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How I Went From Live-in Nanny To Corporate VP

I came to Canada when I was 20, I had just finished a 2 year International business program in Paris. The only way for me to get a job in my field was to improve my English skills learn English. And the only solution I could think of, was to travel and totally immerse myself in the English language. With almost no money to my name, one of the only options available to me at the time was to apply for live-in nanny positions abroad. So, I did. Within a few weeks I had an offer to work for a family in Canada ; a single mom with three kids! 7, 5 and 3. I must have been on drugs; I had zero experience with kids. But hey tons of mothers do it! How hard could it be? Actually? Pretty freaking hard! Anyway, I filed all the immigration papers. It is a lenghty process but within a couple of months, I was finally travelling to Canada. The plan was to be a live-in nanny for one year in Canada and then repeat the experience for another year, in another country, before going back to France and getting that awesome job in international business I was dreaming about!

So here I was , arriving at the airport in Canada, when anxiety and panic hit me! What the heck am I doing here? Hello people! How do I get back on the plane NOW! I don’t know anybody, I don’t understand anything! I just want to go home! Please.

After going thru customs, I saw this huge banner above the baggage pick-up area “Welcome to Canada Caroline!” Awww, so sweet!, But can I still go home now? I don’t remember what was said at first but we quickly got my luggage and went to the car. It was the longest 2 hour drive ever. When we finally arrived at the house, they proudly showed me my room. It was a small room at the back of the house but it was private and I had a bed and a desk (lucky me!). I was exhausted and, honestly, I was scared. What am I doing here, so far from home? Why do they keep talking to me? Can’t they see I have no clue what they are saying? I excused myself in a mix of English, French and sign language (pretty much what I will continue doing for the following few months) and went to “my” room and CRIED.

I just wanted to go HOME.

Fast forward 30 years! My English is definitely better a little better better,  I still have an accent (My kids still make me repeat words to try to help me eliminate my accent, I don’t have the heart to tell them if it is still there after 30 year…it may never go away), I have three amazing kids (yours are too I am sure), I managed to work my way up in the corporate world to a VP position in a large US corporation and I am FIRO (Financially Independent, Retirement Optional)!  What more could I ask for? (Well, I do have a list but that will be for another post!). Taking the leap and moving to Canada 30 years ago was the best decision I ever made, no matter how scary it was at the time.

So how did I get from being a live-in nanny at $4.75/hour, with barely any English to a well-paid corporate VP job? There is no easy scheme!

Mostly A Lot Of Hard Work!

Except for a few exceptions, you will have to work VERY hard to reach your goals. If you think by showing up at your job from 9 to 5, taking breaks and never putting in a little extra will get you promoted, think again!


Don’t give up as soon as things don’t work your way. Keep trying, learn from your mistakes, adapt as needed.

Respect of Others

Treat others the way you would like to be treated and stay true to this principle no matter how poorly you get treated by some individuals. Jerks are everywhere!

Be Ethical

I am a strong believer in Ethics. You will gain loyalty and respect from staff and peers thanks to strong ethics.

Set Goals

You need to set goals in order to reach them. I was able to recognize the right opportunities because I knew where I wanted to go. If I didn’t have goals I may have missed out on some of them because they didn’t necessarily seem obvious at the time.

Leave Your Ego At The Door

Once I finished my live-in nanny job (which by the way is a lot of work because you end up doing all the crap nobody else wants to do at no additional $), I took a receptionist job so I could get my open work permit. None of those jobs were on my ideal jobs list but they were means to help me get where I wanted to be. Because I treated everybody with respect, was always eager to learn and lead, I was quickly transferred to the downtown office to work in the accounting department. From there I worked hard, took lots of night classes and kept working on my English. I was promoted three times in 2 years. Then a job opening came up in another company. It was a lateral move but I felt it had the potential to help me reach my goal faster. The company I was working for at the time was too small for growth opportunity. I gambled a bit and I was right. But why did I get the job? My resume looked like crap but when I was a receptionist I always helped the other receptionist when she was stuck with her kids. Well guess who was hiring at this new company?? Her husband! I didn’t know but he did.

Don’t Play Corporate Politics And Don’t Let Corporate BS Get In The Way.

Yes some people are really good at it but, in my experience, it doesn’t last forever. (of course there are exceptions). But at the end of the day; nothing beats being the best at what you do!

Adapt To Your Boss(es)

Accept your bosses for who they are and adapt to their style. Bosses come and go. I worked for the same company for most of my life but with restructuring every few months , I changed bosses at least once every two years, sometimes twice in one year! There were a few I truly hated reporting to for various reasons, mostly their management style. But I quickly learn to leave my personal feelings aside. Just adapt, you don’t have to become their best friend or like them. Just do your job, communicate effectively and work hard.

