Jeanette Jordan's multifaceted career reflects her commitment to following curiosity. From civil engineering to product marketing, she evolved into a solopreneur and coach, demonstrating a profound ability to redefine success and find joy in diverse endeavors.
As told to Claire Zhang
Let’s start by learning more about your journey with The Grand!
My journey with The Grand is that I was part of the first transitions cohort. I was at a place where I was really burning out at work. I had lost the joy for work. I ended up leaving my job voluntarily and put myself on a sabbatical. It felt very lonely going from a pre-COVID bustling office environment to just being home with my thoughts all the time. My partner ended up seeing The Grand in a First Round newsletter and said: “If you wanna do this, I will gift it to you.”
In that first cohort, we were doing hybrid: in-person and online. COVID hit right after our first in-person, so it ended up mostly being online. At the time, I was thinking I would transition into the media and entertainment industry. It came to a halt with COVID.
We had one-on-ones with our coaches. Anita was my coach, and she asked: “Have you ever considered being a coach?” I said: “No, not really. I do more coaching and mentoring. I can see it, but it feels like a really hard business to enter. It feels like it's so crowded and it's hard to differentiate yourself.” So she asked me, “Would you ever consider joining us as a coach at the end of the cohort?” And I did. And it's almost four years later.
That was literally January or February of 2020. So, now going on four years, I'm still here, hanging around The Grand.
I love it. I noticed when I went through your LinkedIn how many different industries, jobs, and roles you've had. Tell me more about that.
I've always been willing to follow my curiosity.
I started my career in civil engineering and construction management. If you scrolled all the way to the bottom, you might have seen it! I wanted to do that ever since I was a kid. My favorite toy was Legos. I used to enjoy building things, and my parents were very encouraging of me leaning into my curiosity. So they bought me AutoCAD software and said things like: “You can design our deck, or this addition on our home, and we'll take it to a formal architect.” So, in my formative years, being encouraged to follow my curiosity was normalized for me. I then went into civil engineering and construction management, like a very good type A person. I followed that seventh-grade dream all the way through—and then the housing crisis hit.
I like talking about this now, because I think market conditions are important.
I loved what I did, I was good at what I did, and when the market shifted, it was hard to do what I wanted to do.
So, I enrolled in business school to be a better people manager. I had already learned the mechanics of things, but engineering and studying engineering didn't teach me how to manage people.
In that first semester of business school, I was working and going to school part-time. That was when the housing crisis hit. I knew that we were going to go out of business and I left voluntarily to hopefully save the jobs of people on my team. I decided to just double up on my business school classes and graduate a year earlier than I planned.
Oh wow. Then, I think I saw that you went into product marketing?
Yes, I went into the technology industry. My first semester of business school, I had a marketing professor that said: “Marketing's not a soft skill. It's a hard skill. It's very quantitative,” and she had a PhD in Stats.
As a kid I always loved commercials and jingles, but I had gotten the feedback that I was a little bit better at math than English, so I never followed that path. For someone to tell me that my math rigor could be applied to a different skill just totally got me fascinated. I ate it up and I just went on a deep dive. I did projects about streaming services like Hulu. I did an independent study and created my own class around eye-tracking movements—what do people see in stores, and how do you collect that data? I wrote a paper on it. I wanted to know all about the intersection of marketing, entertainment, and data.
As I came out to get a job, I was looking for this intersection, and one of the only industries that got it was the tech industry. They were like: “Oh, you'll talk to my marketers, you'll talk to my engineers. This is great.” I really wanted to be a CPG brand manager and they all were like: “You're an engineer, what do you wanna do as a marketer?”
Then a couple years later, there was all this news around big data.
By following my curiosity, I ended up in the right place at the right time—when everybody started talking about marketing and the field getting very quantitative a couple of years after I went down that path.
I think following curiosity is a common theme with people in The Grand community. You mentioned you talk about this a lot with your clients: the construction job was a job you loved but, due to market conditions, had to transition out of. How do you help clients deal with this sort of change?
Here's the thing: I think it's important to know what we love and what we value, not in a job title sense.
I talk about this a lot. I ended up in product marketing because I understood the building blocks of what I liked about construction: I like building things and I like to see those things manifest in reality. Not concepts. I want quick-turn projects. I want to build things in a year, year and a half, or less. I don't want to build things that are three or five or 10 years away. I love working collaboratively and cross-functionally to do that.
