Sometimes you have to stop listening to everything around you and listen to yourself. Your career will flourish when your whole self thrives, so you have to mind the whole. That may mean embracing change with all the instinctive fear of risk humans feel when entering undefined “white space.” Growth inside your comfort zone is severely limited, and sometimes the next great opportunity is staring you in the face. The question is whether you blink or you grab it. What I’ve found surprising is that the longer you’re out of the comfort zone, the less you want to be back in it.
I am embarking on a job that’s new to me and to our organization—the recently formed role of chief people officer. Lucky for me, I have a few assets stacking the odds of success in my favor. I’m surrounded by: 1) a dedicated, skilled and passionate team that knows things I don’t and shares that knowledge freely; 2) a senior leadership team I trust; and 3) a few valued friends who see potential in me I’m not sure I see in myself, and who not only encourage me to bring that potential forward, but demand that I do. Together, all these people helped me feel strong enough to jump into what I like to call the biggest professional “trust fall” I’ve ever taken. And I’m confident we’re doing what’s right for the future of our organization.
As my wiser-than-me teenage daughter recently said, “If you get into all the colleges you apply to, you obviously haven’t tested the limits.” You really cannot let the fear of failure keep you from reaching.
Catherine’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Be aware of the existing “rules of the game,” but don’t underestimate your ability to change them. It’s important, especially when you’re the “new kid,” to watch and learn. It’s critical to understand the corporate culture and how to be effective in it—how to work within it to get things done, while building relationship capital and a positive reputation.
However, sometimes I think we adapt so much that we can lose some of the unique qualities and perspectives we bring to the table. You do yourself and your employer a disservice if you don’t let your personal style, unique observations, and special skills come through. You may find, for example, that you don’t have the most content knowledge in the room, but you may just be the most emotionally intelligent player, knowing who’s engaged in the discussion, who’s confused, who’s disapproving, and what to do to get them all on board. Those traits, when you dare to exhibit them, will be noticed as effective and valued. You will have played by different rules and won—maybe because of the fact that you are woman, rather than despite it.