Aug 21, 2023
What I love about my guest today, Nori Jabba, is that when she hit a brick wall—in her case, a series of job rejections—she pivoted and wrote a book about the whole job-search process and dealing with mulltiple rejections, called Keeping Your Seat at the Table. Now she’s writing a second book but actually she’s not writing it, everybody else is writing it. It will be a compilation of other people’s stories about their journeys and their seats at the table. Want to contribute? Contact Nori on her website keepingyourseat.com. Listen and learn how to build your own table.
1. Forget about getting that seat or keeping that
seat. It’s really about keeping your own seat at your
own table that you build for yourself.
2. You can’t do it alone. You’ve got to lean on others. Think about who’s at that table with you. Who’s at your table?
3. Believe in yourself. It’s really about believing in yourself and loving your voice, loving what you bring to the table and knowing that you add value
Andi Simon: Hi, welcome to On the Brink with Andi Simon. I’m Andi Simon, I’m your host and your guide. And my job is to get you off the brink. What I like to do is bring you interesting people who are going to help you see, feel and think in new ways. Why is that important? Because your brain hates me, it doesn’t really want to see new things. It’s got a story stuck in there that only sees what conforms to it. So today we have to take you exploring, becoming an anthropologist, begin to step outside yourself and look in a new way.
So today I have Nori Jabba. Nori is a wonderful woman who’s coming with a new book to talk about. The name of the book is Keeping Your Seat at the Table. She’ll show you a copy of it in a moment. But Nori came to me through Kathryn Hall, who’s a wonderful publicist, and I just enjoy the guests she brings to my podcast because they’re all interesting people, men and women who are doing things exactly like we like to, in different ways. Nori, thank you for joining me today.
Nori Jabba: Thank you, Andi. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Andi Simon: Nori, I have a desire to hear about your story. You told me about it and I stopped reading bios because I think they’re helpful, but not necessarily capture the essence of who you are. But today is your story. So tell the listener or the viewer, who is Nori, what’s your journey been like, and how does it set up the tale that has gotten us to keeping your seat at the table? Please tell us your story.
Nori Jabba: So thank you, Andi, and it’s wonderful to be here today. So my story really began when I took six years off to have children, and I’d had a very successful career before that at a utility company as a senior real estate portfolio manager. And I took six years off and had three kids, and I was lucky enough to get a job after six years and went back to work. And then in 2012, that project went on hold.
So I decided to become a consultant and consulting was great. It gave me flexibility that I needed. And then after several years of consulting successfully in real estate development, I wanted to go back to work. I wanted to be on a team. I wanted the benefits and the structure that comes with being employed. And I’d had almost 30 years of experience. I’d won awards. I had a wonderfully professional resume and no one would hire me, no one.
And so I decided after so many rejections or non-responses that I was going to stop job hunting and start my own company. I’m from Silicon Valley and we start companies. That’s what we do. So I thought, no one will hire me, I’ll do my own thing and write a book about it. And so that was the birth of the book. And I have a liberal arts background. I love that you’re an anthropologist. I took a couple of anthropology courses in college and went to Grinnell College in Iowa and majored in English. So writing comes naturally to me.
And so I started writing the book. I joined an incubator program here in Silicon Valley to help me boost the company and hopefully get some seed funding for it. And during that process, we spent a whole lot of time focusing on purpose and drive and making sure we had what it takes to start a company because it is not an easy endeavor. And through that process, I realized I don’t really want to start a company, nor do I need to start a company. I want to be a writer. So that’s when I stopped with the company, tabled the concept, if you will, and wrote the book, and it was through the journey of writing the book that I actually did get the job that I was looking for. But I like to say that I got my seat back at the table as well, because what I learned through the process is that the table and your seat at the table is much, much more than just a job and success.
Andi Simon:Now, when you got the job back, was it in the same career or a different career?
