What if we started measuring career success in the present tense? - Christie Pitts, Backstage CapitalFeatured

What's your personal definition of career success? Has that evolved over time?The narratives we see and hear about career success usually revolve around visible, cumulative measures like money, title, and recognition. What a limiting way to think about a career! What if we started measuring career success in the present tense? A career is a collection of moments and experiences. We can’t go back in time and change what has happened in the past, and our career in the future is dependent on the choices that we make today. So, to build a successful career, we need to start with the present, and get curious about our current experience. Ask yourself: When you start work for the day, are you using your time in a way that is valuable to you? Are you working on something that challenges you? How does success in your role help you achieve your personal goals? Do you enjoy spending your time with the people that you work with? By continually making decisions that you can feel good about in the moment, you build a successful foundation for your career. When I was younger, I thought that career success was about earning a specific title, a high salary, and being known for my achievements. In a role that wasn't a good fit, I ignored signs like boredom, feeling anxious and unhappy, and actual poor health, because I was in pursuit of a "successful" career. I thought of those negative signals as the price to pay in order to make the "right" moves. What I didn't realize was that I wasn't making my own decisions as to what the "right" moves were. I was letting external influences dictate whether or not I was successful. My mindset about my career changed when I made a choice at Verizon several years ago: I could stay in my executive role, or I could move into a new role which was lower in status, but which aligned with what I was curious about. If I chose to change roles, it would seemingly be a step back because the new role had a less senior title and was non-managerial. On top of that, it was not just a new role for me, it was a new role within the company - which means that there would be no existing model for success, and no model for career growth from that job. It was completely uncharted territory. I made the counter-intuitive change and took the new role. I'm so glad I did! After time, it led to another role - which was my first working in venture capital. That led me to meet Arlan Hamilton, my Partner and Co-founder at Backstage Capital, where I now hold the most challenging and gratifying role of my career to date. We hold high standards for ourselves, and I still experience frustrating moments and setbacks. But, I get to work with a group of purpose-driven, thoughtful, talented, and creative people; I have a lot of freedom to decide what I work on and how my days are structured; and in addition to the joy of working towards a meaningful mission, we have so much fun together!Christie is a General Partner at Backstage Capital and Co-founder of Backstage Studio. Previous to Backstage, Christie spent 13 years at Verizon. She started as a part-time customer service representative in a retail store and was fortunate to hold several different roles with the company, eventually becoming a Venture Development Manager on the Verizon Ventures team.
Hi Elphas – as a reminder – this is part of our public posts series sharing conversations with women across tech on the topic of #careergrowth. Christie, thank you for sharing with us.Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Hi Christie, Thanks for sharing this perspective. It's a great reminder that careers are not linear. Some times you zig and sometimes zag. The important thing is to keep momentum and keep pursuing your passions and interests...Love what you are doing at Backstage Capital, and I am curious if your philosophy of 'measuring success in present tense' is also shared by Backstage for their founder / investment metrics. Is your team thinking about success in ways that other tradition firms have not? Cheers,Jocelyn
Focusing on what I want my everyday to look like rather than the job title has helped me so much. It helped me realize I was in a job I absolutely hated. I'm in the middle of switching gears and my everyday is now much better, although, I'm growing my own company, so we'll see if it's sustainable.
Thanks a lot for sharing this Christie, really loved it 🙌! And I completely agree with you on the points you made. I guess I've been lucky enough in the past few years to have a mentor/friend to help me understand how I should be growing and the things to look at when jumping the ship. Always found it hard to move to another job, as I thought that one of my strengths was commitment/loyalty (I always wanted to finish projects and support the teams I worked with, although the structure wasn't necessarily working for me anymore), but I recently realised that when I asked myself those questions the answers weren't in the company that I worked with. Which led to new beginnings. Very grateful to all the people that have been around, asked me the right questions and help me figure out what I want to do.
Thanks for sharing Christie, really love your approach and point of view. So often we ignore those very physical signs of unhappiness in a role in pursuit of this preconceived idea of “success”. I will definitely be taking on board what you’ve said when I consider my own role and look forward to hearing more from this series!
It is so wonderful to hear from "successful" women like yourself regarding the ebb and flow of titles and career changes. I left Senior Management and Director roles to pursue a career in tech because it was more stable long term for me, my family, and was something exciting and new to learn. I don't have a lot of people to look to that have done this. Contending with the backwards direction has been a challenge. Your post was very comforting - not many people discuss the internal struggle relating to titles and roles professionally. It leads me to believe that it will all work out and to keep truckin.
Yes to this! Took a leap 4 years ago into the great unknown and started my first business. That led me to summon the courage to found my company over a year ago—it’s clear to me that I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do. And the most gratifying thing about my career has been realizing that as big and brave as my vision is for the future, I could die today, proud of my life and contribution. I’m in excellent health and hope to have decades ahead of me, though making that switch to creating my own work and serving in my own way has had impact. It’s worth more than any amount of money or status. Not that I have anything against money or status—I welcome both in the coming years. 🤓 But living a brave life for me has meant going all-in on myself, with an unwavering commitment to see this through. I call this my excitified life because I’m both excited and terrified every damn day. What a privilege. There is no greater luxury than the ability to create the vision in my head by building a community to bring it into being. I remain inspired by what y’all are creating. 🥂
Thanks for posing these insightful questions. I'm a few years into my career and I'm finding that I am doing something similar, feeling a bit anxious and bored, and finally ready to respect that my needs for learning, growth and succeeding in the present tense require me to make some new swerves! I'll be asking myself those 4 questions more often. :)
Christie, thank you for being so open and sharing your story with us. I started my career in the non-profit sector and I’m glad I did because it set a strong foundation for me. I knew I was walking into a career that didn’t make that much money, but I woke up feeling good about the work that I did in my community. To me, that was being successful because I was helping others reach their potential. Any job I took after that had a requirement of making a social impact and helping underrepresented communities in some shape or form. I eventually moved out of the nonprofit sector to join the tech industry and success evolved into finding a way to combine aspects from those two worlds into one. Today, I look for opportunities rather than titles that will allow me to create something from nothing, test my limits and leadership capabilities, and be surrounded by others who care about uplifting others. That is my definition of success in this moment.