Barack Obama’s senior advisor shares the career lessons she learned working 24/7 at the White House, and how she found work-life balance despite the demanding schedule

  • Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s longest-serving White House advisor, recently appeared on Glassdoor’s new IN PURSUIT podcast to discuss her career and life as a working mom.
  • Jarrett advocated for women in the workplace throughout her career. She recently cofounded the advocacy group United States of Women alongside Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff.
  • Jarrett said she thinks everyone needs to ask explicitly for what they want in the workplace. For instance, Jarrett was able to better balance her White House career because she asked for her daughter to travel alongside her.
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Valerie Jarrett, Barack Obama’s senior advisor and close friend, served with the former president for the longest time period out of any other counselor.

The job didn’t come easily to Jarrett, who ran a real estate company and has served as chief of staff for then Chicago mayor Richard Daley before the working at the White House. She woke up every morning “terrified” of what would happen that day, Jarrett told Glassdoor’s Amy Elisa Jackson, the job site’s editorial director.

Still, Jarrett called her tenure the “best job” she’s ever had.

“People often say to me, ‘How on Earth did you last for eight years in the administration?'” Jarrett said on an episode of Glassdoor’s new podcast IN PURSUIT, where hosts interview successful individuals on how they managed their careers. “First of all, it never in my wildest dreams occurred to me to leave.”

Now, Jarrett runs the advocacy group United States of Women, and she co-wrote an op-ed with 139 other African-American former White House employees calling on politicians to speak out against surging racism across the country.

Jarrett said the biggest lesson she took away from her busy career was to stop working a job that makes “everyone else happy” and instead follow her own passion. When she worked at a private law firm, Jarrett had to balance being a mom and coming out of a bad divorce. Despite feeling unfulfilled at the job, she stayed because it impressed her family and friends.

After she made a risky decision to leave the law firm for city politics, she learned to listen to her inner “voice” instead of what everyone else wanted.

“I was always afraid when I made these big changes, and I didn’t appreciate that with that fear comes exhilaration and a sense of adventure,” Jarrett told Glassdoor. “And now when I look back, each of the different steps added up to a whole life.”

Valerie Jarrett’s advice for working women

Both before and after her time in the White House, Jarrett has long advocated for diversity and inclusion, as well as women’s equality in the workplace.

On the podcast, Jarrett discussed her own experience as a single mother while she worked at a law firm and raised her daughter, Laura. Early in her career, she used to feel that asking to bring her daughter would diminish how “seriously” others took her. Jarrett’s fears aren’t unfounded: Working moms get hired less than fathers, and see wages drop from before they had kids.

Only after she asked explicitly to bring Laura to meetings and on assignments did her work anxiety ease. That way, Jarrett got to develop a close relationship with her daughter without sacrificing her work.

Jarrett also became an inspiration to other women – including Michelle Obama. After Obama – who worked alongside Jarrett at the firm Sidley Austin – noticed Jarrett taking calls from her daughter during meetings and bringing her to work, Sasha Obama started popping up around the office, too.

“You have to be open and vulnerable, and you have to be a whole person in order for somebody to really care about you,” Jarrett said on the podcast. “That is what really solidifies the bonds of trust so you can be as productive as you can and so that people want to mentor you, advocate for you, and invest in you.”