Meet Zoe Gadebegku (C’15), Aspiring Storyteller

This fall, the University launched “Georgetown Stories,”  a multi-media, first-person, “vlog” (video blog) that will follow 11 undergraduate students throughout the academic year as their Georgetown stories unfold.  Each student’s story will be told through a series of videos, still photography, emails and social media posts with the goal of more intimately connecting everyone in the Georgetown community (both on and off of the Hilltop).  In a series of blog posts this year, ACS student intern Khadijah Davis (N’15) will be sharing these stories through the Alumni Career Services lens.

Zoe Gadebegku, the Storyteller

Zoe Gadebegku (C’ 15) describes herself as someone who is passionate about people and their stories.

“Everybody has an edge or something that makes them interesting,” she says.

Zoe has an interesting story herself. Her Georgetown Stories series chronicles her everyday experience as a curious student, tenacious leader and encouraging friend.

The Transition to Georgetown

For many students, the transition from their home town to Washington, D.C. is a culture shock. For Zoe, a French major from Accra, Ghana, the transition from her home country to the District is continuously evolving and has become a large part of her own story.

“My eyes had been accustomed to a totally different political and cultural landscape to that of my peers,” she said. “I’m still learning to laugh at my own nerves and timidity, glorying instead in my difference and celebrating the flavor I was adding to a place I have grown to love.”

Becoming a Writer

Being a woman for others is of much importance to Zoe, who once debated whether pursuing writing was the path for her.

When asked to reflect on her decision to become a writer, Zoe said, “Up until recently, I thought that the best way to make an impact on others was to go into advocacy or social work to ensure that I was doing something meaningful for others. I saw writing as a self-indulgent pursuit because it was something that I loved doing but may not have any direct effect on other people. Now I’ve realized that using my talent and passion for writing can be a powerful tool to uplift others and to spur social change.”

Inspiration

Zoe draws inspiration from a diverse range of writers, but greatly admires women writers of color. She said her inspirations include women such as Anita Desai, Ama Ata Aidoo, Toni Morrison and, more recently, Chimamanda Adiche.

She also notes that she is greatly inspired by alumni who pursue creative fields in film and literature post-Georgetown.

“There’s sometimes pressure to follow a more conventional path after graduation,” she said. “I heard Brit Marling (C’05) speak at the 2013 Senior Convocation, and I thought it was so inspiring that she picked up and moved to LA with two friends to pursue their aspirations in the film industry especially since there was no guarantee that they were going to be successful.”

On campus, Zoe serves as the President of the African Society of Georgetown and previous Editor-In-Chief of The Fire This Time, the university’s premiere multicultural news publication. Next year, she will begin her Fulbright Fellowship in Dakar, Senegal where she will write a collection of short stories on the women she encounters there​.  In ten years, she hopes to be well on her way as novelist that writes the stories that “make people feel something.”

Learn more about Georgetown Stories at www.georgetownstories.com and share your own Georgetown story #georgetownstories.  

Guest Post by Career Happiness Coach Anna Graham Hunter: How to Network When You Don’t Know What You Want to Do

By now, most people know that if you want to make a career shift you need to network. We’ve heard the statistics: between 70% and 80% of professional jobs are found through networking.

Yet for many, many people who want to make a change or find a job, the process goes like this: scour job postings, see “what’s out there,” and apply.

Why – if we all know what we’re supposed to be doing – are so many people doing the opposite?

The answer is simple: they don’t know how to network.

Many readers may scoff at this statement, thinking, “Of course I know how to network! I connect with people on LinkedIn, I meet former colleagues for lunch or coffee, I ask if people know of open positions.”

And, sure, two out of three of those can be semi-effective when the time comes to make a change (hint: it’s not the last one). But none of them are going to get you where you want to go, especially if you don’t know where you want to go.

If you start trying on different positions for size before you’re crystal clear on what you want to do next, you’re liable to talk yourself into just about anything. Admit it – how many times have you seen an appealing job listing and started imagining the two of you getting hitched and living happily ever after? I’ve done it, lots. As have most of my clients.

But applying for different positions is not the right way to figure out what you want to do. Because even if one of those applications does lead to interviews and an offer, it’s not like you chose it. You just threw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what would stick.

In order to make sure your next step is the right one, you need to be intentional about what you pursue. And that involves talking to the right people at the right time in the right way.

Here are my tips for conducting effective networking conversations when you don’t know what you want to do:

  1. Craft a “What Do You Want to Do Statement” that allows you to explore different options:

“After several years of  . . . [describe your career to date in terms of your accomplishments and what you’ve learned], I’m now exploring opportunities that will allow me to . . .”

The second part of this statement is key to being able to explore a bunch of options. Rather than naming the position, sector, or organization you believe will make you happy, focus on the components of work you know have made you happy. Think about:

  • Tasks that have made you lose all sense of time and projects that have made you excited to get to work early in the morning
  • Colleagues who have brought out the best in you
  • Environments where you have been your most productive.
  1. Talk to creative thinkers and good listeners BEFORE talking to advice givers.

One of the biggest dangers of networking when you don’t have a clear path is getting flooded with advice. People who offer advice are almost always trying to help, but getting suggestions about what you should do next can be deadly when you’re still trying to get your own thinking straight.

The best people to talk to at the early stages will hold up a mirror and help you clarify your thinking rather than saying immediately, “Oh, you should do X!”

Set up these conversations by saying, “I’m in the early stages of exploring what I would like to do next, and I’d love to bounce some ideas off of you.”