Nori Jabba: It was a slight pivot, so it was within the umbrella of community development, but it was in affordable housing, strictly. My background is in real estate development for commercial and residential, but not property management, not affordable housing. Specifically, I had worked on multiple affordable housing projects, but this was just affordable housing. So yeah, it was a pivot. And during the pandemic.
Andi Simon: Well, the reason I asked is that in some ways we need a context for your own exploration in your own journey, and I love the fact that it was in urban and community development. You spend time abroad doing this. You’re a very successful woman who also found a wall and jumped over the wall. You know, we can talk about glass ceilings, but sometimes brick walls, and we don’t quite know what you do to do what?
But in many ways, it’s them who are trying to build their talent and begin to do something intentional. But why am I not a great fit for that talent? So as you finally moved along, we’ll talk about the book in a moment. You got that job and share with us a little bit about the journey to get it, because I have a hunch you stopped selling it the way you used to and you found other ways of getting inside. What was the trick?
Nori Jabba: So I wasn’t looking anymore. I had resigned myself to just continuing consulting, to give myself time to write the book and research the book. So the book was really the driver. And by not needing the job, by not being desperate is not the right word. I wasn’t as hungry. I had that self confidence that I was content and happy with what I was doing and I didn’t need the job in order to be fulfilled, and I think that confidence comes through. You know, I was standing taller. I was feeling good about myself. I knew that I was adding value as a consultant, and it was one of my clients that hired me full time. And how I presented myself with that confidence I think is so important.
So in my journey, I reached out to one of the managers of a company that rejected me. I came in second. I came in second so many times I can’t even tell you. And I asked her, would you have coffee with me? I’m writing a book and I’d love to talk to you about this. And I couldn’t believe she said yes, but she said yes. And I drove 60 miles to have coffee with this woman. And, you know, things happen for a reason, because if I had had to drive 60 miles every day to go to a job, it would have done me in any way.
So in retrospect, I’m really glad I didn’t get that job, but had a wonderful discussion with this woman who had never been asked, Why is it so hard for middle-aged women to get hired? And she fortunately was a middle-aged woman because otherwise I wouldn’t have wanted to listen to her had she been in her 20s. But, one of the things she told me was so important and it is that women, older women and older men, too, sometimes stop listening. And when you talk about being a good fit in a company, a good fit means you’re going to listen, and what was coming across in my job interviews was that I had lots of value to add, but that I wasn’t going to receive. I wasn’t going to listen. Maybe it did and it wasn’t lost on me.
The irony of the moment was because when she told me that I didn’t want to listen to her, I slumped back in my chair and thought, I’m doing exactly what she says women my age do. So I sat up straight and leaned in and decided, I’m going to hear what she has to say. I’m really going to listen. And from then on, I became a better listener. And the other thing she told me that was so valuable was that older workers, and men and women are dismissive of younger workers, and the workplace is filled with young people and they have so much value to add.
But if you go in there, “I have 30 years of experience, you got to listen to me, that’s a stupid idea,” or whatever we say. We can be dismissive of these young people and the value that they add. So I have three daughters. I have from the time they were in preschool, I tried to listen and learn from them every day, something new and taught them to teach and listen to others. And I really feel like this woman told me to listen to young people. My kids teach me new things every day.
But what’s ironic now and such a wonderful part of this story is that I now have a new job. It’s a better fit for me than the one that I got while writing the book. And my boss is decades younger than me. She could in fact be my daughter and I’m not sure I would have been able to accept that had I not done this, the journey and listen to this woman and others in the process of writing the book. So I embrace young people. I value them.
My boss is so smart and I learn from her every day and it’s a give and take. She learns from me, and I learn from her. But those two things that woman taught me really changed me. And I think it’s a big part of why I got my seat back at the table, is being able to listen at work and embrace other young adults.
Andi Simon: The listening part is very interesting because as you know, we have a story in our mind that guides what we hear. And the problem that you’re articulating is that you crafted this story about who you were and what the skills were you brought and why you would be a good fit in that company as part of their talent acquisition. The problem was, you couldn’t hear what they were saying because it was out of sync with what you were thinking, but they also couldn’t hear what you were saying because the story you were telling about your accomplishments didn’t fit exactly with their expectations or desires for what they were looking for in somebody who would be a comfortable fit in that team in some way. And I emphasize that because it wasn’t what you did. It was how the story came across. Am I right?