Surround Yourself With Smart People

Smarter than you if you can! Or at least with some of the skills you lack or are weak in.

One of my best employees has very little leadership skills but is a great communicator. I use his skill to my advantage whenever we are on a call with others if I know I may not be able to keep my cool and convey the right message.

Working with people smarter than you keeps you motivated to want to keep learning and do better. You don’t become as complaisant in your job. Many smart people are not necessarily good leaders, so you don’t need to feel threatened just because they are smarter!

Recognize Your Weaknesses

Work on your weaknesses. Identify your weaknesses and improve in those areas. After a few years I realized I was too straight forward for the corporate world. So I worked on my communications skills to ensure I could still deliver my message without sounding like a know-it-all. And sometimes I ask my co-worker to take over if I reach my limit! Also read your performance review if you get one,  there may be some truth to it!

Check out: Actions for improving weaknesses  or   How to work on your weaknesses without beating yourself up

Educate yourself

  • Get Your Professional Certification

Working hard is one thing, but you also need to get your education to the level required for the job you want. It doesn’t matter what field you are in, go for the certification if there is one.  Many options are available to take classes, don’t make up excuses.

  • Professional Development: Keep Educating Yourself.

Keep improving your skills. I would work all day and go to classes at night, taking the bus back from school at 10 pm from the other side of town in the middle of winter. It was hard and tiring but it paid off. You can take seminars, on-line classes, go to community college or university, read books or blogs, the opportunities to learn are endless. And with the internet it is so much easier now. Don’t ever give up learning, there will always be something you don’t know. Also be aware of you company policy regarding tuition reimbursement or/and online training.


Networking is very important if you want to get anywhere. Join professional associations, volunteer your time , open a LinkedIn account…

Know How Much You Are Worth

Do your homework! Don’t assume you are worth more, know you are. Check compensation surveys on line, ask your HR department and make sure you have the skills listed for the job you are comparing yourself too.

Ask for what you deserve and only what you deserve. Be reasonable but fair and don’t keep asking!

Ignore The Negative People Around You

And there will be a lot of them! Co-workers, friends and even family, they will remind you how the odds are against you and often ask you why you bother trying! But remember, it’s not because others don’t have the guts to go after what they want that you should too!  Some people may just be jealous or envious. You owe it to yourself to try.

Think Positive, Everything Is Possible!

I didn’t speak English, didn’t have the right education, knew nothing about Canada, had no money, had no friends or family, I was all alone in a foreign country and I DID IT!


Moving to Canada was the best decision I ever made but it was also the scariest.

So how about you? What are you doing or have you done to reach your career goal? Did you ever miss an opportunity because you were too “scared” to make changes?

33 thoughts on “How I Went From Live-in Nanny To Corporate VP

  1. Great post and an inspiring story. I was an au pair in Paris coming from Canada at age 19…so I can relate. Being in a new country with a new language can be very overwhelming. I was only there for a few months and unfortunately, can not speak French with any fluency 🙁

  2. Hi Caroline, You continue to pull back the curtain here which is very interesting. Although I can’t compare to being a foreigner in a new land, my formula was much the same as yours working my way from 15 year old kid mowing lawns, delivering papers and washing dishes at a restaurant to VP/CFO and now a part time university teacher. In fact, as I read the post, I felt like I could have written it. Right down to leaving your ego at the door (I did some duty in the warehouse when I was a CFO because they needed help with the IT system) and adapting to your bosses. That is so important, but some people just don’t get that. It’s not sucking up, it’s delivering what the boss wants, how they want it and when they want it. There is really nothing magical on that list. Almost anyone can do it, IF they want to. But, most people don’t want to. May I ask what country you are originally from? Tom

    1. Lol, eventually there won’t be anything left to share!!!
      I totally agree Tom, there is nothing magical, anyone can do it, they just need to want to.
      I am originally from France, also lived in the Caribbean for a couple of years during my teenage years…another story:)

  3. “O Canada”. What a great immigrant story. Congrats! Being a live-in nanny for the 3 young kids, that’s a tough starter job. I’m glad to hear, coming to Canada was the best decision you ever made. Job well done. 20+ years ago, I decided to leave China and come to US. I’m glad I made that tough call.