On its face, ‘construction manager’ and ‘product marketer’ have nothing to do with each other. But when I stripped down and looked at the bare things I love, I realized: I love building things, I love quick-turn projects and I love working collaboratively—I did that when I was building houses and I did that when I was building SaaS products.
A lot of it is: “How do you start to learn more and be curious about yourself?” Instead of saying: “I want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a finance manager,” what is it that you love about those things?
I've been starting to use the analogy of ice cream. There’s a lot of different flavors of ice cream. There's all types of crazy combinations. They all might look and taste different and be named very different things, but they all have those bare bones components. You can mix it however you want.
Even though to other people, construction manager and product marketer have nothing to do with each other, to me and how I show up, they're the same. And I want people to discover that.
How long did it take you to discover that for yourself?
Those were some rocky years. I would say it probably took me two to three years—about the time that I was looking at going back to grad school and coming out of it. I'm thankful I had great career coaches through school. At that time, a lot of what I was aware of, as far as career coaching or career development, was associated with school. I didn't know you could just go get coaches. I was lucky that I had this experience in the context of school to explore and decode some of these things.
I didn't know what product marketing was at the time. I applied for a job. I don't even remember what job I applied for. They said: “We don't think you're a good fit for this job. We think you're a good fit for this other job.” I had never heard of product marketing, but again, I was really open and I was able to follow my curiosity, which landed me into a really rich career that I love, that I'm passionate about, that I created a podcast about because I want more people to understand that there are so many ways to be and participate in the tech ecosystem that have nothing to do with coding. I think we don't always talk about that.
You mentioned you came to The Grand during a moment of burnout and transition. The way you entered tech seems to be yet another moment of transition, caused by another crisis. That seems to be a theme… I’m curious what you were facing in that moment and what you were struggling with.
Yeah, I have a whole blog about my exit. I was feeling lonely and isolated inside of my work culture. We don't always talk about that. I was the most senior-ranking Black person in the company's history, so I felt a lot of pressure. I was creating a new role in a new department, so there was no roadmap for me and what success looked like.
Also, I did not have a full-time team. There were a lot of things that were brewing internally—and this is the nature of the dynamic tech industry and change, I don't think it was by design, I think it was more by coincidence—but, I was feeling lonely and isolated inside of work.
On top of that, I was working at a global organization. I had a lot of life changes in transition. I had a baby under one year old and another baby just under two years old. I had gotten divorced. I was working in a global organization in a new role across timezones and feeling like there was intense pressure and scrutiny by being the first in so many different aspects and respects.
I was pushing myself to work harder and harder with no real rest and recovery. We know this, and we talk about this and coach leaders on this in The Grand: you cannot be in that Performance Zone constantly. I flipped over into the Burnout Zone, even though I didn't have the language for it then.
It just became really hard. I knew conceptually I could do it, but physically I just was not having the output that I would expect. I couldn't match my energy and my mentality. It was getting really hard to get out of bed. I was starting to have random aches and pains. I was starting to get really forgetful. There were a lot of physical manifestations of burnout that I did not know.
I had a friend who randomly called me, and she has since gone into burnout coaching, asking: “Do you have a lot of tabs open on your computer but you forgot like what you were doing? And I was like, “Yeah, why?” She said: “I think you're burned out.”
I've been burned out a couple of times. She often calls herself a two-time burnout survivor. She said: “You sound burned out and I think we need to be having a different conversation. Do you need to take time off of work?” All of that felt really foreign and overwhelming to me. I couldn't process one more thing.
I had a check-in with my finance manager and she said: “You don't sound like yourself, are you okay?” And I said, “I don't know.” I didn’t even have the mental capacity to process this burnout concept thing. So, she asked me a really powerful question: “If you want to take time off, we should explore that. What do you think your emergency fund is for?” I thought: “I don't know, is this a pop quiz? Like a leak in my house and my car breaking down?”
She said: “Yeah, but it could also be for you. You are the person who makes money. You are the person who sustains your household. If you are breaking down, use your emergency fund for you and to take time off.” And I just thought: “Ohhh.” It never occurred to me.
Having support from people who could lovingly open my eyes to things that I felt were a blind spot at that point was super helpful.
So I wrapped up my project and then I used my emergency fund and put myself on seven month's sabbatical.
Wow, I love that. Then you found The Grand. And then… you had another crisis moment where you were trying to transition into the media and entertainment industry with The Grand. The market conditions changed on you, again. Curious how you navigated that?
