Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Next Chapter

From the time I got my first job at Williams-Sonoma the fall after I finished college I was looking to take the next step in my career.  That kind of drive and determination was really all I knew.  My job was that important and my accomplishments helped define who I was.

On Friday April 5th I resigned from the best job I have ever had.  I want to remember this chapter, the first career chapter of my life and what led me to make what should have been a very hard decision, actually quite easily.

After college I moved to San Francisco from Boulder with a couple of friends.  We had originally planned to move to Denver, but my friend just had a bad break-up and her ex-boyfriend was moving to Denver so we needed a new plan.  She was from LA and with me from Portland we picked something in the middle - San Francisco.

I had no job, a few leads, but nothing concrete.  A friend from high school got me an interview at Williams-Sonoma corporate headquarters.  I got the job.  I was going to be an Assistant Control Buyer for Chambers brand - a high-end bed and bath catalog brand.  I was about to meet my first mentors - Jen and AVE.  They would look after me both professionally and personally for years to come.  I showed up on my first day and I had a cube in the front directly next to the floor to ceiling windows looking out on Alcatraz and San Francisco Bay.  How did this happen?  This 22 year-old who knew nothing and would spend her days emailing and calling vendors and shipping companies trying to track down orders just got a sweet seat with a view!

I don't recall exact timelines but I did that for just under a year and they asked me to move over to the Williams-Sonoma brand to work on their DTC business (catalog, internet, and bridal) I remember talking to my Dad and he gave me the advice that was really true...they weren't really asking me, they were telling me, and although I was going to lose my sweet seat next to the bay, they saw some potential and wanted me in the bigger brand.  Right away I got a "stretch" assignment to plan the Cutlery business for one of the other Control Buyers.  I was expected to do this and continue my assistant work.  I planned the $hit out of that cutlery business.  I looked at the business on knives every which way possible.  I remember my boss at the time saying she had never seen such analysis on Cutlery (one of the smaller, less glamourous departments.)  I must have done something right because a few months later I was promoted to Control Buyer for tabletop where I managed dinnerware, glassware, and entertaining.  If I thought I had geeked out before, things really got crazy now.  I did this for a little under a year and was promoted to Senior Control Buyer and given direct reports for the first time.  I think it was for Tabletop, I honestly don't even remember.  I loved my job and I was good at it.  I loved the people, I was so passionate for the product and the business.  I got excited when we paginated a new season, when I got to plan and try to anticipate questions and have answers readily available, I worked a lot and I loved it.  I was 25 and managing people for the first time, all of them older than me. It didn't happen without challenges and now it is so hard to imagine anyone even listened to me, but they did...maybe it was because I was tall.

One of the most memorable parts of my time at Williams-Sonoma was spending time with my sister.  After she graduated, she was hired onto the team.  The whole DTC business was only about 25 people for WS and we were both part of that 25.  Those are memories to last a lifetime.  At the time it seemed so normal, but looking back I can see how unusual the circumstances were and how incredibly fortunate we were to have that time together.

A little over a year later I got my last promotion with Williams-Sonoma and had really gotten to the position I had been working for.  I was Manager of Inventory Planning for the Prep Division.  I had a team of 6 I think, control buyers and assistants.  I didn't get an office because there weren't very many.  About 3 weeks after my promotion Andy (boyfriend at the time) found out that he got the job in Portland and I was moving back to my hometown.  I was ready to leave SF, I wanted to go where he went since at the time I thought he was "the one", but I am not sure I was ready to leave my job.  I know I quit without much hesitation, but I really did love what I did and had just gotten where I wanted to be!  I was one of two planners (the other guy was my friend from high school) asked to travel to Frankfurt on the annual buying trip and housewares show, so I did get to spend a week in Europe and travel to Paris on my own before I moved onto new adventures.

I was at the height of my career and I left, I left because something else was more important.  I left because at the end of the day you only work so you can actually live!  This decision was about life, not work.

So WS let me stay on for a month after I moved to work remotely.  During that time I pursued new opportunities in Portland.  A girl on my team, Kelly, had met a woman named Jenn at the SF marathon who worked at Nike, she had given Kelly her card.  I got her contact information and blindly sent her an email.  She happened to be the director of planning for Nike Stores....what??? She also had worked in San Francisco for Pottery Barn before moving to Portland for her husband's job....are you kidding me?  I still remember sitting on the phone in the parking lot of WS having an interview.  When I got to Portland I met with her and also with Adidas.  I got a job offer from Adidas so I called Jenn up to tell her and she miraculously got an offer for me too.  I took a substantial pay cut....like 20k and I said YES PLEASE!  She arranged for me to come out to campus and meet with people on the leadership team and new peers of mine.  She planned for me to have lunch with the guy I would be working closely with as he was moving out of the Women's business into Men's and I was taking his job.  His name was Brian...

