It’s no secret that COVID-19 has prompted a seismic shift in how we view work. Many of us swapped commuting to an office every day with commuting to our kitchen tables, which, though convenient, meant the lines between work time and personal time never felt more blurred. And for some, the pandemic was an unexpected, somewhat opportune moment to reflect. Rather than operating in a nonstop “go” mode, some were finally able to stop, reevaluate and ask a simple but fundamental question: Am I happy with the work I am doing?
At Ad Age’s recent Leading Women Conference, Ad Age Studio 30 Contributing Editor Natalie Zfat spoke with Permutive Product Marketing Manager Aarti Suri about her bold decision to switch career paths during the pandemic. Suri transitioned from her position as Permutive’s senior customer success manager to pursuing her newfound passion for product marketing within the company.
“I think for all of us, COVID was a really transformational year,” Suri said. “And I don’t think I would have accelerated my shift if it wasn’t for the challenging year that we all had.”
Like so many in 2020, Suri found herself reassessing her career. She enjoyed her work as a customer success manager, but realized that she felt the most energized when she would collaborate with the product marketing team crafting go-to-market strategies with publishers. She craved the opportunity to be a storyteller, where she could talk about the value of her company’s products on a macro level. Rather than simply hoping more of those opportunities would come around, Suri decided to make sure they would.
Making the leap
Making the decision to forge a new career path is not easy. Suri allowed herself the time and space—4-5 months to be exact—to research and think through the move fully. She took to LinkedIn to find people working at other companies in the position she was interested in and reached out to learn more about what the work was like. She browsed YouTube for videos by product marketing managers at major companies like Google and Facebook. During this time, she also tried to envision what her own life would look like in their shoes.
Once she decided that this career shift was right for her, Suri credits the ease of her transition to her support system, particularly the leadership at Permutive. She was able to discuss her interest in product marketing with the company’s head of marketing, who found an in-house opportunity that would fit her. When Suri shared the news with her VP of customer success—a conversation she wrote a script for “but didn’t end up needing”—her decision was met with total support, respect and trust.
“If you have open leadership, if you have an ability to be honest with your leadership and have that psychological safety—[I would really urge] having those conversations early,” Suri recommended.
A common misconception about changing paths is that you have “wasted” your time pursuing your former path or will “fall behind” on the new one. But according to Suri, what she calls “working horizontally” has been one of her greatest assets as a product marketing manager.
As a customer success manager, Suri had access to a wide variety of stakeholders including sales leaders, commercial data strategists, CEOs, CROs and CDOs from different organizations, all with various needs and objectives. Having been exposed to so many partners and spending years developing the skill set to meet customer expectations has helped Suri bring a customer voice into product marketing.
“It’s just kind of innate in me to think: ‘Well, what will my customers think about this?’” she said.
This “horizontal” frame of reference gives her an edge that benefits the product marketing team as a whole. And it goes to show that switching paths doesn’t need to be a blip in your timeline. It can actually fuel your momentum on your new path.
Beating the stigma
Too often, fear can keep people stuck in positions they don’t want to be in. Thoughts of pursuing a new passion may come with internalized feelings of guilt that you may disappoint people who have invested time in your growth or feelings of shame for starting over. Suri had to remind herself that a career is a marathon, not a sprint. “Does the comfort of staying where you are, even if it’s not fulfilling for you now, outweigh the risk of changing your career path?” she asked herself.
Spoiler alert: Staying where you are usually costs you more—in time, in energy, and in happiness. Ultimately, Suri decided the risk was well worth it.
The idea that your goal should be to climb a ladder to the top is so deeply ingrained in our work psyche that we often subscribe to it without question or consideration for our true desires. But if you want to climb toward the C-suite, the ladder doesn’t have to be linear. (And by the way, you don’t have to want to climb that ladder. Plenty of fulfilling careers exist at all levels.)
Suri viewed her transition the way home-organizing expert Marie Kondo would look at a cluttered space: Sheasked herself “Does this spark joy?” As Marie Kondo stresses, that is always a simple yes or no question.
It’s what you do with the answer that matters.
Leading Women Conference attendees can rewatch the full conversation here.