Next Door Story: Charlotte Hurd—Sometimes the Door Finds You
By Jacey Eckhart
Your big career break could sneak up behind you clad in blazing Pepto-Bismol pink. No lie. I would never have believed it either until I hear the best Next Door Story from Charlotte Hurd, the military liaison for Senator Mark Warner of Virginia.
“When I retired from the Navy, I thought I was all that and a bag of chips,” Charlotte told me with a laugh during a recent interview at Royal Chocolate (as decadent as it sounds) in Virginia Beach.
I thought she was all that and a bag of chips, too. She enlisted in the Navy in 1981 as an E1, was promoted to chief, applied to be a Limited Duty Officer, and retired from the Navy as an 0-5. The Navy calls those people “mustangs” because this transition is so hard to do. It takes a ton of determination and persistence, which Charlotte had plenty of. Throughout her career her mantra was “Find out what they want and do it.” Which worked brilliantly for her.
“I thought the world would welcome me with open arms and that I would have a job in no time,” Charlotte said. She thought she was a natural fit to move into government service where she had contacts and experience. So she put in her retirement papers.
The door shut behind her with a resounding clang. Because in 2013, sequestration closed the door on civilian hiring across the Department of Defense. She could not take her papers back and unretire. Just like all of us who find ourselves stranded in the hallway of life, Charlotte had to move forward.
For an entire year she knocked on doors. She put out resumes like it was her full-time job. She got job offers. “The jobs offered seemed far less than what I was able to do,” Charlotte said. She kept knocking especially on that Department of Defense door, but stubbornly, illogically, it would not open. (It was her Ex-Door not her Next Door. More on that next time.)
Frustrated, angry, and discouraged, she found that hiking and kayaking helped. “Nature is one of those things that helps me get away. At some point you gotta let go and let it flow. Take a step back from what you are trying to do and get back into that personal space.”
Finally, on New Year’s Day 2014, she had enough. She told herself, “A year has passed. You gotta get a life, Charlotte.”
That day she went to Virginia’s Chippokes Plantation State Park with nine people from her hiking group for their First Day hike. Charlotte recalled, “A silver-haired lady came rolling up beside me in a bright pink coat. Pepto-Bismol pink. She was walking and talking and on her BlackBerry.” The two chatted casually, and the lady in pink asked her a lot of questions and then took her contact information.
The next day, Charlotte got an email requesting her resume. Then she received an invitation to come up to Richmond, Virginia for an interview with the lady in the pink coat—Nancy Rodriguez, Virginia Secretary of Administration under Governor Terry McAuliffe.
“Two weeks later I was standing on a stage watching the Governor-elect get sworn in,” said Charlotte. She worked for Nancy Rodriguez as her executive assistant.
“At first I felt like an outsider [in state government],” said Charlotte. “But everywhere I’d ever been in my career I was an outsider.” Her old manta—“Find out what they want and do it”—worked great for her again. Eighteen months later, she was recruited to be military liaison for Senator Warner.
It’s easy for us to look at Charlotte’s job progression in the rearview and think it is so obvious that a door is going to open for someone who is all that and a bag of chips. But it isn’t obvious to any of us while we are stuck in the hallway. We have to keep knocking; we have to branch out. Because some doors will remain stubbornly closed to us, and others will sneak up behind us in blazing Pepto-Bismol pink.