Late this spring, "Where Are the Women?" (February) leaped from the page to the stage. Readers and members of Women in Technology International's New York chapter gathered at Sony Labs for an event to explore some of the issues affecting women in the workplace. Senior writer Linda Tischler, who wrote the article, and Mary Lou Quinlan, founder of strategic marketing consultancy Just Ask a Woman, led the discussion. Quinlan, who stepped down as CEO of the advertising firm N.W. Ayer in the late 1990s, shared some of the reasons for her career change — and offered advice and ideas.
Keep Track of Quality Time
Moving on in a career can be about being in over your head, taking on more than you can do, and trying to please everybody. I achieved what I had set out to do, and that's where I started to lose track. With the energy that you have in your twenties, you're just fearless. At some point, some things start to slip away. I'd come home and talk to my husband about work. Not him. Work.
Take a (Clean) Break
I could not keep going. A friend said to me, "Did you ever think of taking some time off?" Like a leave-of-absence time off. That had never struck me in a million years. I came up with five weeks, because four weeks was practically what my company owed me in vacation, and six weeks sounded like Betty Ford. It was the greatest thing I've ever done in my life. All I did was live my life. I was a better daughter. I slept. I was the woman that I lost.
Plot Your Priorities
At the end of the five weeks, I made two little lists: What do I love to do that I'm good at? And what do I hate to do that I'm not good at? The hate-to-do page was like a job description for a CEO of an ad agency. The love-to-do list led to what I do now. I came back in and quit. I started a company. Now I'm doing my passion. Women will find their own way. They need to live a conscious career, not an unconscious one. Ask yourself: Am I happy? You have the right to ask that question — and then do something about it.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.