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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker

DEAR DAUGHTER by Ellen Donker

A note to Madeline

I have been feeling like a chameleon lately. In this issue we’re featuring 51 women in business. I’ve interviewed each one of them for her advice to her younger self and have identified with every sage word. Like most of these smart women, I can look at my career from the vantage point of many years spent in the trenches. That’s how you learn lessons and gain courage.

I thought it was only fair to turn the question on myself and pretend I was giving advice to my daughter. Settling on one thought was not easy, but I decided I’d tell her to trust the journey. I say that as someone who graduated from college with a good idea of what I wanted to do. I had a career path more or less – to pursue direct marketing. I had goals – one of which was to own my own company.

What I didn’t have, though, is a five or ten-year plan. Life, to me, was not that controllable and I didn’t believe I could mastermind it. By holding myself to a plan I was afraid I’d miss opportunities or be unable to adjust to life’s stages. I let life come as it would.

Certainly, I worked hard, trying to become as accomplished as possible in my field of marketing and advertising. My career was very important to me – I loved learning and improving – but later when I had my children I put it in second place, behind my family. This was an agreement that my husband, Rob, and I worked out. We wanted to have a home life that was manageable. I was fortunate to have choices and that Rob and I were on the same page.

This meant staying out of the work force for a time and later working part time. I found it hard, though, to put my career aspirations on the back burner. With work I’m an all or nothing person and the in-between zone was not very inspiring. Those are the trade-offs you make depending on life’s stages. There are times when you can’t have it all, and that’s okay. Raising my children made it all worthwhile.

By the time my kids were in high school and I had more time to devote to a job, ownership of Matters Magazine presented itself. I had never considered owning a magazine, but it was a business that captured my imagination and was well suited to my skill set, with plenty of room for learning. And I found I really like working for myself.

But mostly, I found that I thrive on the friendships I make with the many people who let me in on their stories (such as the women I interviewed for this issue). I love connecting the dots of their experiences to find meaning and to be able to represent it on the page. That, for me, is joy.

So, daughter, trust that the steps you take in a career will add up to something beautiful and, perhaps, unanticipated. Don’t expect to have your professional life mapped out (or your personal one, for that matter), but look for opportunities that will package the experiences and skills you’ve developed to add up to work that matters, and work that you love.


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