Reinvent Your Career—Preserve Your “Self” | An Interview with Cherry Woodburn

I met Cherry Woodburn on an NPR talk show for Women’s History Month. We were part of a panel of women entrepreneurs who were also authors. Cherry was an on-air veteran, having hosted her own radio show, and I was a rookie. She graciously helped put me at ease. 

Her career history struck a chord with me. She’d done it her way, always pushing forward to follow her talent and her principles. So we decided to meet for coffee and, in short order, became friends. Cherry’s story is an important one, so I asked her to share some of it with you. 

DL: Starting out, what were your career aspirations? 

CW: I had really BIG plans. I fully intended to save the world. 

I came of age in the 1970s, graduating from college with a B.S. in sociology with a minor in education. I assumed my first job would be for a non-profit, serving women and children in abusive or deprived situations. 

Instead I got a job in urban renewal which, in the final analysis, was about demolishing homes for green space, turning people’s live upside down. It didn’t take long until I knew that job was the wrong fit. 

DL: How did you deal with that realization?

CW: I thought an advanced degree would lead me to the right career. So I got a master’s degree in public administration from Penn State. Then back I went into the job market. 

I got a series of contract jobs with quasi-governmental non-profits in health planning and City administration. I spent most of my time trying to find grant funding and/or justifying expenditures for my own job, ugh! After three years in this arena, I was done. 

DL:  That was a hard realization. What kept you going? 

CW: I’m not afraid of change, so I decided to move into the business world. I wasn’t going to save the world, but at least, I could grow and see where that would lead me. 

G.E. hired me into their leadership development program. I was assigned to employee relations, handling primarily internal communications and assessment center work where I interacted directly with frontline employees, managers, and executives. I did well there. 

Employees in the leadership program who successfully completed their first job assignment were expected to relocate anywhere in the country for their next one. When my time came, I was pregnant with my first child, and explained that I was unwilling to relocate at that time. G.E. let me go. 

DL: How did you ever have the courage to sacrifice that big career move?  

CW: After considerable reflection, I determined family, rather than moving up the corporate ladder, was my priority. But what I hadn’t expected was that in a few years I would be a divorced single parent with two young children. 

As someone who started out wanting to save the world, I realized that my sons were my world. I was determined to find a way to make a living that allowed me to be at home with them as much as possible. 

Little by little, people started hiring me as an independent contractor. Suddenly, I was an entrepreneur! I did freelance copy writing for training manuals and video scripts. I wrote procedure manuals, developed and conducted training, and taught statistics to production employees at manufacturing companies. 

Then I was asked to work with a team to develop curriculum materials on total quality for elementary school teachers. The American Society for Quality selected our model as their model, and I ended up training it across the country. I could make enough money in a week to cover a month’s living costs and that week’s babysitters. Perfect!  

DL:  Even though you’ve reinvented what you do, you’ve still held on to your ideals. Where is that taking you now? 

CW: I still want to save the world and have a passionate concern about women’s issues. 

I see how women get stuck in self-limiting paradigms and I want to help them.

I’ve consistently defied unfair limits placed on me, but I, at times, still struggle with self-confidence and self-esteem issues. I think I’m typical of lots of women. 

Social media provides me with an amazing platform for reaching “the world.” I have embraced it so I can reach women who need someone to help them overcome their self-limiting beliefs. 

I have come full circle, having weathered many storms.  This current career reinvention stage enables me to connect who I am with what I do. What could be better? 

DL:  For everyone who struggles with “what they want to be when they grow up,” you remind us that we need to understand and follow what really matters to us, our drivers, and our passions. Then it’s a matter of taking responsibility for our choices and pursuing what’s important to us with courage. Thanks, Cherry. 

Cherry Woodburn blogs at Borderless Thinking. She is featured, along with Stephen R. Covey and Brian Tracy, in the book, Mission Possible, a compilation of interviews on reaching your potential, conducted by David E. Wright, President, International Speakers Network. Her services include speaking, live workshops, and on-line programs. You can follow Cherry on Twitter and Facebook.