  1. Once you get comfortable having these conversations, talk to people people whose work appeals to you to learn more about what they do.

These conversations are often called informational interviews, and they tend to be easy and fun. All you’re doing is asking to learn more about what someone does and how they got there, and for people who love their work, there’s nothing they’d rather talk about.

Invite people to these conversations by saying, “I’m in the early stages of exploring what I would like to do next, and I’d love to learn more about your work and career path.”

After enough of these conversations, your next step will begin to take shape, and you can pursue the path you want to take. By then, you’ll have a network of champions eager to help you get where you want to go.

Did you enjoy this article?  Sign up for Anna’s December 2 webinar for Georgetown Alumni!
Anna Graham Hunter webinar headshot

Anna Graham Hunter is a Career Happiness Coach who helps professionals create their dream careers. A Professional Certified Coach, she spent 23 years in a variety of careers – including education, journalism, politics, lobbying, nonprofit management, management consulting, and executive coaching – before devoting herself full-time to making career happiness a reality for others.  Learn more at http://www.annagrahamhunter.com.

Guest Post by Lori Mihalich-Levin (L’05): How Your Maternity Leave Can Advance (Yes, I Said Advance!) Your Career

I know, I know…conventional wisdom says that maternity leave is a pause button.  An exit ramp from leadership.  And a hiatus from professional development.  Unless of course, you’re a hard-driving, cold, uncaring mama, who only cares about work at the expense of her baby.

But after having had two amazing little boys and returning from maternity leave after each of them, I’m here to tell you that I think conventional wisdom has it all wrong.  During my first maternity leave, I spent too much time worrying about what I had missed while I was gone, how I could possibly “catch up”, what I couldn’t do at work anymore (e.g., stay past 4:30pm), rather than all the things I could still do (e.g., work hard, think strategically, collaborate with colleagues, create new ideas…) – or all the skills I had gained or honed by becoming a mother (e.g., efficiency, negotiation skills, problem-solving, dealing with the unexpected).

But with the benefit of time, experience, and a second maternity leave, I have since come to view the leave and return experience as a chance to grow a career and develop some serious leadership muscles.  All while being connected to and nurturing beautiful babies.

What I am not talking about here is working more hours or spinning your wheels worrying about work while tuning out your baby.    What I am talking about is approaching your maternity leave and return in a mindful, thoughtful, and strategic way, so that you can grow in your career and focus on your baby in tandem.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you prepare to go on leave:

Before Your Baby Arrives:

  • How can I prepare my colleagues for my leave in a well-planned, thoughtful way?  Who will take over what work, and do they have the resources they need to get the job done?  Who needs to meet whom?  Have I made the necessary introductions?
  • What conversations should I have with my boss (and any direct reports), to set clear expectations about things like the length of my leave, who will cover what, how I will communicate while I’m out, and what work I expect to resume when I come back?
  • Can I build planning-my-maternity-leave into my official goal-setting process, and be evaluated on it?
  • Can I block times for pumping milk on my calendar now, so that I can carve out time in my day before other meetings get scheduled?
  • Are there colleagues who recently gone on leave at my organization who can tell me about their experiences? What do I like about their approach?  What do I dislike?

While You Are On Leave:

  • What type of expectation did I set around office communication?  Am I living up to that expectation?  If not, how can I best communicate to change those expectations?
  • Is it possible that not being in touch on substantive projects during my leave isin itself a strong leadership stance?
  • Toward the end of my leave, can I put meetings on the books with my key office stakeholders for the first few weeks I’m back, to have them fill me in on the key things I should know from my time away?

When You Return:

  • Is there work I want to or feel I should take back?  Did my leave provide a growth opportunity for any colleagues, such that there are things I don’t need to take back – and where I can take a managerial or strategy role in instead?  Can I continue to mentor these colleagues?
  • During my annual review process, are there ways I can take credit for a well-planned and executed leave and return?
  • Are there skills I am gaining as a parent that I can put to use in the office?  How can I advertise this new skill set to my colleagues?
  • How can I build a ritual into my day to preserve time (even just a few minutes) for myself and my own sanity? (Recently, I’ve taken to choosing a route from the metro to the office that includes a stop by a beautiful and calming fountain, where I can pause, breathe, and collect my thoughts for the day.)

As you approach your leave, take some time to think through and even write down answers to these questions.  It may be obvious that having a baby and going on maternity leave will help you grow as a mother and a woman.  But know that this experience can help you grow as an employee and creator of your own career as well.

 Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, founder of Mindful Return and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course, is mama to two beautiful red-headed boys (ages 1 and 3) and is the Director of Hospital and GME Payment Policies at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Lori has been committed to promoting women’s equality and leadership throughout her career.  Most recently, she founded both the Returning to Work Community (RWC) for mothers at AAMC who return to work from maternity leave and a D.C. Health Policy Lean in Circle.    As an undergraduate at Princeton, she wrote her thesis on immigrant women in France who were victims of domestic violence.  At Georgetown Law, she was the co-President of the Women’s Legal Alliance and represented clients through the Domestic Violence Clinic.  In private practice, she was a member of her firm’s Women’s Initiative and a member of the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

At the AAMC, Lori works on regulatory policy issues relating to graduate medical education reimbursement, hospital price transparency, and inpatient and outpatient hospital payment policies.  Prior to joining the AAMC, Lori worked as a healthcare attorney at Vinson & Elkins, LLP and King & Spalding, LLP.