“I think you just need more experience,” my previous manager explained.

My question had been centered on action, steps I could take, like additional degrees, classes, certifications, activities, readings, but the response clearly pushed the power away from me. In her opinion, in order to advance, I just needed to excel at the job over time, lots of time.

I realized a few years later, when recounting this conversation, that perhaps she didn’t have my best interests in mind. What was her motivation for keeping me from depending on the work for her for my career advancement? I’m not always so jaded, but this left me feeling hollowed out because of my non-traditional career trajectory.

Experience is a powerful teacher, but the definition is up for grabs. Taking time away from work to care for others, like a baby or a young child, is a transformative experience, full of challenges, heartaches, sleepless nights, and profound joy. It is also a gap on a resume — an experience void never to be closed. The years I spent underemployed, unemployed, or employed at anything/everything I could find don’t really count towards my “professional experience.” Nor do the years spent climbing an entirely different career ladder. Sometimes, I can make associations or come ways with creative ways to confer that knowledge, affirm the value and expertise gained, but most of the time all that matters is the number of years within a specific set of roles. Anything outside of that — volunteering, organizing, hobbies — all extraneous.

The thing is, I agree. Experience is the best teacher, but you have to be positioned to have them. Because someone took a chance on me, I was able to prove that I could do the job and I grew from that experience, and the next and the next. Despite my myriad of different experiences, I was considered a risk at first, until their experiences with me proved otherwise.

Writer, researcher, observer