One year into my first job out of college, my manager pulled me into a conference room and asked me how I would like to work in a different group. Initially I didn't understand the question, but soon found out he meant I needed to look for a different job. The reason was vague; basically my mentor just thought I was not good at the job. He offered no specifics about exactly what I was doing wrong or what I could improve on, and I had just had a good annual review.
Still, I had had a hard time with the job. Many things were just a blur and I had minimum communication with my mentor, who was not around to tell me his opinion to my face. When I asked him about it, he tried to comfort me by saying maybe it’s for the better because he didn’t think I was engineering material. He said he didn’t want to give me criticisms because he didn’t think I had thick enough skin to take it. He seemed to have a perception of who I was, even though he rarely talked to me and stared into the wall the few times we did talk.
I went home and thought hard about my career. I questioned my ability and whether my mentor was right. I’ve never been so confused and frustrated and I felt like a failure.
But then I thought, "Wait a minute, what just happened? Why wouldn't my mentor talk to me about my mistakes and help me improve along the way? Why don't they just fire me outright if I was so horrible at this job?"
In the end I decided that what I really needed was a different mentor, someone who would hear me out and give constructive criticism. I decided to lean in.
A few days later I approached another manager in my group for guidance and transferred to work under her. She talked to the director to get the story straight and found out exactly what I needed to improve. We had weekly meetings to discuss my progress. A few other coworkers lent a hand to share ideas about how I could succeed. I took a technical writing class at the community college recommended by a coworker who also speaks English as her second language, and I read the books recommended to me. In the end I kept my job.
But while working hard, I also set out to look for a new job. I soon had a better offer and decided to get a fresh start. A couple of years later the company promoted me, and better yet, no one told me that I couldn’t be an engineer. A few people at my old job, including some other managers under the same director, told me it had all been a big mistake. Six years later I’m now working as an engineer making Kindles for Amazon.
Even though I left my first job many years ago, all that experience has served me well later on in my career. I learned how to write more effective e-mails, how to ask pointed questions, how to address conflicts with people and how to detect a bad relationship with my direct supervisor. I learned that I needed to believe in myself and not let someone who doesn’t know me to doubt my abilities. I guess that all comes with experience.
To young women who want to make something of themselves, I would say it’s not easy, but if you believe in yourself and work hard, it will all be worth it in the end. You will surprise yourself with what you are capable of.