This passion carried her through young adulthood as she completed high school, earned her bachelor’s degree in business and took a position with a national rental car agency.
She had, in a sense, arrived. “But a part of me wanted more,” Burnett says.
For that’s the other part of Burnett’s equation: a competitiveness (with others and with herself) that drives her. Only one other sibling attended college, and Burnett wanted to stand out.
“Because we both finished our undergrad degrees, that competitive part of me was like, ‘I’m going to take it a step further,’” Burnett recalls.
Burnett was a few years out of college at that point and several years into the first role of her career. But her job was 40 minutes away from home, and her request to move to a closer branch was denied. Instead of giving up on the idea of her master’s, however, Burnett decided to leave her job.
She jokingly describes this period of unemployment as a “valley” of life. Her fiancé at the time supported her while she started her master’s program and took odd jobs here and there, including working for her mother’s nonprofit organization. What she really wanted, though, was a role at Highmark Health.
“I had applied to Highmark probably three or four times prior to actually getting in,” Burnett says. She’d long felt her business administration degree was foundational but so broad that she wasn’t sure how to channel it into something she loved. Then she found the business analyst role and Highmark and knew that’s where she belonged.
A few months after starting her MBA in late 2015, Burnett was hired at Highmark. She was over the moon and eager to prove herself. But the timing could’ve been better: She was newly married, a stepmother to her husband’s son and, by late summer 2016, pregnant with her first child.
“I didn’t want school plus pregnancy to distract me from being a new employee,” Burnett recalls. “So, I took a pause. One thing had to go. Obviously, it wasn’t the baby, and it wasn’t the career, because that was paying my bills.”
Burnett took a break, delivered her son, Jessie, and established herself at work. By the time Jessie turned 1, Burnett was ready to complete what she started. “I was like, ‘All right, I didn’t do all that for nothing. I should finish,’” Burnett recalls.
“The second time around,” Burnett says, “I was like, ‘I got kids. I’m in a full-time job. I have to set a daily schedule.’ So, I knew exactly on what days I was cooking and on what days I was responding to a discussion post. I knew what availability to give my project team [at school] every single day. And all that included a day where I did nothing, absolutely nothing, because I knew I needed that refresh.”