Nori Jabba: That’s exactly right.
Andi Simon: And listening and hearing are separate because you can try and listen. There’s a quote by some admiral that goes something like this: What you think you heard me say, was it what I meant? And it wasn’t what I said. I mean, because we just take the pieces apart, so it fits.
But your book is a very interesting effort to talk about what you’ve learned to share with others and in the process to help amplify the message so they don’t have as big a struggle to get a table as well as a seat at the table and to really begin to see what you went through in order to be transformed into a different woman. And I don’t think your journey is going to end because I think the message is, it will change again and it will change again. So your insights and your wisdom are very important. Tell us how the book came together and what are some of the key themes so that the listener understands why they should buy it and read it, but also what they can learn from it, because I think it’s really powerful.
Nori Jabba: And so the book really came together as part of the journey. You know, one of the big messages of the book is that we think of success as this line going up. We get a degree or a diploma and there’s a straight arrow up to your seat at the table and then you retire and have a pension or whatever. And what the book taught me, what I learned in the journey in writing it, is that it’s the journey that’s important. It’s not the seat at the table. And so it’s all about creating your own table of support, and your seat is just one seat at the table. But you need to create your own table with people that you invite to support you.
And the idea is that you have one for each chapter in the book, and there are eight chapters, so eight, at least eight seats at the table. You can have the biggest table on the planet and continue to invite people. And these people are your mentors, your coaches. They don’t even need to know that they have a seat. They just need to be important to you, people that influence you to get there. But the themes in the book are a play on words. I’m an English major. I love words. I love writing poetry, and I love playing with words.
So at the beginning of each chapter, I summarize each chapter in exactly 100 words. And this is a method that I learned from a friend of mine, Grant Faulkner, who runs NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month, but he also publishes a book called The 100 Word Story. And so everybody who contributes to the book each year does exactly 100 word stories. So it’s a really fun process of thinking and summarizing. So in addition to the 100 word summary at the beginning of each chapter, each chapter is a play on words with the table.
So chapter one is flipping the table, and that’s identifying your purpose and distinguishing between purpose and legacy and what the difference is and why they’re both important. Chapter two is clearing the table, and that’s getting rid of everything that’s holding you back. Clearing the clutter. Real clutter. In my case, it’s real clutter because I can’t get started when I’m surrounded by clutter. I’ve got to clean the house before I start writing or accomplishing whatever it is I want to do. But also what’s holding you back, not believing in yourself. And that is a really, really important takeaway is, you have to believe in yourself and have that self confidence.
The next chapter is reinforcing the table, and that’s about building strength in body, mind and spirit. And you can’t have a seat at the table if the table is going to tip over or isn’t strong enough. So it’s about strength. And the next one is sitting at the head of the table, and that’s about feeling empowered and feeling just really confident and how to get that back and looking at how you show up and getting rid of that anxiety about, Did I say the right thing? Did I do the right thing? And I look, do I look right? It’s all about how you show up and just feeling really good about yourself.
The next one is not getting pulled under the table. And what I realized was that a big reason that I lost my seat at the table was because I had all of these things weighing so heavily in my life. And in my case, it was my aging parents, my mom in particular, and I was a consultant and I had a big client and I wasn’t there for my client. I couldn’t do it because I had to downsize my mom and move her in her time of crisis and literally drop everything. And that can happen if you’re an employee. It’s even harder because how much time can you take off to deal with that? But it’s about facing the future, facing those fears and in my case, my mom and dealing with her. It was a volcano ready to erupt. I knew I was going to have to face it at some time and I just thought, oh, I’ll deal with it when I get there. So this chapter is about planning and preparing, and it’s also about aging and looking at ourselves as we age and doing it, figuring out a plan on how we want to age and how to get there gracefully and strongly.