  4. Another great post, Caroline! There is so much amazing tips and advice that I needed to hear. Sometimes I get stuck in my own head too much and this past week has been one of those weeks. I love all your points. I think they are all excellent but I will just mention a few of my favourites. Your point of being respectful to others is spot on. I really make it a priority of mine to treat everyone with the same respect. In a way, I think treating others with respect, working hard, and doing a good job is better networking than networking itself. This is also why I’m glad you mentioned your point on not playing corporate games. Frankly, that is one of the hardest parts of working in the corporate world for me. I have always tended to avoid playing that game and have opted to focus on doing what I think is the right thing to do instead. Lastly, I enjoyed your point about recognizing your weaknesses. This has been top of mind for me lately. In essence, I am a shy, quiet person unless I’m in a small group or one on one situationl. In the corporate world, this is actually a huge weakness. I don’t like meetings, public speaking, or drawing attention to myself in general. I’m sort of a recluse to be honest. Sometimes I think about how much further I could be if I possessed those abilities. I sort of think I have a strategy mind that could be in higher positions, but my avoidance to meetings and interactions tends to hold me back. With that said, I just focus on my skills – doing quality work, being reliable, being detail orientated, bringing a positive attitude to the table, and using my intuition to read situations. Sorry for another long comment lol Your posts always do a great job of pulling me in. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I love your long comments Graham! This is what the posts are all about, getting readers (other bloggers!) to think and share their thoughts:) I wish I could reach more people.
      Corporate BS was a really tough one for me too. I hated it and it took me a while to realize it was a dangerous game and not one I should be playing.
      Respect of others is something I noticed was missing all around me and I think it is so important in life. And weaknesses? I am with you, I hate public speaking and I still avoid it like the plague. I don’t have to do it as much but when I did, I would rehearse many times before hand. I thought of joining Toastmasters but never actually did it, have you ever looked into it? It sounds like it probably would be good to try even just to get somewhat comfortable in group settings. Keep me posted.

  5. I can’t believe you still wanted to have kids of your own after nannying for a single mom with 3 kids under 10!!!!! Oh my gosh, that must have been so tough. As for the rest of your story…wow! It is truly inspirational. I knew you talked about taking your family to France, but I just assumed you had been raised in Canada. No wonder you don’t like poutine! I’m guessing you also think peanut butter is gross, hahaha

    1. Haha, you are right I am not a fan of peanut butter but I love Nutella (so European still!). And I actually wanted 4 kids…just found it really hard after number 3:) I don’t know how I ever took care of those kids but apparently I did an OK job. That’s what they told me when I saw them much later in life.

  6. What a great story of working smart and getting ahead! It’s so important when you start out to do whatever’s needed and not be too entitled. And I love your list of how to work your way up and I couldn’t agree with them more.

  7. “Leave Your Ego At The Door”

    Love it, too many people have too much ego and it drives me crazy. I think the ‘servant leaders’ make the best leaders and management.

    I like your tip about working with your boss and how you can’t change them. Right now my manager hasn’t been the best at communicating (I emailed her 5 times while on maternity leave and she never responded).

    Caroline, you have done amazing, raising 3 kids while working full-time in the corporate world!

    1. Hi GenY, the Ego part is really big but not many people seem to get it.
      Your boss is pathetic! But so many of them are:( I watch other managers at my office and how they treat their employees and it makes me mad! Were you giving her updates or asking specific questions?

  8. How I miss this! Man you’re so freaking smart to pull that off. I think I MET a 3 year old once and had to watch her for a few hours…it was terrible and I needed a nap. How did you survive?!!

    By the way, we need more detail on the babysitting/nannying adventures. Also if you have time, embed more links into your posts! It helps readers click more and learn more about you! (But you don’t have to, it’s time consuming and it’s your blog so don’t mind me.)

    1. It was a lot of hard work for sure:) I don’t know if I remember everything enough to write a post…getting old!
      Being young is what helped me, I wasn’t thinking that much. Now I analyze everything!

  9. What a really inspiring story you have Caroline!! You have great list on how to move up and achieve your career goal.

    I really like adapting with your bosses and surrounding yourself with smart people. Their are a lot of bad bosses out their but if you have one you have to deal with it and adapt to their style. Just have to swallow your pride.
    With smart people, once you realize that you have knowledgeable people at work and/or in your private life, you have the opportunity to pick their brain and gain more knowledge by communicating with them. It’s another great way to learn.

  10. Wow, fantastic journey! Thanks for letting us in on your background. I can’t even imagine fully learning a new language and moving like you did. I took French and German in high school, didn’t go well 🙂 And to rise up the ranks to VP……such an inspiration to everyone.

    Hard work and determination go a long way.

  11. Wow Caroline!! I’ll definitely share your story with other amazing women in my life. Shout out to you, it takes some guts and determination! It’s always uplifting to know when someone perseveres, powers through and achieves their dreams! 🙂

  12. Yes, this is an inspiring story. I wanted to read more… what happened after getting hired in the receptionist husbdand’s company? Inquiring minds want to know, haha!

    You have done great. Reading your story makes me feel good. Keep up the good work.

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