Change is always scary but it doesn't have to be risky - Veronica Belmont, AdobeFeatured
What's the biggest risk you've ever taken in your career and how did you build up the courage to do it?One night in April, 2016, I sat in a hotel room in Los Angeles and cried myself to sleep. Which was a bit strange, because by all accounts it had been a wonderful night. I had just successfully hosted a major red carpet event for the biggest show on in the world, didn’t fall on my face in front of everyone in my heels, and most importantly (to me) the bosses were happy with my performance.But I was miserable.After twelve years of working in web media as a host, presenter, producer, and writer, I was just done. Burned out. To outside appearances, it looked like I had it together: I had steady work as a freelancer since 2006, with a string of moderately well-known (at least amongst the tech enthusiast set) web shows and podcasts under my belt. But the excitement of new projects and experiences was starting to feel more like a burden than a joy, and I was craving stability and permanence. Plus, have you seen YouTube comments lately? When that’s a major part of your job, it really starts to wear you down.Even more crucially, just how do you change careers at 33?In one sense, it’s an easy question: you just do it, right? Of course, our brains don’t really work that way, and suddenly all of the insecurities of an entire career come crashing down on you. Here are a few of my personal favorite recurring themes:“I should have gone to school for computer science!” “No one is going to hire someone so old.” (lolwut?)“I’ve wasted my entire professional life.”Clearly, my head was in a great place, so I needed to rethink my strategy. I enlisted the help of nearly everyone I knew, asking them to tell me about me. What were my strengths? Where did they see opportunities for me? What skills or education should I pursue? At the time, I wasn’t thinking of this as my personal advisory board, but that’s exactly what it was. I was able to harness the collective wisdom of my friends and colleagues to help make a more informed decision about how to take my next steps. Having spent years advising startups (and more working as a technology commentator and journalist), I knew I wanted to stay in tech and concentrate on something I was truly excited about -- getting more deeply involved with actually creating the technology I was so passionately evangelizing. From my discussions with peers about my strengths, product management seemed like a natural fit, and combined many of the skills I had already cultivated from previous jobs. I was worried that not having an MBA or a CS degree would prevent me from making in-roads during the interview process, and that concern seemed to be a regular refrain from those seeking to make the switch into PM. From the research I had done into the field, I knew having specific domain expertise could also help, so I picked a focus and became an expert on conversational interfaces.All the research and talking and reading still is never enough to truly prepare you for that first interview, and let me tell you — the first several were really bad. Really. Bad. In one interview with a VP at a company you’ve definitely heard of, I completely blanked on what “top of funnel” meant. But each interview was a new chance to learn what people valued in the role I was aspiring to, and a new opportunity to practice. I was fortunate to have mentors and people already working in the industry to test my interview skills on, so look to your own network when the time comes. Getting the hard questions from a friend first is much easier than blankly staring at a VP across a conference table, I promise you.Remember the domain expertise tip? That was what got me through the door after all. I had been spending my free time helping to run a conversational interfaces enthusiast community (it’s a thing!) and it was there that I met the co-founder of a new startup. I became employee #1, which meant being super hands on and learning the ropes from people who really understood product. After a couple of years building up real-world experience, I eventually accepted an offer for my second product role, now at a much larger company. I’m grateful for the chance my first team took on me (and my learnings there, which were many!), and excited to have the experience diving into products with millions of users and all-new challenges.Was it risky to change careers? In a sense - leaving the comfortable and known for new horizons is always going to feel like a risk, even if staying ultimately makes you more unhappy. I think about those early insecurities that I had, and I’m mostly just annoyed by how long they kept me from making the change. I also now know how many women share these insecurities, or ones like them. That’s one of the reasons communities like Elpha are so important -- we have an opportunity to shine a light on the things that could hold us back from having the careers and lives we deserve. Change is always scary, but it doesn’t have to be risky if you have the right people holding you up.Veronica is a product manager, podcaster, and technology evangelist living in San Francisco. Currently at Adobe, she is a product manager and evangelist on the Adobe Spark team, helping social media creators, marketers, and influencers bring their brands and creative ideas to the masses. Veronica has also worked extensively as a public speaker, startup advisor, and presenter for companies of all sizes, including IBM, Intel, Sony, AOL, Discovery Digital, and more.