And the next is not tabling yourself. And that’s about being relevant and listening, as I pointed out, and embracing young people. But in British English, because I used to live in England, it’s also about tabling yourself straight away. They say it in the opposite way, so I cover that in the book in case it makes it to the UK, which I hope it does and leveraging what you bring to the table is the next chapter, and that’s about owning your experience. So, as an older woman, I am taught to take those dates off my resume. Don’t you dare let somebody know you graduated in the 1980s or 90s. I call BS on that. I say, You own it. You put your chin up and stand tall and you own it. But you have to do it with balance and vulnerability and a give and take. So that’s what that chapter is about.
And then the last one is leaning on the table. And I credit Sheryl Sandberg with Lean In. I read her book and have a side story on that because I had a client the next day that was expecting a proposal. I read Sheryl’s book the night before, and as an experiment I took my price that I was going to submit and I doubled it because Cheryl told me to. And guess what? I thought the worst that can happen is they say no or we negotiate down like, Why don’t I do this all the time? They said yes, they didn’t even negotiate. So it was a really valuable experience in valuing myself. And not undervaluing myself. But my chapter here is about leaning on as well as leaning in because we can’t do it alone. So it’s about creating strategic partnerships at your table. And so that’s the book and the final word is, once you’ve done all that, you get up on the table and dance.
Andi Simon: The metaphor is very important, though. We have to see something. Remember, I started out by saying, I want you to see, feel and think about it before you can actually do it. And when you listen to it, Nori, put your book up there so we can see the cover. Perfect. It’s actually building a table that you’re sitting on with a bunch of folks who are going to be your teammates at this table.
I think that all of us trying to move into business or non-profits or communities are all navigating the challenges of rocky roads, trying to find our path. And I emphasize that because some people who are leaving to have children are going to have a rocky time as well. And those who are coming back aren’t quite sure how to re-enter. And the companies aren’t necessarily helpful on either stage, either giving you time for having kids and raising them or for thinking about how to prepare for the reentry.
So you’re ready for that reentry. And there’s no reason why they can’t align with you instead of abandoning you. You know, this is a really interesting piece to this or to help train you. I mean, you went through the self-discovery, sounds like through trial and error as opposed to having a mentor to begin with. And even a mentor wouldn’t necessarily be cool.
Nori Jabba: It was really about self-care because I was feeling my esteem slip and that’s a slippery slope that is not going to help you get a job if you’re not feeling good about yourself. So all of the rejections and non-responses would just be debilitating. So the book was really self-care to stop and try to understand what’s really going on here.
And I felt like I had this duty to myself and other women to really understand, is ageism real? Is it me? And the answer is yes, ageism is real, but it’s also me. We also have to stand back and take a look at ourselves and what we really bring to the table and how we’re presenting ourselves and listening and learning and being vulnerable. I love Brené Brown and the vulnerability book and her whole message about vulnerability is strength and you can’t grow without being vulnerable.
Andi Simon: Being in a consulting business myself, I’ve been in business for 22 years, and it’s a different experience because I was in corporate for 20 years and I was a professor for ten years. And they are all different experiences, truly different. You know, they’re like foreign countries to each other. And yet I knew I was an anthropologist. I wasn’t doing it, and people weren’t quite sure what that meant or how to capitalize on it. So they imposed upon me what they needed.
And my job was to manufacture the right answers and solutions to solve it and to thrive. I was EVP of a bank, SVP of another bank and an executive in healthcare systems. But I’m thinking about your stories because I remember at one point I had that epiphany that it really wasn’t about what I needed or did or how I could help. It was what they needed and how they saw me and where they put you at that table and what role they wanted you to play, including being the only woman at that table, which is a whole story unto itself.
The ageism thing, though, is extremely important because we’re living longer, growing older, and we’re beginning to work ourselves with senior living communities and try to begin to see elders as older adults, not as seniors, but with tremendous growth potential for them. Why not, and why not do so with some real important changes coming? When you were a consultant, though, apart from the fact that you weren’t necessarily happy, it sounds like you were very successful.
