Jen's Winding Path
Over the next few months, I want to share the stories of people who have made big career changes because while we tend to no longer see employers as forever, we still view professions in the way.
Jen Lee Reeves, 48, from Columbia, Missouri moved from being a tv producer and journalism professor to working as a communications strategist in the non-profit sector. She received a BA in Journalism and an MA in Management and serves as the President of Just Right Strategy.
How would you describe what you do most days/weeks?
I support communications strategy and execution for national and international nonprofit organizations that make an impact in the world.
What did you want to be when you were eight?
I wanted to be an anchor on the TODAY Show.
What did you learn about work from your family?
I learned that hard work will make it possible for your family to enjoy fun life experiences.
What professional experiences/employers had the greatest impact on you?
Each job I’ve held taught me something that helped me with my next job. I think working as a television producer had the most impact because I have incredible troubleshooting skills.
What is something about your career journey that people might not expect?
For some reason, many people don’t realize I was a journalism professor for nine years at one of the country’s best journalism schools.
What skills were portable from what you had been doing previously and what was brand new to you?
Everything I have ever done in my career collides into what I do now. First, I was a television producer - I learned to think on my feet and come up with solutions at a quick pace. I also learned to write concisely and effectively for a general audience. Next, I taught television producing for a university and evolved my career into additional digital platforms for information distribution. Those skills helped me become an excellent digital communications trainer and led to my role teaching the entire AARP organization on how to use social media tools for professional communications purposes. Working at that large of an organization taught me how to create effective workflows to help tell an effective and well branded communication story across departments large and small. That job helped me completely rebuild internal and external communications for a large university. Most of these jobs also happened while I helped launch a nonprofit with my daughter, wrote a book with her and supported her public work - which taught me a lot about influencer marketing and communication and nonprofit fundraising and partnerships. All of these experiences combined made me ready to launch my own consulting business.
Why did you pivot?
I made the pivot because I felt I had skills that could make a difference for more organizations and people who work to change the world in so many ways. I wanted to support nonprofits that make a real difference and help them tell their stories better to raise awareness and gain more funding. I am making that happen.
What was the hardest part about making a career pivot?
My fear of failure is the hardest part. I want to be a big risk taker, but I have a huge fear of failure that will affect my family financially. I think I’m still being careful because I’m only two years into running my own business.
What were the most important lessons you’ve picked up along the way?
- Always have friends who don’t do the same thing you do so the activities you do outside help you see beyond your work community.
- There are some people who will not mesh with your work style. You cannot fix them, you can only fix the way you respond and work with those challenging people.
- Family comes first: Even if it requires job changes and saying no to passion projects. Family gets my fullest attention.
What would you say to others who are doubting their ability to make a change in their career/vocation?
If you make a change, you aren’t stuck there forever. Take each career experience as an opportunity to learn. What works for you, what doesn’t and use those findings to push yourself to look for the next opportunity.
Where did you get the confidence and support to make such a change?
I am confident in part because I’ve grown a large community of support through my time as a professor and growing a nonprofit with my daughter. I have an incredible network of smart and kind humans behind me who believe in me and can help me learn new things when I need to.
What was the hardest thing you had to overcome in your professional life?
The hardest thing was realizing my career path would be different from others because I placed family needs ahead of my career. It prevented me from some opportunities but it also opened new ones that wouldn’t have been possible.
What, if anything, are you hoping happens next in your professional life?
I hope I can keep supporting amazing people and organizations like I am today. I greatly appreciate the flexibility of being able to work from just about anywhere in the world.
—Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.