Jean Roth – From Public Affairs to Graphic Design
Many of us are blocked from reinventing ourselves into new careers by a linear concept of who we are and what we’ve done. We’re not comfortable with simply cutting the cord and somehow falling into a career reinvention of our own making — as if it’s that simple. It would be great if our reinvention could be somehow miraculously handed to us, fully formed and available to just hop right into. Many of us take the defensive and defend-able route of planning everything out; setting the right criteria or conditions, and then looking for an opportunity that fits our assessment and our plan.
For Jean Roth, the journey was far more organic. She spent her career accumulating a range of skills and experiences that she was then able to translate into an entirely new life and career. Roth spent the first part of her career pivoting from interest to interest, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities to learn new skills and signing on to jobs that went beyond her training and her background. Indeed, her undergraduate education in Asian Studies, and her Master’s degree in Japanese language and culture seemed to point her in the direction of an academic career, or one narrowly defined by this very specific training.
Instead, and here is, I think, the key, Roth saw herself in a larger context as a communicator. As a result, her various wide-ranging career moves tell a unique story. Rather than dig into a particular track, her many moves gave her different perspectives and forced her to pick up new skills. That she started out working in public affairs for the Japanese consulate in L.A. makes perfect sense. Roth then continued to take advantage of her Japanese culture skills by moving to Israel and joining an Israeli-Japanese venture in the diamond industry. But here is where her path begins to edge off the track: she left that gig to work for an Israeli non-profit focused on at-risk youth, and then joined a software company where she began to pick up computer graphics skills. Returning to L.A. almost 20 years ago, her software company experience helped her pivot into design, working for an architectural firm. With her communication skills more honed from her diverse experiences, she was a natural choice for UCLA’s International Institute as a public information officer, editor and designer.
When she was let go from her UCLA position in 2003, she decided that the time was right for her to combine everything she knew about communications, culture(s), art, design, and business and open up her own graphics studio — even though she had no formal training in graphic design. As she told Martha Stewart’s Dreamers Into Doers project in 2012, “I apply my knowledge of public relations, marketing, writing, copy-editing, technology, and social media to accommodate my clients’ needs in a streamlined and cost-effective manner. Indeed, Roth sees herself as more than a graphic designer. She is a self-described “Creative Alchemist,” whose abilities to synthesize the right solutions for her clients draws directly from her diverse background.
So the lesson here is for us to look past our job description, or our perhaps limited belief or understanding of what we do, and see the essence of what we have done in our work, and how we can apply that out into the world. As Roth realized when she left UCLA, the jobs aren’t always there, but there is always a need for talent, and for solutions.
So maybe it does come back around to cutting the cord and letting go. As Roth said to Fox Small Business in 2012, “I have learned that as a business owner, you have to sometimes take a leap of faith. This is a challenging lesson that I am learning.”
Roth’s career narrative expresses a rich and unique set of personal as well as professional experiences. To reinvent ourselves, we are well served to draw from our unique personal reflections and perspective on the world as a way of distinguishing ourselves in this new phase of our lives. Even if we have worked our entire lives in one company or one field, our struggles and triumphs in getting to our current situation form a narrative that allows us to connect with others, and establish a reinvented path based on both skills and persona.