Nori Jabba: I loved consulting. I really did. I just wanted to have the benefits and be on a team truly, because when I was a consultant, I would have clients and I was on a team, but I really wasn’t. I was kind of the outsider and I missed that. I missed it. So I really wanted to have that camaraderie and go back to just having that everyday interaction with people.
You know how it works when you’re at work, you go to somebody’s office or cubicle and you have a side chat about something and they teach you something about Excel that you had no idea about. As a consultant, you don’t get those opportunities for those little bits of information and learning and connection. And so it was really about connection. And I had over 40 clients in my time as a consultant, and I still have the business. It’s just dormant at the moment. But I really did like it. I just wanted to go back to I wanted more. I want to do well. I was tired of billing at the end of the month and spending my weekends doing the administration for the business.
Andi Simon: I love what you said. On the other hand, when I left corporate, I was thrilled to launch my business. And I remember my PR firm that I hired. I said, I need a PR firm. Who am I? And they said, Well, you’re a corporate anthropologist that helps companies change. And I said, that’s exactly correct. And I haven’t deviated from that at all in 22 years.
But it was interesting that in some ways I had had enough of all of the complexity of the teamwork. You know, when you’re an executive, I had thousands of people and HR was my least favorite area because it was so complicated all the time. But this is so interesting, Nori, as you look forward, as you’re looking at your book and looking forward, you have some interesting ideas about how to engage people in their process of literal transformation. You want to share it with them because I think it’s a great way to take a book and make it come alive. What are your thoughts?
Nori Jabba: Yeah. So it’s really for all ages, even though the book is geared towards middle aged women because that’s what I am, it’s really for men too. And want to point out that men play such an important part of my journey. The book is dedicated to my dad. When you read the book and you see the partners at my table and who’s there, a lot of them are men, so it’s by no means just a book by women for women about women. It’s for men as well. And about men as well. But it’s really about those eight steps.
You know, it’s really about finding your purpose and figuring out what it is. And it doesn’t need to be the overall purpose of your reason you’re on the planet. It can just be your purpose right now. And as you know, you change in life and your purpose is going to change and that’s okay too. So if you can’t figure out your overarching purpose, I say pick a purpose that works for you right now. So it’s those eight steps of stepping back, building your confidence, being strong, figuring out how to stay strong for the rest of your life, embracing young and old and being relevant.
You know, don’t be that person, that woman, that man that said, how many times have I been in a meeting where some older person has said, I’m too old for that. I’m too old to learn that, I need a young person to do it. You know, it’s great that we embrace the young people to do it, but in my book, I really stress how important it is to learn those new skills and technologies or you’re going to be left behind. And this is important for life skills, not just keeping your seat at the table at work or just to be relevant in your job.
The world is changing so fast with AI and technology that if you don’t keep up, you will be left behind. You know, my mom is in her late 80s now and she has a smartphone and so many seniors just can’t figure out how to use them. But I’m proud of my mom because she not only has a smartphone, she uses WhatsApp because WhatsApp is the best way to keep in touch with my twin sister who lives in Europe. And texting doesn’t work because you have to pay overseas costs and all of that. So we had to teach my mom how to use this app and she does it every day. So just keeping those skills up and not being afraid of learning the new technologies is so important and just staying relevant and empowering yourself and leaning on others and having those partnerships. So it’s really quite simple as those eight steps. And it applies to everybody at any age.
Andi Simon: I think this is wonderful, not a how-to book, but a “what I learned and want to share with you” book and I think the insights are relevant and timely. And regardless of what your age is, I do think that it is a journey and you need to be reflective about where I am, where I’m going? And also the fact that you got to keep growing. You need a growth mindset. You can’t get fixed and you don’t need an excuse. So it’s very, very powerful. What I wanted to talk about a little bit is what can other people do? You had mentioned they can write their stories. They can begin to explore. I love it when people send me their stories for my book or my blogs. They want to share them. What are you thinking about?
