Posted by Rosana Francescato
Imagine yourself in a high-status, well-paying professional job. You’re successful in your career and identified with your profession. You even enjoy a lot about your job. Yet, something doesn’t feel right. Would you take the risk of leaving the security of that job to explore what was right for you? Would you have the courage to ask for more out of your life?
That’s what WCS board member Asha Agrawal did. Her story is a testament to what you can achieve when you play big, act boldly, and create a compelling vision for your life and career. Sound familiar? If you attended the recent WCS event Cultivate Your Vision. Be Bolder, Play Bigger, you’ll see that Asha was following speaker Kate Purmal’s advice before even hearing it.
Creating a vision
Asha was a startup and venture capital lawyer at a corporate law firm. She loved her workplace and the intellectual rigor of her job, and being a lawyer was a huge part of her identity. But something was missing. She says she knew there was “something inside me that I needed to listen to, something that would satisfy my heart as well as my intellect.”
So in June, she decided to leave her job. She didn’t have anything else lined up — she wasn’t even sure what she wanted to do or in what area she wanted to work. But she had the beginning of a vision: she wanted a job with some kind of environmental mission.
It wasn’t easy to say, “I’m closing this chapter and I don’t know what I’m doing.” Asha read inspiring blogs and books that helped strengthen her resolve. Having supportive friends and family was crucial. In a few months, she’d worked up the courage to make the move.
Like all good visionaries, Asha understood and planned for the risks while seeing a bigger upside. She made sure to have a plan B: because she loves learning, she would go back to school if didn’t get a job in a year. And she reminded herself, “Your career is like a marathon, not a sprint.”
With this in mind, Asha thought about what kind of job she’d still enjoy in 30 years. Considering both the short-term and the long-term picture helped her slowly build her vision of a dream job. She even made a pro/con list, detailing what she didn’t like about her previous job and what she really wanted, plus some nice-to-haves. That gave her criteria to use in evaluating job openings.
She set about having as many conversations as she could with people working in the areas of environment or social responsibility — even if they were strangers or friends of friends. Not a one had a job opening. The process was often discouraging and felt like an emotional roller-coaster. But some of this very discouragement led her to a clearer vision. Because so many people told her she didn’t have enough nonprofit experience, Asha decided to focus on socially responsible for-profits.
Finding a dream job
During this process, one of Asha’s friends introduced her to a WCS board member who suggested she attend the WCS event Young and Leading in Cleantech. All the panelists were impressive, but one of them, Rachel Barge, caught Asha’s attention. She worked at Greenstart, a design and venture firm for startups that are improving the world. Asha contacted Rachel, who offered to answer Asha’s questions over email.
Asha had started to think about how she could use her background in venture capital law to help the environment. She’d heard about impact investing, so she told Rachel she wanted to get into venture capital in a green space. As it turned out, Rachel knew of a cleantech venture firm looking for a new associate and asked Asha to send her resume.
Fast-forward a few months, and Asha is now in her 12th week at what feels like a dream job at The Westly Group. She says, “It has everything I wanted: intellectual rigor, and investing in companies that will help save the world.”
Asha is also a trailblazer at the The Westly Group. She’s the first woman at the six-person firm, and she doesn’t mind. Everyone there is committed to social good, so they have more in common than not. The company values diversity at the table, which includes not only her female perspective but also her legal eye.
If you’d asked Asha a year ago if she’d be working in finance or venture capital, she would have said no. But now she’s changing the world in the best way she knows how, at a job she loves. Again echoing Kate Purmal, she says, “Once you know what you want for yourself, you can recognize it when it comes along your path.”
Asha admits to having been skeptical about networking in the past. Her first foray came with many highs and lows. One day she might see her dream job listing, while another she’d be told she wasn’t qualified for the area she was looking in.
Her vision kept Asha going, and the connections she made at the WCS panel showed her there’s nothing to be scared of. She saw young women who were building companies, and building the life they wanted. That encouraged her to continue doing the same with her own life.
Asha is grateful for the help she’s had in her journey. She points to how even the smallest act, like Rachel’s forwarding her resume, can change someone’s life forever. She encourages us all to “positively reinforce when people do that for you and to extend the same graciousness to others. You never know where it could lead for that person or for yourself. Keep an open mind, lend a helping hand, pay it forward.”
Women in Cleantech and Sustainability provides a great framework for doing just that. It brings women together who are making a difference so we can support and encourage one another. Asha has found it “a great source of inspiration for finding something you really love, because you’re surrounded by women who are succeeding in cleantech and enjoying it.”
Asha’s story highlights a crucial element of achieving your vision: the power of persistence. Her advice to those of us making similar changes? “Keep trying and learning. The frustration, and the soul-searching about what makes you tick, are part of the process.”
She maintained this persistence in the face of recurring doubts. As Kate Purmal pointed out, women tend to feel like they must meet 100% of the qualifications to apply for a job. Asha was no exception and considered her current job a long shot, given that it was an all-male business and she didn’t have experience in finance. But she told herself that she really wanted to do it, she could do it, and she would show them what she could do.
Asha particularly related to Kate Purmal’s nugget “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you tolerate.” She says, “I wasn’t willing to tolerate my old lifestyle anymore. I had to go get what I wanted. The only thing I knew to do was put myself in uncomfortable positions to figure out what that was. When you get to a point in your life where there’s more negative than positive, then a change is needed. You have to be patient, but you have to keep trying.”
For some of us, the journey may take a bit longer than Asha’s did. But we can all learn from her example to step up and ask for more out of life. It’s easy to feel discouraged, or even crazy at times to leave a “good thing” and jump into a new career — after all, as the saying goes, “courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.” If you feel a difference between who you are and who you want to be, and you want to change that, you can look to Asha’s story for inspiration to be bold — and know that you, too, can change your career and your life.
Rosana Francescato is Director of Communications at Sunible.com, an online marketplace that’s radically simplifying the home solar buying experience. She’s on the board of Women in Cleantech and Sustainability and the steering committee of theLocal Clean Energy Alliance. She’s been the top individual fundraiser at the GRID Alternatives Bay Area Solarthon four years in a row.
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