High-powered jobs in tech meant Jaleh Bisharat couldn’t spend as much time with her daughter as she would have liked. Now that her daughter is grown, Bisharat asks her for her impressions of a childhood with a busy working mother.
By Jaleh Bisharat (VP of Marketing, oDesk)
At 17, I boarded a plane in Tehran, to do something few Iranian girls did. Instead of getting married at that age like my mother, I braved a 6,000-mile journey for a Harvard education, and ultimately a career.
That career has been fulfilling, but I’ve asked myself that familiar guilty question: what effect has this had on my daughter?
I’m starting to find out.
Valerie graduated college in December. She’s different than me, but grew up in my house, hearing what I said (whether or not she appeared to be listening).
We had some tough times. When she was young, I worked and worked. For too many evenings, we were an incomplete family. My two children ate with their dad while the fourth place at the dinner table remained empty. By 1999 I was Amazon.com’s marketing VP. I’d get home and make calls to employees. My daughter would beg me to make the calls from her bedside. I’d hold her soft little hand, and she’d drift off to sleep to the sound of my voice–not reading or talking to her, but conversing about the day’s business.
In 2000, I made the wrenching decision to leave my exciting job so I could balance working and guiding my children as they grew.Yesterday, I asked Valerie whether she ever absorbed any of my advice. It’s somewhere between gratifying and comical to hear her response. Here’s what she told me:
I was eight when my mom left her job at Amazon.com but I remember it clearly. She used to work so much that I would leave post-it notes on her computer when I couldn’t see her in person. The day she resigned, I taped celebratory streamers in our entryway.
Once mom started working shorter hours, it became increasingly clear that her decision to leave Amazon was the ultimate act of love. She took on tasks like scheduling my summer camps instead of helping run an Internet giant. I don’t know what I would have done without her when I was applying for college, internships, and now jobs.
Over and over, she shared key ideas that I’ve internalized. These stick out:
Take the Long View
Choose situations that stretch you, teach you, and connect you with amazing people. You will be rewarded over time. I think this advice is what drove me to attend NYU. I knew New York City would offer access to great internships.
I won’t lie: in college I was tempted to spend weekends with friends exploring the MOMA instead of working overtime. But that “long view” thing kept creeping into my head. Now that I’ve graduated, having had experience at places like Food Network and Sony Music is paying off.
Bring a Positive, Can-do Attitude to Work
During my freshman internship at Teen Vogue, Manhattan was hit with a huge snowstorm one day. We’re talking apocalypse. New York had come to a standstill. That day at work, my boss dropped a bomb: someone had to deliver a dress across town. Who was willing? All the interns suddenly got really busy folding clothes.
I trudged to the subway, a marshmallow in my puffer coat. Snow was pelting. The normally packed streets were eerily empty. I was sure I’d gone barking mad but thought of my mom and her “positive attitude” refrain.
When I returned, my boss announced a reward. I got a rare opportunity to assist a senior editor at a photo shoot with a famous musician. Styling that celebrity made it totally worth my time as a snow popsicle.
Do Great Work and Don’t Be Shy About Making it Visible
At Sony I was responsible for a weekly executive report that circulated worldwide, so I knew my work had to be spot on. I’d assemble information about international album sales, triple-check numbers and camp out late to finish.
One week, my boss made me the honorary assistant to the executive vice president of RCA/Jive Label Group, and told me she did so because of my work record. That felt huge for a college junior! Perched outside the EVP’s office, I got a first-hand glimpse into executive discussions and decision-making.
Now I’m more thankful for these lessons than ever. I’m also proof that women shouldn’t have to choose between feeling guilty for either working a lot or staying at home when they aspire to a career. Mom brought her career lessons home, and I got the best of both worlds.
Women 2.0 readers: What piece of advice from your mother still sticks with you?
About the guest blogger: Jaleh Bisharat is VP of marketing at oDesk, and former VP of marketing at Amazon.com, OpenTable, Jawbone, and Hearsay Social. She’sadvised countless other companies and VC firms and serves on the board of directors at OpenTable and Homestead Technologies. Valerie Bisharat graduated magna cum laude from NYU in December 2012 and is currently a writing fellow at Insight Data Science.