years later, I hired a brilliant young lawyer with whom I instantly bonded, because she too had become disenchanted with the law firm life, and wanted to serve her community. Her name was Michelle Robinson, and when we met, she was engaged to a skinny guy with a funny name– Barack Obama. And the rest, well, you know the rest.

But the lesson really is that it is healthy to explore, so that you may discover unanticipated detours that will actually hasten your achievement of your dreams. Do not blindly ignore opportunities to change course, and certainly do not let others impose their priorities on you. From the neurobiologist who becomes an author of children’s books, to the editor of law review who decides to run for state senator, to the mother of three who decides to go back to school when her children are older because she always dreamed of being a doctor, to the mom or dad who decides to scale back their responsibilities at work in order to spend more time with their children. These are not decisions that should be judged by others. These decisions are all choices made by people living their lives on their terms.

But to do this will require you to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and to be resilient.

Life often surprises us. As I look back on my life and career I never expected to do most of what I did.

Life is not controllable and predictable. Life is messy, inefficient, and nonlinear.

Plan what you can; take bold action, reflect on your experiences, and change your course as necessary.

Travel boldly.

Valerie Jarrett on Criticism

Valerie Jarrett to Wellesley College graduates on May 31, 2013:

I guarantee that everyone here who challenges the status quo will face criticism, disappointment and setbacks. Change is hard. Very hard. You will make mistakes, you will fail, and face rejection. In fact, if you never slip and fall, you’re being too cautious. Don’t let fear debilitate you. I used to be petrified of public speaking. I avoided it at all costs until I landed a big job opportunity where one of my principal responsibilities was… public speaking. Well, fear of failure motivated me to practice over and over and over. Slowly I began to realize that just because I was nervous did not mean I had to show it. And over time, what once took courage, I now enjoy.

And you don’t have to turn every one of life’s injustices into a “thing”. No matter how hard you may try, not everyone will like you, or what you have to say, or show you the respect that you have shown to one another while here at Wellesley. I remember this every time I look at my Twitter feed.

You will inevitably encounter people both professionally, and in your personal life, who try to shine at your expense, and undermine you whenever they can. They’ll deliberately try to hold you back, and break your spirit. Be patient, keep focused on doing your very best, shrug, laugh, and bounce back. Over the long haul, you’ll earn your colleagues’ respect, your bosses will recognize your talents, and your true friends will reveal themselves, and if any of them don’t respect you after you have given it a fair shot, go back to lesson number one: Be flexible, and move on. Prove ’em wrong. Success is the best revenge.

You will discover criticism is just a necessary price for success.


via Valerie Jarrett: Be Flexible. Be Resilient..