Santa Monica, CA
Let’s not allow others to control us, our work or our self-esteem.
I graduated from the University of Washington without a clear vision of what I wanted to do. I decided a change in geography would be a good start, so I moved to California to see if the myth of endless sunshine truly existed.
I have always enjoyed working with and helping people, so when a position working as a Hearing Specialist for a non-profit became available, I jumped at the opportunity. Within a year, I was licensed and working.
Our office expanded to Beverly Hills, where we opened a local hearing clinic. I teamed up with another woman to get our office functioning, and soon added receptionist, accountant and patient advocate to my duties. I felt good about what I was accomplishing, but I wanted more. Yet every time I thought about offering my opinion or sharing an idea, a voice inside me said, "That’s enough, you can’t do more, just stay where you are."
I felt increasingly frustrated until I worked up the nerve to share a few ideas with our new executive director, who had just joined the office to head the company’s new foundation. He was impressed with my ideas, and to my great surprise, asked me to run communications—the perfect marriage between my love of helping others and my desire to use my educational background.
Everything started out perfectly, but I didn’t feel proud of my accomplishments or myself. I was supposed to be a woman in a position of power, but I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously. In meetings, I became a young reticent blonde girl sitting beside her assertive male boss. My ideas soon became his, and he happily took the credit. Instead of standing up for myself, I began leaning back. I became insecure and started to believe I wasn’t smart, capable or deserving of my position.
It wasn’t until eight months ago that my eyes were finally opened. Traveling in Ethiopia I met a group of women who were breaking social norms to become leaders in their communities. They were starting their own businesses, supporting their families and kicking butt doing it. They didn’t apologize to anyone.
Inspired, I returned home early so that I could attend the launch of one of my campaigns. As I looked out into the crowd, I thought of those women and, for the first time in five years, felt proud of what I’d accomplished.
I’ve since moved on from my role as Director of Communications for the foundation into an entirely different arena: filmmaking. In my new position, I work with a team to find and share stories about innovative people who are working to build a better world. I’ve since discovered that for me, my true talent is in storytelling. I never would have come to that realization had I not taken the risk and leaned in.
A reporter makes the leap from the backwaters of journalism to the big leagues.
A recent graduate leaves the nest to find her passion.
Jillian Thomas Polyak
Marriage & Family Therapist