Nori Jabba: So I am writing a second book and actually I’m not writing it. Everybody else is writing it. I’m compiling a second book, which is other people’s stories about their journeys and their seats at the table. So I invite your listeners to go to my website, which is keepingyourseat.com and submit your story, or just contact me. We can have coffee, you can have a Zoom call. I want to hear your story because so many people have been through this and it’s so valuable to share our journeys.
Andi Simon: Well, I love that because this is a collaboration now. And what you’re going to find is that you are not alone. They are not either. And then the next book comes out as a joint effort of all of us to help each other celebrate our insights, our wisdoms, and where we’re going and how it can be really help you propel yourself in difficult times because nobody was there to say to you, you don’t have to be so structured, so frustrated. You know, you’re not the first person, but this is how you might get around it.
Nori Jabba: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I heard when I interviewed one woman who ran this organization called Nova Works, she told me that the average woman of age 50 has to submit 500 resumes before they land a job. 500. And don’t know if that’s an actual corroborated number, but it was enough to scare me. I’d probably submitted 150 and was completely debilitated. And she just kind of patted me on the shoulder and said, Honey, you have a long way to go, and that’s just not okay with me. So that is just not acceptable.
So I thought, we’ve got to change this. And so the book is a movement to try to change that. And I do think that HR directors and HR teams really need to focus on ageism and what they can do to be more inclusive and set some policies because ageism is alive and well and yes, we can do something on our part, but we also need corporations to embrace aging as well, and make it a positive, not a negative. It’s like, you know, having children is a negative. Why is it a negative? Don’t we want to build a healthy, happy next generation?
Andi Simon: We’re just about ready to wrap this up. 1 or 2 things you want to make sure that the listeners remember and the viewers can recall. And, you know, what’s your last thoughts to share?
Nori Jabba: So three things you need to build your own table. Forget about getting that seat or keeping that seat. It’s really about keeping your own seat at your own table that you build for yourself. Two: You can’t do it alone. You’ve got to lean on others. And so think about who’s at that table with you. Who’s at your table? I even have a mug that says, Who’s at your table? And then three: believe in yourself. It’s really about believing in yourself and loving your voice, loving what you bring to the table and knowing that you add value. And share your story with me. Go to keepingyourseat.com, please. I want to hear from you. And my book is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well.
Andi Simon: Nori, it has been a pleasure talking to you. I will share with our listeners and our viewers the book, and this is a very exciting time for new books. Our book is called Women Mean Business: Over 500 Insights from Extraordinary Leaders to Spark Your Success. I wrote it with Edie Fraser and Robyn Spizman, two extraordinary women. And I love sharing it because, like Nori, what I want to do is take these wisdoms and make them accessible to you to amplify the voices of these women, as well as to show you the path for you. So, Nori, as soon as it comes out in September, I’ll make sure you have a copy. I can’t wait.
Nori Jabba: I can’t wait to read it.
Andi Simon: This is a beautiful book and I love Maria Carluccio’s quote. She has seven children and runs a $1 billion company and does some fabulous things. Some of the quotes are wonderful. Christie Hefner’s in there and Lilly Ledbetter. I love Susan Healy, being at the top doesn’t mean having all the answers. It’s learning how to get those answers. And in some ways, your story is a bunch of wonderful stories just like that.
So our book comes out September 26th. Pre-orders are available now. But it is time for us to share our exploration book of writing. I love your idea of 100 words capturing the essence of it. It’s a really terrific story. I know for all of you who came today to join us, thank you. Share our stories with your friends and begin to tell us about what more you’d like. I get great emails from across the globe who love the podcast. Remember, we’re in the top 5% of podcasts globally, and that is no small feat because that’s because everybody who’s on it shares it and likes to listen. And I love to hear from you. So with that in mind, I am going to wish you a wonderful day. Nori, thank you so much for joining me.
Nori Jabba: Thank you, Andi.
Andi Simon: Goodbye now.