How this Designer Pivoted Careers & Left Burnout and Perfectionism Behind: Sarai's Story
Sarai, Senior Asset Manager at Community Solutions, Inc.
I worked at a landscape architecture firm after graduating and realized quickly that I probably wasn’t going to want to do that long-term.
I reached out to Maya after attending a webinar that she and a couple of colleagues put together regarding doing non-conventional practice models for designers. At the end of the webinar, Maya promoted her coaching services. I wrote to her telling her I needed direction. We started working together in 2018.
Working with Maya Led this Designer to Pivoting Career Paths
During the coaching, she taught us how to use informational interviews. So, I was hitting hard with those, and reached out to someone who was one of Maya’s alum and had also been an architect like myself but had switched into a role in a nonprofit, centered around alleviating homelessness nationwide, working on their real estate team. She put me in contact with her boss, who does social impact development. I had never heard of a social impact developer. We had a good conversation. I was able to share about my own background and how interested I was in the work he does. And then at the end of the conversation, he said, “Well, actually we’re putting together a position currently. It’s very early on. And so if you’d like to be considered, I’ll reach back out to you when we have a draft of what it is.” So that happened. Before I knew it, they were developing the position as they were interviewing me.
It was very much a career pivot. I didn’t go to school for finance and the job title was asset manager. He was very honest and transparent with me. He said, “It’ll be a learning curve, a steep learning curve, but we like to have people from all kinds of backgrounds because of the way they think.”
That’s how I got to where I am today. And I’ve been with Community Solutions since February of 2021. Community Solutions is a national nonprofit that believes homelessness is a solvable problem. We focus on data collection from different cities and municipalities, as well as the real estate side (where I work). We acquire properties and convert them into a mixture of supportive and market housing. Primarily, we focus on the homeless veteran population, but some of our properties are for anyone who has experienced chronic homelessness.
Why I wanted to work with Maya
I had ideas of what I wanted to do. I had done some social impact work in school. I was coming off having done this pilot program in Southern Africa and working with local community groups. I was trying to make that into an actual thing, but unfortunately, there were just politics in academia that I was not experienced navigating to get funding. I went to Maya with those values in mind for working with and facilitating underrepresented groups in the design realm, as much as I could, and if it expanded to other realms, that was also cool. But I felt more comfortable in the designer lane. We parsed out those values, and then we went over whether or not it felt like something I could get at my current job or if I needed to look elsewhere.
Working with Maya
We did an exercise that had to do with finding my North Star—what that actually was and finding the steps to get there. We also explored the key components to starting my own business as an option. She gave me weekly behavioral change exercises. I’m a perfectionist at heart, not even at heart just, I am a perfectionist.
Now, thanks to the work Maya had me do, I'm a recovering perfectionist.
One of the habits we worked on was saying no to things. She made me say no to one thing at least every day and be okay with saying no. That was hard as the tendency for women is to always want to be nurturing so we often overextend ourselves. And back to the perfectionist aspect, knowing work is good enough and you’re “good enough” is probably somebody else’s exceptional. Not to say that that’s what it was, but it could very well be, so just stop overdoing it and see how it plays out. And it really always plays out well. I think designers and perfectionists are not a good mix. I’m just going to keep tinkering until somebody takes it away from me or until I can’t see straight, and maybe even beyond that. Maya helped me establish better habits and held me accountable, which was strengthened by having me remotely join a group of women who were also doing coaching with Maya. We met on a regular basis to check in with each other.
During these calls, we would do breakout sessions and ask each other questions on what we think we did well this week and what we think we could do better next time. I would get their perspective and their insight and share my insight with them. It was just a really cool community to be a part of. I’ve made friends from there. My supervisor and I have what I feel is a more transparent relationship since we both did the coaching. We can talk about things that happen at work and which of Maya’s techniques we used to handle it. We have a shared language from that shared experience.
The informational interviews helped me get comfortable just talking to people about what they do. I’m not someone who likes to go to networking events and all that stuff. She provided me with another path. She taught me how to use LinkedIn to find people who might have some helpful insight for my own career trajectory. She taught me how to break past the barrier of being intimidated by their title or career experience and ask 5 main open-ended and pointed questions. These questions opened the floodgates and people were sharing their candid experiences such as the pros and cons of how they got there, how it is now, how it’s different from what they thought it would be, and what from their past career or academic experience led them to where they are now. Since I am not asking for a job they don’t feel they have to uplift the reputation of the company and stay polished. They speak the truth of their experience.
Working with Maya gave me a creative way of getting out of networking events, and it led me to a new career.
I think Maya is awesome. The coaching was a wonderful experience. I especially love how it’s geared toward women and the dynamics that we have to deal with in a patriarchal society.
I have confidence issues, so I got a lot of value out of practicing skills with Maya over and over again to embed them into my behavior—how I talk to people, respond to criticism, give feedback, whatever the case is. Now, I take criticism, know how to respond, and do something good with it. In design school, there is a lot of criticism, and you get used to that form of it. Now that I am going into a different career, criticism looks different, so I need to make sure I’m receiving and responding to it in a productive way. Working with Mia has helped me be more confident in what I’m asking people for, and then when they’re asking me questions about it, just being like, “Yeah, I can do that.”
Gaining confidence also helped me become a better advocate for myself.
I was able to say to myself, “This job is great, but this isn’t where I want to be.” And “These are the values that I have and I think they’re worth it. In fact, I think my skill set would be better utilized if I’m practicing my values and these values are embedded in the work I do every day”. I can always work hard, but eventually, I’m going to lose motivation if I’m working hard at something that doesn’t align with my core values. I realized I did not want to get to a place where I had resentment towards my workplace or the people I worked with.
My new role is still challenging and hard work, but I feel connected to the mission. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to get people off the streets, and everybody has and supports one another in that same mission.
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