Lessons from the Supermarket: Looking Back before I Move On
By: Stephanie Schultz
Just over a month ago I put a bow on my twelve-year career as a retail dietitian. I ended my time in the retail grocery industry as the Senior Director of Marketing & Communications for Festival Foods, but my role as a retail dietitian without a job description was where it all started.
Annette asked me if I would be willing to write an article sharing some of my key learnings in building a successful career as a dietitian in the retail industry. RDBA has played a significant role of my journey, and it is truly an honor to share some of what I’ve learned along the way. So please, consider this an open letter to you, my retail dietitian friends. You’re truly some of my favorite people. Please keep in touch. I wish you all great success!
Define what success looks like to you. The first thought that went through my mind when Annette asked me to share lessons from my successful career was, “Were my twelve years really a success?”
Success is in the eye of the beholder. I was recently reminded of this in the parent onboarding session for my daughter’s 3K program. Her teachers warned that she will come home with assignments and things that are complete and may look “wrong” to me (think a backwards number 3). They explained that when your (young) child completes a project and brings it to you, you should ask them how they feel about the work they did. If they feel confident and are proud of it, then it was a success. Don’t have them change things to be “right” as you know it to be. Teach them that perfection isn’t necessary for things to be a success.
As I reflect on my twelve years as a retail dietitian, they were a success. I was intentional and purposeful, and I am proud of what I accomplished. My two-word purpose is to inspire growth, and I have been able to bring that to life in various ways. Early on I was able to inspire growth for consumers at shelf edge with POP nutrition guidance (NuVal) and in the community with classes. I was fortunate to have a leadership role within Festival Foods that allowed me to lead others in their professional journeys, and I got to know many of you who were looking for someone to talk openly with as you worked to build your programs. I’m thankful for every opportunity I had to live on purpose.
So, what does success look like to you? Are you “on purpose” with your work?
Embrace change. Take risks. Try new things. Two common things I hear from my retail dietitian friends that hinder advancing their careers are: 1) they don’t want to stop “being a dietitian” or 2) they don’t believe they understand the business well enough yet.
To the former, ask if you can keep some of your roles and responsibilities as a dietitian when move into a new role. Explain that you want (and need) to keep your credential and continuing education efforts alive. If you are the right fit for the new role, they will work with you. Do keep this in mind though - to pick up new responsibilities, you need to put down some old ones. For more on that, I recommend the book The Next Level by Scott Eblin. Depending on what the new role entails, you can find ways to weave your passion for nutrition in or find ways to advocate for our profession in other disciplines.
As for the latter, you may not feel like you know everything you should about the new space following a promotion. That is normal, and it is also the truth. You don’t know everything, but you do know a lot! Embrace the unknown, ask questions and allow yourself to grow. Remember, someone believed you were the right person for this job.
Get a mentor…or two. Yes, you have a boss, and you may even have an in-house mentorship program. I still encourage you to find a mentor outside your business. Start by making a list of ten people or professionals you admire. Then think about the skills and abilities you’re working on. Narrow it down to one or two people and make the ask.
Making the ask can be intimidating. Do it anyway! Invite your mentor prospect to lunch or coffee. Explain why you chose to ask them (trust me, they love this part). Share what you’re hoping to gain and what you’ll put into it. Then request one hour per month for a year. If the relationship goes beyond a year, great! As a matter of fact, I asked my first mentor for a year about ten years ago. She has since retired. We no longer meet formally every month, but she has become a dear friend who I visit often and chat with on Instagram constantly.
If you’re looking for a guide on selecting a mentor, read the book Management Courage: Having the Heart of a Lion by Margaret Moreford. She wrote a whole chapter on it.
It is okay to coast from time to time in your career journey. A few times that come to mind for me are when I got married, completed my master’s program, and became a mom. I’ve also had moments where I simply needed the break. I think of it like preparing to run a competitive race. You taper your mileage and rest leading up to the event, so you hit the start line rested and excited to run. If you’re in one of those coasting moments, enjoy the ride. You’re probably focused on something far more important than work anyway. Nothing is passing you by. If it’s meant for you, it will all work out.
Define your brand. How would you describe yourself? Ask five people how they define your personal/professional brand. Does it align with how you want to be perceived personally and/or professionally? If not, make changes accordingly. Do this check in every so often.
Yes, you’re worth it. But do some things for free too. I know, I know. This goes against everything we talk about at conferences and read about in compensation surveys. BUT, volunteering and getting involved in your community will pay off in other ways.
I’ve been fortunate to serve on several non-profit boards. Each has provided unique leadership opportunities, introduced me to different business structures and connected me with some talented people. You may not see the payoff immediately, but please trust me when I say that the connections are priceless. Some of these connections became mentors. Others became friends who have helped me behind the scenes in more ways than I have time or word count to explain. And another, well, he just became my new CEO six years after we served together.
Finally, be human first. On my last day at Festival Foods I was gifted an AWAY tote bag. The bag was filled with notes from colleagues. I was blown away by the kind words shared by people from all levels of the organization. Most however, did not talk about the great work I did. Instead, they thanked me for my approachability, my smile and authentic leadership. That is exactly what I hoped they would remember about me!