When starting out in her career, Yvette Vargas felt, like many women, that she needed to keep the spheres of her life separate.
“I used to have separate selves — mother to my children, wife to my husband, caretaker to my parents, employee and friend. I thought that compartmentalizing my ‘different selves’ would help me manage each relationship better,” she said.
However, it’s only by working to integrate her selves — and finding a job that allows her to bring every aspect of herself to work — that she’s found true meaning in her career.
Vargas says that at Citizens, she can feel the difference she’s making. And it’s the compassion of her coworkers that makes it all possible.
While doing meaningful work that reinforces who you are sounds like the golden ticket to career happiness, it also takes a lot of effort. Vargas shared the routines that have allowed her to do it: how she centers herself every morning, how she sets intentions for interactions at work and how she champions the ideas of others. Then, she shared her best advice for women who want to develop careers that truly matter.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I’m Executive Vice President, Head of Development at Citizens Bank. I joined the bank in 2012, and I’m responsible for defining and leading an integrated development strategy that‘s tied to the broader business agenda. My direct management function includes talent management, leadership and management development, organizational development, and education and training.
What’s the first thing you do at work every day?
It’s not the traditional “I wrote my to-do list.” I spend a few minutes thinking through my intentions for the day and how I want to show up.
We all have work we have to get done. But before I start work, I like to get myself centered around what might get in the way, what I might struggle with, what might make me happy, what might make me unhappy and how I can be productive. For example, if I know that I am going to have a difficult meeting, I want to have already thought through how I’m going to approach it. I might have emotions about the meeting or thoughts that I want to share, but there could be barriers to me being able to do that. That’s why I want to be prepared to overcome them. If I find myself struggling, I’ll often use my time in the morning to reach out to my advisor to be a sounding-board.
What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job or company?
The work. We’re dealing with people and human behavior, not just knowledge. We’re in the business of helping manifest people’s knowledge and skills into activities: initiatives that will help our customers, colleagues and communities actually transform their lives.
Maybe I’m over-indexing a little on our industry, but I do think it’s an honorable one. Had banking not existed, my father would not have been able to start a small business. I would not have been able to go to college, to get my Masters degree or to buy my first home. We’re an immigrant family. We’re the example of the American dream, and I still believe there's an opportunity for that. It’s why I do what I do; I get to help people become their best selves.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a missionary. The ideas that I had were to change the world in a third-world country. Now that I’m a little older and more practical, my goal is that if I can be a blessing to one person every day, then it’s all worth it. I can make change one person at a time.
What’s something you think most people don’t know about your company that you think they should?
What distinguishes us is the care that our colleagues have for each other and our customers. It’s not just a statement on a poster or a slogan in a marketing campaign. Our colleagues care and that’s why we all show up the way we do. We work in a fast-paced industry that not only requires smart, competent people, but people with heart. That’s what makes us different — empathy and compassion.
What’s something you’re especially good at at work?
I can create something out of nothing. Someone can have an idea and I can operationalize it. Or, I can have the idea and lead other people to bring it to life. I don’t need a lot of structure.
What are you trying to improve?
To have a better holistic view of who I am. I used to have separate selves — mother to my children, wife to my husband, caretaker to my parents, employee and friend. I thought that compartmentalizing my “different selves” would help me manage each relationship better. Now that I’m in the second-act of my life, I’m working to integrate it all. Every relationship I have represents wealth and happiness to me, and my definition of success is to be a whole person. It’s unfortunate it’s taken me so long to understand that.
What’s your favorite mistake?
The biggest career mistake I’ve made — and it's the one I’ll never forget — is that you should never leave a company for money. You need a better reason. I had an emotional reaction to not getting the raise I wanted and chose to leave that company for another one that wasn’t great. This taught me to look at the whole picture. If you decide to take a new job, take it for the people you work with.
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
Coming to Citizens. I could have stayed where I was — I was having a good time and doing good work. But this role has given me the opportunity to bring together everything I’ve learned throughout my career and I’m learning more than I thought I would. So, I’m proud of the risk I took. I didn’t know about Citizens and I haven’t been disappointed. I’ve had opportunities to stretch, learn and grow — and hope that I can finish out my career here.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?
There a ton of websites and social media channels to look for work. But my advice is building your network in the industry you’re interested in. Go to conference. Attend meet-ups. Insert yourself in industry events. Those are the best ways to get yourself known and understand what’s happening in the market relative to the work you’re doing. It will allow you to meet people who can help you “get in.” That’s not something you can do online. You need to put a name, voice and person to the resume.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
Go to every meeting knowing how you want to show up. What is the brand you want to convey? You have a chance every day to solidify how you want to be known, and what you want to be known for. Choose your words and actions wisely.
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