How One ILLUME-ineer Mastered Her Nonlinear Career Path

Posted August 8, 2022 By Yasmeen Chánes

The journey to ILLUME looks different for each ILLUME-ineer. For some, their technical expertise and passion for solving environmental issues is what has landed them here. For others, their paths may have looked very different and ILLUME is the place where their skills, expertise, and interests merged. In this series, I hope to look at some of our team members at ILLUME to learn how they got here, what impact they hope to leave, and what they would tell their younger selves if they had to do the journey all over.

To continue our series, I interviewed Allison Carlson, Senior Managing Consultant at ILLUME. Allison has recently taken on a new role that supports the ILLUME consulting team to strengthen and streamline processes that help create better workflows and deliverables for our team and for our clients. Allison’s nonlinear path to ILLUME has been an exciting journey which has brought her to work for ILLUME now for the second time! Her bravery, curiosity, and kind approach are just some of what makes Allison a joy to work with at ILLUME.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was in college, my majors were finance and economics. At that time, I had a minor in international business, and I thought I was going to go work for a bank, or in the finance department of some Fortune 500 company or something like that. In 2002 there was a recession. I ended up taking a year off school and took a job as a substitute teacher while thinking more about my future. I decided to apply for graduate schools and even interviewed for a few positions while I was deciding whether to go back. I interviewed at a couple banks, and got a couple offers, but the fit didn’t quite seem right. I would lie awake in bed at night thinking, what do I want to do? How do I want to feel? I kept on going back to this feeling of wanting to do something for the greater good, and to have that tie be more direct. That led me to getting my graduate degree in public affairs from University of Wisconsin at Madison.

What do you hope to accomplish in your role at ILLUME?

More and more, the projects ILLUME is taking on are weighty and complex – issues like climate change and adaptation, electrification, and equity. I want our project managers and research teams to be able to focus on the content because it’s so important; and ultimately make the project management piece as easy and streamlined as possible, while also empowering folks so they feel like they have the information and resources they need to manage projects well. It’s not always an easy task, but it’s doable!

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to think about their career journey?

Over the last several years, especially now that I’m in the middle of my career, I’ve realized that it’s not a linear path. It’s not something where you get promotion after promotion, and you reach the highest level and that’s it. It’s not like that, life happens. Don’t allow yourself to get trapped. Allow yourself to evolve and listen to your inner voice and your intuition. There is truth to the adage that if something doesn’t quite feel right it probably isn’t. Don’t be afraid to take risks or ask questions. For example, with my new role I approached my supervisor and I said: “I like what I’m doing now, but I’m curious about other opportunities. Where does ILLUME need to grow that I can grow, too?” And what is the worst that could have happened? She could have said no, we don’t have anything else for you right now. And if that happened, I would have figured it out. But don’t let fear hold you back from asking the question. You might be pleasantly surprised by the answer!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

In thinking about how my career trajectory hasn’t been singular or linear – I wish I could have told my younger self that being a leader does not always mean that you are at the top of the organization. You can be a leader in whatever role you’re in. No matter what level you are at, you still have agency over how you do your job and how you grow. I think this is important for new professionals to understand – your career and your job are really what you make of them. Lead from the beginning by investing in yourself. Once you show that you have confidence, other people will see it too, and you never know where it could take you!