Success Story: Jason Kambak

Jason took a break from a 15-year career in sales and account management, primarily in medical sales, to give his young son a better sense of stability. When he was ready to return to work, Jason searched for a job for over a year before applying for and being accepted into a sales development returnship at Dynamic Signal. After completing his returnship, Jason was converted into a full-time sales development role. He talks about returning to work at a start-up, dealing with the identity shift of being a stay-at-home dad, and the importance of staying flexible during the returnship experience.

What prompted your career break, and how long were you out of the workforce?
Right around the time my son was entering kindergarten/first grade, he started having a lot of challenges. We went through a diagnostic process and found that he had ADHD with sensory issues, and my wife and I realized that one of us had to stay home to give him a greater sense of continuity and stability, because at the time, we both traveled a lot for business. Since she was more successful than I was, and I had a bit more of a nurturer side, we decided I would be the one to take a break. 

Women are twelve times more likely to take time off for caregiving. As a male caregiver, did you experience any particular challenges or difficulties?
Every day. I would say one of the biggest challenges I encountered was that it’s more of a rarity to be a stay-at-home-dad. I experienced a loss of identity. My wife and I found that we would go to a party or dinner, and my wife would be sitting with the men talking business, and I’d be with the stay-at-home parents talking parenting struggles. I did go through some depression because all my friends and peers were out in the working world and following their careers, and I was a stay-at-home parent. 

What prompted you to return to work?
I was a stay-at-home-dad for about 4 years. Then my son reached an age where he didn’t need quite as much round-the-clock care and he was in a school that was geared for him, so I felt like I was ready to return to work. I job-searched for a solid year to a year and a half before starting my returnship.

Did you take any classes or complete any training in preparation for your return to work?
Prior to the Path Forward returnship, I had been working part-time in retail for a few years. I found it valuable as a way to get back into a sort of working schedule. As a stay-at-home parent, I was so used to following a self-imposed schedule, so it was a good way to get back into a schedule imposed on me. When I knew I’d be returning to work at a start-up, I took some coding classes online and did some research into current technologies. While I had the tangible sales experience, I didn’t have too much industry experience and needed to refresh my knowledge. 

What was your returnship role at Dynamic Signal?
My returnship was as a sales development representative, which basically means cold-calling people that have no idea that our company exists and trying to set up a meeting. I was re-entering a world that I’d been out of for years, surrounded by people – at least in my case – who were dramatically younger, and not quite understanding where I fit in. 

Once again, I had to deal with an identity shift. When I transitioned out of being a stay-at-home parent and into a new role, I felt a loss in the sense of purpose that comes from being a caregiver. It was challenging. I eventually came to understand that, though I was no longer a full-time stay-at-home parent, I was still a caregiver – just a working parent on top of that. So you take that identity shift, plus the onslaught of information that you’re getting through training, trying to understand your role, and the stress and worry of “Am I doing it right? Am I succeeding?” It’s both wonderful and chaotic at the same time.

What did you find most helpful about being part of a Path Forward program at Dynamic Signal?
You’re part of a cohort of people returning to work at all kinds of different companies whose experiences are very similar to yours. At our workshops, we set aside time to lament and voice our frustrations and fears, and that’s where I found a lot of commonality, and felt that I wasn’t going through this experience in a vacuum. You can lean on the people that you’re working with at Path Forward, as well as the other members of your cohort, and when you’re having moments of doubt, you can talk it over with them and realize they’re going through the same thing. 

What was the experience of returning to work at Dynamic Signal like?
If I was a less flexible person, it would have been a challenge to work with people who are 10-20 years younger. But because I’m naturally pretty jovial, energetic, and try to engage with everyone, I didn’t have a problem. I think one thing that benefits stay-at-home parents returning to work is that you’re kind of used to dealing with people of all ages. So coming in and working with people younger than you is not going to be that big of a change, because you’re used to that generational divide. I’ve even found that, on a personal level, many of the people I work with will stop and ask my perspective on things. 

Are there any skills from your break or pre-break career that you use in your new role?
My ability to talk to strangers has served me well. And from being a stay-at-home parent, you get the patience and understanding that comes with dealing with young children. Negotiation and hostage-like situations are things you encounter a lot, both at home and in the working world. And my experiences as a stay-at-home parent taught me not only to compromise, but to have flexibility.

Did anything surprise you about your return to work?
Everything. I came from a Fortune 100 medical sales company, which are slow-moving bureaucracies with standard operating procedures, and returned to work at a start-up where everything is fluid. Here, you could try one thing one week, realize its not working, and change it up and try something else, which definitely took some getting used to. But again, that flexibility that you learn being a parent helped me, especially caring for a kid at an age where they’re constantly changing. Whenever I reached a point where I felt, “okay, I got this,” the situation with my child would change. So that ability to adapt to them and their constant changes helped me with the constant fluidity that is a start-up. 

What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
First, I’d say being converted from a returnship to a full-time position as a Sales Development Representative. But everything has felt like an accomplishment: from that sense of seeing a paycheck come in every two weeks that I’ve earned, to having my son see his dad go to work, to the accomplishments that I do here every day. I would say I’m proud of all of it. 

Do you have any advice for future returnees?
First and foremost, you’re going to want to keep an open mind, and remember why you’re doing this. You’re going to give up some forms of control at home. We send our laundry out now. There are dishes in the sink. There’s a little more chaos in the house. Those are things I had to learn to accept. 

And in many ways you have to be flexible, just as you were in your caregiving role. You need to take a lot of those strategies you learn during caregiving and apply them to new situations. You have to go in knowing that there will be good days and bad days. There will be a rollercoaster of emotions throughout your returnship. If you keep that in mind, then you’ll have a positive experience.

Thanks for sharing your story, Jason! We are so happy you’ve found success and balance in your career. Learn more about Jason on his LinkedIn page. – The Path Forward Team