By Priyanka Hardikar
After launching her career consulting company, Jackie Mitchell quickly discovered the real reason clients sought her. It was less to improve their technical ability and more to do with their confidence. Seven years ago, she started her consulting company to coach project managers, but today her clients encompass all careers and positions – from business executives to school teachers. As a career consultant, Jackie enjoys helping women reach that place of comfort and satisfaction – in their career, and in themselves.
Early in her coaching career, Jackie had an eye-opening moment when one of her clients told her: “I’m not there yet.” It made her reevaluate her approach, realizing that a slower process is sometimes a better one. “I see so much potential in these women I’m working with that sometimes, I get ahead of them,” Jackie reflected. “We can’t just jump into certain things.”
In the first three or four sessions, the discussion is not about where you are going; it is about where you are coming from. It is about understanding yourself: how you respond to certain situations, where those responses come from, how we move past some of those tendencies, and how we move forward. One of the first things Jackie does with a new client is assess her client’s confidence level. From there, they can move towards introspection and establishing career goals.
From dream job to IT to consulting:
In her diary, ten-year-old Jackie wrote: I want to help people. Her dream as a kid was to be a pediatrician, but she became intrigued by the computer programming world, ultimately landing on Information Technology (IT). She aspired to produce something of value that could help people.
Her IT career started as a systems analyst. One of her first jobs was with a global telecommunications company. She worked with a system not written in English and created the entire user documentation in English – improving the training program for the U.S. market.
Throughout her career, Jackie took on many roles leading diverse teams that taught her to communicate well and connect with people with diverse backgrounds.
Finding her own confidence:
About ten years ago, Jackie started working at a large organization. Her director asked her to write a bio to introduce herself to the company. Never having written a bio before, she struggled with the task for a week, unsure of how to proceed.
Her director advised her to just write about herself. After she did that, it was distributed to the entire organization – over a thousand people. “When I got the email, I’m reading it and it read like it was somebody else,” Jackie remembers. Reading it made her see herself in a new light. It hit her: “These are all the accomplishments she has, and she is me.” That was the moment she knew she belonged there.
Being one of the few women of color in the room:
As the only woman or woman of color in the room, Jackie learned to handle the reactions of people who were not accustomed to that. “I’m here to do the job that I’m here to do,” she says. “I don’t entertain what I call foolishness. I have no patience for it. My work speaks for itself.”
Breakthrough for a client:
One of Jackie’s clients had the job title she had worked hard for, but it was not fulfilling.
Jackie focused their discussions on values – identifying your top ten values and making decisions to align with those values. This made the client realize that she needed to be honest with herself about what she wanted and believed in.
Towards the end of her sessions, she discovered: I don’t want to do this job at all. She decided to choose a completely new career path, but she had built the foundation for it: She knew what she believed in. “She was so happy with the decision,” Jackie says, adding, “Put blinders on and don’t worry about other people.”
Jackie’s guide to finding your own confidence:
Jackie asks her clients to show her visually what confidence looks like to them. “What does that feel like?” she asks. “Hold onto that.” Confidence is something we can portray outwardly. It shows up in the way we sit, the way we talk, in our stance, posture and gaze.
For another exercise, Jackie has her clients write about what they can do, from cooking a meal to changing a tire – anything. It does not have to be career-related at first, she says, but it will get you started. Reading what you wrote to yourself and to Jackie, you see yourself through your accomplishments, instead of through your doubts and insecurities.
From there, Jackie guides them into conversations on values, competencies, and capabilities. Over time, the confidence they mined will shine brighter.
As a girl, Jackie was shy to the point where she would cry if she had to introduce herself to people. She admits to still being very shy today, but her confidence overcomes that. She is confident because she knows her stuff. “I’ll say to myself, ‘You’re shy, but you got it, and if you don’t have it, go and get it.’ ”
Her advice for all women, including her 19-year-old daughter is to know your stuff. “This way no one can ask you a question you don’t know and if you don’t know, you’ll have the confidence to say, ‘Let me go find out and get back to you.’ It won’t throw you off,” she says.
Stepping out of your comfort zone:
While you will never know everything, it is important to connect with people on a different level and to step out of your comfort zone – watch shows you would not watch, listen to music or speeches you would not normally listen to. You never know when you will encounter someone with that new interest.
How to handle a setback:
When you have a setback, Jackie’s advice is to go back to your life resume, instead of getting consumed by it. “Identify and feel it,” Jackie says. “The more you resist the feeling, the longer it’s going to stay and get bigger, face it head on and remember who you are.”
Dealing with imposter syndrome:
When you feel overwhelmed by “imposter syndrome,” Jackie’s advice is to slow down your thoughts, to get out of your own head. Imposter syndrome is when our feelings of inadequacy consume us, and we fear that we will be exposed – in the workplace, in a relationship, or just in life. It is the constant, debilitating thought: I don’t belong. In these moments, we need to remind ourselves that we have already earned our place – that we not only are allowed to take up space, but we deserve to. We are not here by fluke: we worked hard to be here.
“Talk to people who help support you. Talk yourself out of the solitude that you put yourself in when you’re thinking: ‘They’re going to find me out.’ What are they going to find out? That you know your stuff? You really got to get out of your own head, and understand that it is imposter syndrome,” Jackie explains.
Jackie is constantly learning and expanding her knowledge. She holds a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, a master’s degree in management information systems, and a terminal degree as an educational specialist. Recently, she began taking courses on cognitive neuroscience that she can apply to her coaching business.
Family and role models:
Jackie shares that watching her sister at work – how she relates with people, her no-nonsense attitude, has been inspiring. Her sister is a nurse, going for her PhD. “A while ago, I had to take one of my kids to the emergency room. I remember standing outside the room, and watching her talk to parents in distress. I was just amazed. It was a different side of her that I didn’t normally see,” Jackie says.
Jackie is a mother of three kids, ages 26, 19 and 12. Her daughter reminds Jackie of herself: shy, but coming into her own. She started her own jewelry business recently and shocked her mom by sharing it with her on the day it launched. “When you don’t think they’re watching, they’re watching,” Jackie says, beaming with pride.
Confidence is something we carry with us throughout life, that supports and guides us. All of us may not be born with it, but someone like Jackie can help us cultivate it.
For more information: https://www.jackiemitchellcareerconsulting.com/
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