Jennifer Fischer is an entrepreneur, filmmaker, writer, mom, and lover of travel, books and coffee . We’re honored to share her insights on the power of the pivot with the OwnTrail community. View her trail to learn more about her journey and to connect with this total trailblazer.
I grew up playing basketball. One of the first critical things you learn in basketball, in order to avoid traveling (and a loss of possession) is how to pivot. It’s simple, really. (Though many beginning players struggle with it). You plant one foot and keep it firmly placed on the ground, holding your space on the court, and then you move the other foot so that you can find an opening to pass the ball. (The move is required when you’ve stopped your dribble. Perhaps, at times, prematurely and don’t have an obvious “out” just yet).
“I needed to wrestle back control of my life and find some happiness and peace. The value and impact of the pivot let me do that.”
My “professional life” or my “career,” if we want to call it that, has involved quite a few pivots. In fact, the pivot is why my production company, Think Ten Media Group, is marking its tenth year this year. It’s why I’ve been able to work for myself since 2005 when I quit an NGO job that left me exhausted, angry and frustrated at the end of each day. Without a backup plan or an exit strategy, I walked away. I wanted to stop being so angry all the time. I needed to wrestle back control of my life and find some happiness and peace. The value and impact of the pivot let me do that. It’s why the Career Change milestone on OwnTrail is my favorite (and why I sometimes use it to represent a shift within my company as well).
As I look back, I realize my history of pivots began even before I left that workplace. It began in December of 1997 when I told my parents that I could not go back to the college I’d spent the previous three semesters at, the college I was attending on a music scholarship. My experience there was quickly sucking any love I had for music and the piano out of my veins (and I had a lot of love for it before then). The fraternity-laden school culture and conservative nature of the small Indiana town the college was located in further affected my feelings about the school and my time there. (Keeping friends safe from sexual assault felt like a full-time job).
I did the unthinkable (for my family and my friend circle). I walked away, mid-year with no transfer plans. In fact, with no plans at all. I ended up moving to San Antonio (a safe two hours from my parents) and working as a waitress and nanny while I dedicated my limited spare time to researching colleges. The next one would be a better fit for me. I applied to the University of Texas at Austin (safe, easy, cheap) and Sarah Lawrence College (safe, in a different way, near New York City and not cheap at all. Bring on the mountain of school debt.).
I ended up at Sarah Lawrence and the pivots continued. Sarah Lawrence teaches students how to pivot, letting students bounce from this focus area to that. No majors to be declared. Students are encouraged to dive deeply into topics that interest them, to cast a wide net, to find intersections and interdisciplinary connections among those interests. There, I thrived and I fell in love with the pivot. Studying abroad, bouncing through courses that seemed unconnected, but that all somehow made me feel grounded. One leg always firmly planted allowing me to make a graceful pass.
“The pivot is rather essential for our own happiness. The course we may set for ourselves at 20 or even 25, a course that we think will fulfill us, may suddenly be all wrong at 30 or 40.”
Career pivots are similar and are becoming more and more common in today’s professional climate. The pivot is rather essential for our own happiness. The course we may set for ourselves at 20 or even 25, a course that we think will fulfill us, may suddenly be all wrong at 30 or 40. The pivot allows us to change directions effectively, to shift, but keep moving the ball forward, moving our team forward (even if that’s simply a team of one).
When my production company’s first feature film was complete, I’d just given birth to our second child and our first wasn’t even two. The writer and director of that film was my life partner. Our previous feature film (made in partnership with another production company) was picked up by a supposedly reputable distributor, a distributor that we vetted, but they never made good on their commitments to us.
We would distribute this second film ourselves. We would pivot and create our own distribution method for “Smuggled”, a feature-length narrative film about immigration. I would build this strategy while at home with my two little ones. And it needed to work. In the end, it did. That pivot led to a slam dunk. (Confession: some of the pivots don’t work. You turn the ball over. You realize that shift wasn’t the best one, but there’s always another possession, another opportunity).
The experience with self-distribution for our film inspired me to embrace the pivot even more and to be able to course-correct when a certain pivot didn’t turn out so well. Now, I see our business evolution as a series of pivots: adding and expanding our arts education division; seeking out film curation and filmmaking panel moderation opportunities; pivoting, recently, toward video game development and interactive education as my partner and I’s personal interests evolved and the world around us shifted; investing more time in my own writing projects. Pivot. Pivot. Pivot.
“Each pivot showed me the power of believing in myself and the value of following my own intuition. This is the leg that’s firmly planted. It’s you.”
Each pivot, even the scary ones, brings unexpected growth. Sometimes personal, sometimes professional. Often, both. Each pivot showed me the power of believing in myself and the value of following my own intuition. This is the leg that’s firmly planted. It’s you. Your belief in yourself. Your belief in your vision. Your belief in positive change.
With that strength, you can make a strong pass as you decide what comes next because the future belongs to you.