#MyBossStory: How I Became an RA for Life

Lindsey Pollak with Yale students

#MyBossStory: Lindsey Pollak with Yale studentsWhen I wrote Becoming the Boss, one of my goals was to highlight how I moved my own career from beginner to boss. I love sharing #MyBossStory with young women who are just starting out because it doesn’t feel that long ago that I was in those shoes.

My story starts in a college dorm. No, I didn’t invent Facebook in my dorm room like Mark Zuckerberg, but I did something just as important (but perhaps not quite as lucrative!). I discovered my passion.

My career inspiration came from my time as a Resident Advisor (RA). If you lived in a dorm, you know what I’m talking about. An RA is the big sister figure who helps you decide which classes or extracurriculars to take. The mom figure who tells you that one bad grade isn’t the end of the world. Even the aunt who runs interference with the “grown-ups,” helping translate “college speak” for parents and administrators.

As I floundered with what I was going to do in the “real world,” I told a career counselor that being an RA was the best job I’d ever had.

Imagine my surprise when she said, “So, do that.” Uh, ok, I thought. Too bad there are no RA jobs in the real world. But she told me to think harder. Start my own company. Be an RA for a group that needs it.

Right. As much as I loved being an RA, I was done living on a college campus and at the time I didn’t have the imagination or confidence to see how I could use the skills I’d discovered as an RA to actually make a living.

So I did what any young, aspiring career person would do: I took the first job that was offered that came anywhere near my skill set. And that’s how I landed at WorkingWoman.com, the fledgling website for the magazines Working Woman and Working Mother.

This all happened during the “dot.com boom” of the 1990s and (spoiler alert!) it ended with lots of .coms going out of business. Yep, we were one of them.
During my exit meeting after WorkingWoman.com went bust, the head of the company went over my severance and some other particulars, and as I handed in my key card and laptop, he gave the laptop back. “Keep it. Use it to start your own business,” he said kindly.
And you know what? I did. After some soul searching, I realized that I actually could be an RA of sorts. I started freelance writing and giving speeches with advice on how to start and build the early years of your career, like an RA for new graduates. I made a little bit of money at the beginning, and then the offers began to grow.

A few years later, I realized there was something vital I could offer to professionals on the other end of the spectrum who didn’t understand this new “millennial” cohort. Just like I’d helped smooth the bridge between parents and college kids, before long, I was helping different generations in the workforce understand one another.

And that’s how my career was born. Since then I’ve given thousands of speeches and consulted with dozens of well-known corporations, conferences and universities, including Citi, Estée Lauder, GE, PwC, Ralph Lauren, Yale, Harvard, Wharton and MIT. I’ve served as a spokesperson for The Hartford, LinkedIn and others. I’ve blogged about workplace issues for top sites like Fast Company and The Huffington Post, and frequently talk to reporters from outlets like ABC News, the TODAY Show, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

I’ve written books, two of which are like RA guides for real life: Getting From College To Career: Your Essential Guide to Succeeding in the Real World and Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders.
The best career advice I’ve ever gotten and which I pass on now was simple and timeless: Do what you love and – this is key — do what you’re good at that fills a viable need in the business world. And it is just as appropriate, if not more so, today.

Although it may not be easy — and it’s taken me 15 years to build my business to where it is today — there is a job to be found doing whatever it is you excel at. And if there’s not, you can make one. Like an RA for Life.

Are you ready to write your own Boss Story? The Forte Foundation has a helpful download, “10 Boss Career Tips” available here. They’re also giving away helpful resources in their #BossKit sweepstakes.

Disclosure: This post is made possible by support from the Forte Foundation. All opinions are my own.

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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