Path Forward: Valerie

Red Ventures is proud to partner with PATH FORWARD, a 16-week paid “returnship” for experienced professionals who are returning to the workforce after taking time off for caregiving. 

Learn more and apply to join the program here, and read about one RVer’s remarkable path forward below.

At a young age, I was drawn to public service. I dreamed of working in DC or overseas. After earning a degree in Politics, I landed a job in the U.S. Congress, where I worked for three U.S. Representatives. My favorite job there was with Lucille Roybal-Allard, who to this day represents the poorest Congressional district in the nation in East and Central Los Angeles. It is also the district with the fewest eligible voters, due to its high undocumented population. I felt a strong sense of purpose working for this underserved community.

I spent the next almost ten years working for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), serving in the Director’s office for a Nobel Laureate of Medicine and alongside Dr. Tony Fauci.

The NIH paid for my master’s degree in Public Administration, which helped me land the role of Deputy Director of Communication for the National Cancer Institute, one of many institutes within the agency. I thought I would work at NIH until retirement. That obviously didn’t happen.

So, why did I give up a great job that I loved, steady career progression and job security, good pay and benefits, and a full federal pension? I’ll admit it sounds insane. Let me explain.

Hi Val!

Living in DC before September 11, 2001, was a pleasure. It was a beautiful, vibrant, accessible, active, and culture-filled city. On 9/11, I ordered the evacuation of 25,000 employees from NIH and watched the mass chaos that ensued from the front porch of Building 1. Nobody had ever considered HOW to evacuate the city. From that day on, DC was never the same for me. The security measures that were put in place after 9/11 were immediate.

Every day, my car was searched, sniffed by a K-9, and rubbed down for explosive residue, while I waited next to a grim-looking soldier holding a military rifle. Then, following a terrifying anthrax threat, we opened all mail wearing gloves and masks after a K-9 agent sniffed and approved it. After a  sniper terrorized the DC area and I was nearly car-jacked while trying to buckle my baby into a car seat, my family made the very difficult decision to leave DC. We moved to Waxhaw, NC, to start over in a safer area.

I commuted back and forth to DC for a while, but with two little ones at home, it was exhausting. I knew it was career suicide, but I resigned after almost 15 years of federal service.

I spent the next three years driving my son to tutors and occupational and physical therapy appointments, heading the PTA, and trying to figure out how to find purpose as a stay-at-home mom. Those were depressing, isolating years. Even with a strong support group of mom friends, I felt greatly undervalued and isolated. In conversation at parties, all I would have to say was that I was a stay-at-home mom and some people would simply walk away. One man told me he was bored just hearing it.

I love my children… but volunteering at their school and helping with homework just did not fulfill me. After nearly three years, I decided to re-enter the workforce. With over a decade of experience as a leader in the federal government it would be an easy transition back… right? Wrong. 

Spoiler: We know where Val DID eventually end up rebuilding a successful career….
(Hint: a tech company with a color in the name)

Thirteen years after giving up my federal job, I’m still rebuilding. I left my career to raise my children in a safe, family-friendly area. I don’t regret that. What I do regret is having to start from scratch. 

I know there are lots of women and men in the same position, who for whatever reason switched careers and had to start at the bottom again. There’s something wrong with that equation.

Professional experience carries over, no matter what field you switch to. It’s the functional skills that need to grow.

As I tell all the Red Ventures new hires when I’m leading onboarding training, we are fortunate to work in an environment that supports and accelerates opportunities for career growth. My team constantly encourages me to lean into areas of opportunity and to own them. Every morning, I am excited to go to work. I feel like my job has purpose.

But most importantly, two-and-a-half-years later, my teenaged kids are proud as heck of their hard-working mom. 🙂 

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About the Author:

Valerie Secker

Valerie is a Program Manager on the RV Learning and Development team by day, busy mom of two teenagers by night. She enjoys people, adventure, and being outdoors (preferably all three at once!). Look for her leading onboarding training at RV or on a paddleboard at Lake Norman.

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