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Give Up Perfect: How to Advance Your Career When You Don’t Match the Job Description

woman smiling at camera on plain white backgroundJoanna Bell
Consumer Lending Bank Operations Director
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

All the “wrong” experience

When I took the Student Loans Director role, I had limited student loans experience. Although I’d managed large departments in the past, I had no collections or recovery experience. I wasn’t afraid to step into the role knowing my limitations, but I knew it would be a challenge.  My strategy was to lean into what I’m good at:

  • Respect my team for their knowledge, leverage their strengths and remove their blockers
  • Ask a lot of questions and dedicate time for self-learning
  • Meet with support partners to understand their priorities and how I can help
  • Spend time understanding what’s working and what issues folks on the ground are facing
  • Rely on frontline staff to understand the customer experience and process effectiveness

The weight of 2020

COVID-19 brought an entirely new wave of challenges for me and my family. My husband got laid off from his job supporting mass transit. My mother, who’d recently moved away to warmer weather, grew lonelier every day. My youngest son started high-school with no sports, no social activities and eventually no in-person classes. My immediate family and I caught COVID-19 the end of November, and my dear mother-in-law got diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. I’ve always been the one to hold everyone together, but the lack of control over the last year felt too hard to bear.

2020 fallout

And yet, the good swept in alongside the bad. My husband received federal relief for his lay-off and threw himself into our household management, learning to cook amazing meals (I didn’t know I married a chef). I grew a stronger relationship with my daughter, who also works for Discover, as we transitioned together into this new working world. Helping my son with his online learning also made our relationship stronger (though not without the normal teenage squabbles).

A new Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving canceled, I spent the holiday joyfully eating and laughing without the added pressure of entertaining and travel. Because I was home for the holidays, I made Thanksgiving dinner for a neighbor who’d recently had a stroke. Getting COVID-19 was hard, but we recovered. And my dear mother-in-law began undergoing treatment nearby.

Woman wearing pink Discover shirt smiling in selfiePressure in womanhood

Going through these challenges as a woman, I felt pressure to be in control of everything. To take care of everyone and fix everything. What I learned again and again this year is that I cannot be in control of everything all the time. And I don’t need to be. I can control my reaction and how I grow from the challenge. That’s my responsibility.

Falling out of love with work

Years ago as a Department Manager, I started losing motivation in my career. My results were good, I received good reviews, but I wasn’t challenged. I talked to my immediate manager about my next move, but didn’t get much advice on what to do next. At the time, the opportunities locally seemed limited and moving to another state was not an option for my family. I felt stagnant and didn’t know what else to do.

Getting re-inspired to grow

Later on, I met a leadership coach who talked about being your authentic self, leveraging mentors and getting a sponsor. Her advice resonated with me and I took the next step to own my career development. I met two mentors from different business units who helped me see new possibilities for my career growth.

Working on authenticity

I worked on my confidence to show up authentically and not worry about fitting a specific mold. With increased confidence, I asked my manager more pointed questions and increased his confidence in my abilities. Instead of asking what I needed to do to get promoted, I shared my plan and asked for feedback to ensure I was on the right path. I met with him periodically to share my successes along the way and asked for his support for future promotions. This shift helped me not only get my next position, but helped secure my manager as my sponsor, arming him with the information he needed to support me when I wasn’t in the room.

I still learn something every day and never expect to know everything. But I have strong relationships with my team, my department and those that support student loans. Those relationships truly give me confidence that we can overcome anything.


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