How Opportunity Shaped My Career Journey

Opportunity is a tricky word. It’s the one constant that presented itself at every step along my career path. But opportunity took different forms for me. The ability to recognize it and act upon it proved critical in leading me to where I am today.

I started college in the pre-med program. I failed and failed fast. Working two part-time jobs simply became too much for me, while handling the academic demands of a pre-med major. After a disastrous first semester, I decided to major in the one subject where I had achieved high grades—philosophy.

The next summer, I took a part-time job as an administrative assistant at a start-up technology consulting company. Although I was surrounded exclusively by males, I was fortunate because they did not see “a girl” or “a secretary,” they saw a young person who was bright, willing to help, and eager to learn.

One day, one of the senior developers asked me, “Why philosophy?” I explained that I simply loved logic. After I rambled a bit about Plato’s Republic and Kantian ethics, he smiled at me and asked, “Why don’t you work with logic and get a paycheck?” He pointed to his computer and said, “A light bulb can only be on or off, right?” I quietly responded, “Yes.” He continued, “Well, that’s all a computer is, a series of on and off switches; if you understand on and off, you can program a computer.”

Opportunity had sneaked up on me. He took the time to teach me how to become a software developer, while I earned a degree in computer science, which in turn helped jump-start my career as a software developer immediately out of college.

About eight years later, another opportunity presented itself in a quiet way. I worked for a leader who appreciated my technical skills and inquisitive nature. Amused by my intellectual curiosity, he offered to teach me health care economics, start to finish, if I continued to quickly produce the reports he requested. After a year of mentoring, he moved on and the company needed someone to replace him. He said, “I have just the woman you need.” And at just 26 years old, I was given my first P&L to run, managing over $2.7 billion in revenue.

Pure intellectual curiosity fueled my opportunity and it paid off tremendously. Opportunities do not always present themselves in obvious ways. The most important opportunities afforded to me came from failure and simple curiosity. But being open to opportunity is what made all the difference in my career journey, and if I could offer any career advice, it would be to remain as open to opportunity as you can.