I was hired as the Allocation Manager for Women's in Nikestores.  I did this for about 8 months, knowing nothing about brick & mortar or allocation I spent a lot of time in Brian's office.  Then there was a retail re-org and they created Merchandise planning.  Brian and I and also our friend Dave were promoted into Merchandise Planning Managers.  I had Sportswear, Soccer, Basketball, and Equipment.   We basically had to hire an entire team.  We did more panel interviews than you could imagine and we got our method down to a science.  We knew within 5 minutes if they were right for the job or not.  We got our team in place and we started working.  We worked so hard, so much, and had the best time.  I said for a long time that this was my most favorite job.  It felt so entrepreneurial. Sometimes I am not sure if I loved the  job as much as the people since I was pretty much falling for Brian the whole time.

Just over a year later everything came crashing down.  Nike Inc was going through layoffs and we lost 75% of our team...all of those amazing talents we had hired - gone.  We were lucky enough to keep our banding and move to other jobs.  I became the Director of Planning for Stores.  Jenn had already left and our boss was Marshall.  He had a tough job that day...for hours it seemed every 30 minutes he was firing someone.  I should have been nicer to him, he really always tried to do the right thing.  I didn't love this job. I learned a lot because I was doing more topline planning, but the environment was terrible and morale on the team was at an all time low.  I wanted to leave, but there was no place to go until a year later I left.  Brian and I were engaged and we didn't want to be married and still working this closely so we both moved on.

I became the Demand Planning Director for Kids and Basketball.  Sadly, I don't have much to say about this job.  I never really got it.  I didn't like it, I didn't understand it, I felt farther from product than I had ever in my career.  So I turned my focus to buying a house and planning a wedding and when the boss that had recruited and hired me left,  I felt no loyalty.  I asked for my one free pass in my career, knowing I had made a mistake to be in that job I asked for support in finding a new job.  I wanted to be a merchant.  I knew I had it in me, but I was always the planner, tied to the data and the financials.  Once again, Jenn took a chance on me and she hired me as the Global Merchandise Manager for Women's Training.

When I left Williams-Sonoma I thought I had probably peaked in my career.  The way I defined peak was my level of influence and the way I felt in the job, the confidence I held.  I was wrong.  It would be in this role, over the next nearly 2 years that I would actually meet that stride and exceed it.  I had found a new place that stretched me to think in ways I had never dreamed.  I didn't have data to count on, I never had a calculator in meetings anymore, this was a new frontier.  There were good times and bad times, but overall I felt like I did so much and had still so much left I wanted to do.  I hadn't felt like that in a job for a long time.  I had a tough boss, a boss that really didn't do much...or anything for the year he was there, but if it weren't for him being so in over his head, I wouldn't have gotten the opportunities that I had.  I was 8 months pregnant when he finally left.  I wanted his job and I told his bosses that I did.  They had other plans for me.  I would get my final promotion, my final opportunity as the Senior Merchandising Director for Women's Training in North America.  Sounds kinda important?  I was even getting an administrative assistant.  It was all too much for a pregnant lady, but I just thought great timing, leave one job, come back to a new one.

That was never going to happen.  The day that Jake was born rocked my world in a way I could never predict.  People say that you can "have it all."  I believe that is true, it just depends on how you define having your all.  To me it is having all of the ordinary days with my son.  It is knowing I will be there when he gets up in the morning to grab his warm little smiling body from his crib.  It is knowing if he is hungry or sad, or wants to chat, I am there with him.  It is knowing that when I drive my car during the day you better believe that little face will be in the backseat.  It's being there for every bath and every bedtime.  Having it all for me it taking care of our home and our lives so that Brian can enjoy nothing but Jake or golf, or whatever he wants on the weekends.  It's ordinary days of laundry, cleaning, emptying the dishwasher, making meals, cleaning up meals, garbage, burping, feeding, nap time, story time, tickle time and doing it all over again.  Its about less new clothes, less waste, cheaper date nights, less extravagant vacations, less toys we use once.  Its about being appreciative of our lives that we have been so very lucky to achieve and earn all that we have.

So once again I was at the height of my career and I left, I left because something else was more important.  I left because at the end of the day you only work so you can actually live!  This decision was about life, not work. It should have been a hard decision, but it was very simple.  This is a new life, a new chapter, one without outlook calendars, meeting requests, deck making, and presentation stress, but one that makes me happy every single day.


  1. Excellent write up. I cried a few times.

  2. You have the best values!!