Former Real Simple Editor Offers Darden Students Advice on Work-Life Balance
By Caroline Newman
Kristin van Ogtrop, who served as the editor-in-chief of Real Simple magazine for 13 years before stepping down this month, finds herself in the same position as many of the women she addressed Friday at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business — on the cusp of a major career shift.
“I am in a place, not unlike a number of you in this room, where I do not really know what the future looks like and I am leaping into the unknown,” she told students gathered for Darden’s annual Graduate Women in Business Women’s Leadership Conference.
Many in her audience were drawn from the largest class of women to date at Darden, where women make up 39 percent of the current First Year class and 35 percent of the Second Year class.
Van Ogtrop, who graduated from UVA with a degree in English in 1986, shepherded Real Simple as it grew from a relatively small print magazine to a household staple reaching more than eight million readers and supporting a range of related products, including books, international magazine editions, and home goods lines at Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond. While working full-time, she also wrote a book about the challenges that working mothers face, called Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom.
This month, she voluntarily stepped down from her position at Real Simple, feeling that she had become stagnant in her role and was ready for a change. She continues to write columns for Time Inc. while spending more time with her three sons, the oldest of whom, Owen, is a fourth-year student at the University.
“The job had become a little rote, but I loved my team and I still really believe in Real Simple and its place in American culture,” van Ogtrop told students during her keynote address.
Van Ogtrop’s remarks provided a personal example of the conference’s theme: “Chart Your Course.” She was joined by fellow UVA alumna Kate Moore, who addressed conference attendees on Thursday. Like van Ogtrop, Moore has reached the upper echelons of her field, though her province is finance. She is the chief equity strategist of the Americas for BlackRock, one of the top investment management firms in the U.S. Moore studied political and social thought at UVA.
UVA alumna Kate Moore shared lessons learned from rising through the ranks of some of the country’s best banks and investment management firms.
“It is really a testament to strength of the UVA alumni network that we were able to get both of these incredible women as speakers,” said Maeve McGilloway, a Second Year Darden student who serves as president of the School’s Graduate Women in Business club.
Moore and van Ogtrop discussed challenges they had faced as women in their field and as working women balancing family and career.
Van Ogtrop cited advice she received from her husband when she worried that her decision to leave at 5:30 p.m. most days in order to be home for dinner would somehow undermine her credibility as a newly minted editor-in-chief.
“He said, ‘Just do it your way until someone tells you to stop,’” she said, drawing a laugh from the room. Her way, van Ogtrop said, ended up working out pretty well.
“You always have this sound track of ‘I should’ running through your head, especially as a younger mom,” van Ogtrop said after her address. “You have to make a conscious effort, I think, to not listen to that ‘should’ soundtrack, knowing that the way you are doing it works for you and your family.”
She also reassured attendees that finding a career path they love might take several attempts. When van Ogtrop came to UVA, she wanted to go to medical school and become a forensic pathologist. However, she ended up enjoying her English courses much more than math and science and decided to make a switch.
After graduation, she continued to make changes in search of the right career path, first working at an art gallery in Washington, D.C., then earning a master’s degree in English and moving through the ranks of magazine journalism in New York City, where she worked at Vogue, Premiere, Travel and Leisure, Glamour and finally, Real Simple.
“My twenties were so full of uncertainty, not knowing what my adult life was going to look like and not knowing if I was making the right move,” she said. “So, if any of you in the room feel that way, just know it does get better.”
Still, she encouraged the women to be OK with some uncertainty, citing her own recent leap of faith.
“My hope for all of us, myself included, is that we can all enjoy the leap,” she said in conclusion. “Sometimes this will feel like falling, but on the really good days, it will feel like flying.”
In addition to keynotes, the GWIB conference featured a full day of panel discussions on career advancement and leadership from Darden alumnae and experts in a variety of career fields.
This story first appeared on UVA Today.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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