It's another great story about me and Anita.
Anita had been in media. She said: “Do you want to be in the media industry, or do you get joy out of creating content? Those are very different.”
I was doing the thing I had learned a decade before: placing a title on the thing, versus naming the core function of the thing that brings me joy. She was really able to help me reframe that.
It goes back to the theme of paying attention to the things you enjoy.
I realized: “Oh, I just love creating content.”
I ended up getting a CMO role where I did a lot of different things like produce short online videos or campaigns. I got to understand that I did not have to be in the media industry to express my creativity in this very specific way.
Now I have an IG Live, I have a podcast, I'll probably create another podcast. I create content all the time. I'm on TikTok. I create content for my love and my joy.
And so you didn't end up going into media and entertainment?
No, not yet, but who knows—I'm multifaceted. That might be my next pivot. Watch out!
Of course. So what did you end up doing?
Yeah, I ended up going back to work and I became the CMO at Kapor Center—at the intersection of tech and social justice. I had a month between accepting the offer and starting. Three days after I accepted the offer, George Floyd was murdered. All of a sudden, their work was center stage. Everybody was paying attention. There was more than enough content and conversation to create. I'm really, really proud of what we did. There were a lot of campaigns around racial and social justice that I got to be a part of, that we won awards for.
I commissioned a mural in downtown Oakland, where we brought together four or five Black mural artists that never worked together. When there are protests, a lot of windows get smashed in, and so people have a culture here of boarding up their windows. For companies, restaurants, and organizations that want to show they're not shutting out the community, they board up their windows and make murals of statements on them. Almost four years later, that mural is still up today and I get a lot of joy out of driving past it.
Yeah, that's great. And then, you decided to make the full plunge into being a solo entrepreneur?
I did. The market was kind of wonky. I loved the work that we were doing at Kapor Center, but it was very intense and I was still a single mom in the house with my kids full-time during COVID. I loved the work and the mental challenge, but it wasn't the right season for me to be balancing all that. I've been consulting and working for myself so that I can do the work that I love, but do it a little less than 40 to 60 hours a week so that I can be really present to my kids.
COVID brought that up: how much we work, how much we spend time outside the home and how much I had very, very little kids. My kids were three and five when COVID started. I felt like I was missing it—even being in the same house, because of the nature of our work being so important and intense. I had the privilege of helping people coming to the house and homeschooling my kids, but I wasn't seeing them most of the day. They would draw pictures and slide them under my door and I was like: “Oh my gosh, my kids are sending me SOS messages from the same house.” That doesn't feel good.
I started doing more consulting, so I can still be a part of causes that are so important to me and organizations that are doing such great work. It's a different thing to be a coach. I often compare it to sports—coaching top athletes versus being a top athlete. We have to prep, and we get to be right alongside them where the action is happening, but there's work like going to the gym, the practice, the conditioning—there is a lot more intensity to being the athlete vs. being the coach. It's been a really great season for me to do something I love to do. Stepping into coaching full-time allows me to be right on top of the action and not always in the center of it. That allows me to have more space for my kids.
That's a great framework. My last question is: one of the things I find in being a person of color is that having the courage to follow our curiosity in our careers and seeking out things like coaching and investing in ourselves—that's not a concept we're very familiar with, and it's hard. I'm curious how you found that courage for yourself?
A lot of coaching in the early days came from suggestions and recommendations from friends or partners, or it was often tied to university where it's included in the price. It wasn't until I was running a marketing department, which I referenced earlier, that I noticed that a lot of senior leaders, including myself, were struggling.
I was reporting to a CEO. CEOs can be great visionaries and leaders, but only a select few of them are really great day-to-day people managers, because they think so big picture. One of the things that HR helped me figure out is that a lot of people who report directly to the CEO have coaches, and the company provided coaching to give them that day-to-day support and accountability that sometimes the big-picture CEO can't have.
Unfortunately, it was a weird situation where most people who reported to the CEO were VP and above, and that's who they provided coaches for. I was technically a Director, but because it was a new department, I was reporting to the CEO, so I was caught in this little gap and I decided to make the choice to invest in myself so I didn't fall flat on my face and burn out.
Now, TBD if we call that a success or if I fell flat on my face—I think a little bit of both happened—but it reconnected me with coaching and reconnected me with the value of coaching and I've made that a part of my day-to-day life.