Valerie Jarrett became the longest-serving Senior Advisor to any U.S. President while working President Barack Obama's White House, and she made history after raising her daughter Laura as a single working mom.
On the latest episode of the second season of The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential, Jarrett speaks with Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety about life, her new book, her work and why she wants working moms to be able to acknowledge their motherhood while in the workplace.
Jarrett made American history, but her story began when her parents chose to leave America.
"My father, who is a physician, was looking for a job in the mid-50s when he came out of the Army and he wanted to be at a major teaching institution doing research. And he couldn't find a job equivalent to what his white counterparts were making. So he and my mom who were adventuresome spirits no doubt, began to explore options outside of the United States and he landed a job offer to help start a brand new hospital in Shiraz, Iran," Jarrett explains.
She was the second baby to be born in that hospital and credits her early international experiences with providing her with a strong educational foundation and the ability to take professional risks and deviate from a linear career path.
The professional detour that took Jarrett from being "bored to tears" at a law firm to the White House and beyond began with motherhood, and the realization that work-life balance is hard to achieve when you can't admit to your motherhood at work.
"I had a very generous maternity leave policy back then," says Jarrett, who welcomed her daughter in the 1980s. " I had four months of paid leave. And then I went back to work and I would just sit in my office and cry and I would worry all day long about how can I get everything done I need to get done so I can get home," she recalls.
Jarrett says having her daughter was a wakeup call, and that looking down at Laura made her realize she was not satisfied professionally. She wanted something more and wanted an environment where she could thrive—without having to act like motherhood was some secret mission.
"I remember at the law firm I would take Laura to the pediatrician. I would say, 'Oh I'm going to a meeting.'" she explains, adding that when she made her career change (to Chicago Mayor Richard Daly's office, where she would hire a young Michelle Obama) she was able to work for people who appreciated that she had a responsibility outside of work, her daughter Laura, who was (and is) the most important thing in her life.
And although Laura was an adult by the time Jarrett was the Senior Advisor to President Obama, Jarrett was still a mother, first and foremost.
"That doesn't stop when they graduate from high school. I still feel that way today," she tells Tenety.
Jarrett is now a grandmother and continues to work with the Obamas, as the Senior Advisor to the Obama Foundation.
Her new book, Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward is a New York Times bestseller.
To hear more from Valerie Jarrett about her experience as a mother balancing career and family, check out the The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential.