In Conversation With… Vanessa Jedrej

Vanessa wrote a letter one day that changed her career and her life. In August 2018 she relocated her young family from London to Plainville, Massachusetts where she now lives and works for international best-selling author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney.

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Can you tell us how you came to have the opportunity to work abroad?

I had a terrific job working as Children’s Marketing Director at Penguin Random House in the UK.  I’d worked there for over a decade and found myself at a career cross road.  I’d wound up in a leadership role where I ran a team of inspiring and capable marketers, and although I loved the business itself, I hugely missed ‘doing the doing’…

I took a risk. I’d been pondering my dream job for a long time and I knew exactly what it would be doing and who I’d be working for.  I started mapping out the job and thought hard about the service that I might be able to provide.  I wrote a role profile and a cover letter on a long car journey back from Exmoor!  I decided to sleep on it and send it at 8am.  The role profile was for a Global Brand Manager for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the company being based in Massachusetts, USA.  I felt I had everything to gain and nothing to lose and wrote exactly these words in my covering letter… I honestly, thought it wouldn’t amount to anything. It was fun to fantasise and I felt like it was a first step to exploring how I might be able to pivot my career in some way.

Jeff Kinney, the best-selling author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and my now Manager, wrote back within 24 hours and to my shock, he was interested.

Awesome Friendly People
With Jeff Kinney and the Wimpy Kid, Inc team at the launch of Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, New York. 

“We were presented with an opportunity that is once in a lifetime… a dream job with an inspirational boss, in an attractive part of the US in which to base ourselves.”

What were the biggest considerations in making your decision to go?

We knew that my husband wouldn’t be able to work on my visa type in the US, which would mean he’d be a full time Dad to our two young sons, a 5 month-old baby and a ‘just-2-year-old’ when we first arrived. And we knew we’d be facing a world where we’d have no help with childcare which would be a challenge given our kids are both part sweet-small-human and part wild hyena!

Of course, we also knew it would be tough living an ocean away from our nearest and dearest.

Yet, flip the flop and we were presented with an opportunity that is once in a lifetime… a dream job with an inspirational boss, in an attractive part of the US in which to base ourselves. We’ve always been travel-thirsty and we thought that New England would be an amazing place to travel with a young family.

Fall Leaf peeping on the Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
Fall Leaf peeping on the Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

What are the best and worst parts of living and working as an ex pat?

The best part of our experience has been the sense of adventure and opportunity to explore New England. We’ve been fortunate to make all sorts of whimsical memories already from horse-sledding at Christmas in Vermont to watching the sunset on Martha’s Vineyard and cheering on the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. ‘Fall’ here is mind-blowing – it has to be seen to be believed.  At weekends we can easily get to a beach or mountains and I often can’t really believe this is my life, I feel so lucky.

Beach
Corporation beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

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“We are really enjoying living ‘someone-else’s life’ for a while… (at least, that’s how it feels!)”

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Beyond this we love the outdoor lifestyle in general, it’s wonderful with young children. We have such good quality family time out here given we are shorter on the supply of family and friends. We love the space, gyms that offer ‘child watch’, how Americans GO LARGE on festivals and dress their doors and houses for each. I love the dairy farms everywhere; home-made ice cream is never far from reach in New England, year-round. We are really enjoying living ‘someone-else’s life’ for a while… (at least, that’s how it feels!)

And the worst…

  • Nappy bags aren’t a thing over here.  On arrival I resorted to dog poop bags. I had two children in nappies and I couldn’t manage.
  • Missing family and friends. We miss them the most when the kids hit milestones and their kids do too and we can’t be together to share them. Saying goodbye to grandparents is awful!
  • Winter (we’re talking 16 inches of snow, not 6!)!
  • Driving everywhere.
  • The impossibility of being understood when you ask for a ‘waTer’.
  • Having to parallel park in the US driving test! (And having to retake it!)
  • A Christmas without mince pies!
  • The cost of living is high. A loaf of bread costs 3 dollars and in Massachusetts you can’t buy alcohol in most supermarkets, which took me a while to get used to!

What does the future hold? Do you have a five-year plan?

Our visas do have an end date but we’re always reviewing the possibilities. We’ll stay whilst the going’s good and we’re trying to live in the here and now. Right now there is so much to be excited about working on Wimpy Kid, it’s been a career highlight to be in the US to help oversee the launch of Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, which became an instant global bestseller!

I used to plan for the future but, honestly, I’ve never done well on having a five-year plan! We’re delighted to be utterly off course for the plan set 5 years ago!

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“There’s really nothing stopping you from returning home.  I’ve discovered that London will always be there waiting.”

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What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Think what you’d do if you weren’t afraid. And then do just that…

What advice would you give to anyone else who had the chance to create a new life and career abroad?

Remember it’s not an opportunity that many people are handed. Based on our experience, I’d encourage embracing it!  And there’s really nothing stopping you from returning home.  I’ve discovered that London will always be there waiting.

What is the biggest challenge that you face on a daily basis and how do you overcome this?

The biggest challenge is easily my husband looking after the kids full-time, particularly given my role involves a significant amount of international travel. He’s nothing but supportive to me and a brilliant dad but it’s very hard for him to not be able to work and I’m sure it can be lonely.  We make an effort to ‘stop-check’ during the ‘highs’ and have found ourselves a great babysitter!  And there might be a time further down the road when I’m supporting his career in a similar way.  We’re both open to that.

snow and horse
Christmas horse sledding in Londonderry, Vermont. 

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“Be sure to cherish crumpets, marmite, cheddars and chocolate digestives. And TREASURE the NHS.  Living in a country without a universal healthcare service is enlightening and frightening.”

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What are you most proud of?

Jeff once asked me what I thought the likelihood of this job happening would be when I wrote to him. I said less than 5%.  I’m proud that I plucked up the courage to hit ‘send.’

What makes you feel happy or helps to lift your mood?

When my friends and family living in different time zones leave me WhatsApp voice messages overnight and I listen to them as I get dressed in the morning. I guess the format lends itself to hilarious long monologues, which can be charmingly entertaining!

 Any wisdom youd like to share?

Be sure to cherish crumpets, marmite, cheddars and chocolate digestives. And TREASURE the NHS.  Living in a country without a universal healthcare service is enlightening and frightening.

And remember who’s in charge of your life. You are! And you can change things. I hope our tale might help others believe anything is absolutely possible.

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Right now I’m…

Watching –  Les Miserables, the BBC’s 6 part mini-series (on a British Airways plane wherever I can!)

Reading –  The Tatooist of Auschwitz

Listening to –   Frank Sinatra in a cafe!

Pass it on:

Who would make brilliant guests on the Muse? Please suggest up to 3 people with their Instagram and Twitter handles and we’ll invite them to join us.

  • @bestchildfriendlyholidays My sister, Emma, has created her own business recommending child-friendly holidays!
  • @happyfitmums Lauren Hyett has left full time employment to launch fitness classes for women (and spend a bit more time with her sons). A daring plunge that I know she’ll soar at. 
  • @studio.eris Rose Gardner, escaped the rat race to lovingly make sustainable jewelry from her London studio. A really inspirational story and creative start up. Add some goodies to your Christmas list!

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