Beth Comstock

CMO

Location: New York, NY

"Be good at what you do, clear about your aspirations and develop the areas that are holding you back."

One of my big Lean In lessons came early on in my career.

I had a good job I liked, but there was an opening that represented a huge growth opportunity for me. It was a very desirable role but, curiously, the position had been vacant for six months. I was surprised no one had been hired and more surprised I hadn’t been asked to apply. Finally, I got up the nerve to meet with the head of HR about submitting my name.

The HR leader told me they had considered me for the position, but assumed that I wouldn’t be able to travel or put in extra hours because I was a mother of young children. My skills and performance were strong , and not the issue.

My reply was surprisingly swift: I want the job. I will be great at it. And, finally, that travel and hours were something I would and could manage.

I did get the job, and it turned out to be a very pivotal one for me, giving me a range of experiences, development and exposure that have served me well in future positions. If I hadn’t leaned in and taken control, I would have let others lean me in the wrong direction.

Here’s what I learned:

  • You know where you excel better than anyone; don’t wait to be asked for what you want to do. I laugh (and cringe!) looking back on that past episode of timidness.

  • Be clear about your aspirations, what skills you need to develop and any restrictions you have. Discussions with your manager about where you stand are imperative. Ask what’s expected to get to that next assignment level; honesty, clarity and reality go a long way.

  • Don’t assume other people have all the information.  In my case, I had to give deeper insight into my situation and interest to resolve any hesitations about my abilities.
  • A lesson for myself as a manager: Never assume that people can’t take on professional responsibilities because of personal ones – always ask; they know best what they can and can’t take on. And, most importantly, the lines of conversation must remain open.
In the end, my biggest lesson was: you are the boss of you. You have the biggest role in steering your career. Sure, many people play pivotal roles in creating career opportunities as does luck, timing and hard work. But above all else, it’s about being good at what you do, clear about your aspirations and developing in areas that are holding you back.