Early in my career, a female leader whom I greatly admire shared two sound pieces of career advice with me. Pick the job that no one wants and turn it into a success. And, do one thing every day that terrifies you. Fortunately, I have followed both pieces of advice on multiple occasions during my career.
Seven years ago, while I was at Microsoft, I got a call from a former colleague. She was at Amazon at the time, and she urged me to explore a newly-created Global Vice President position at that company. I just wasn't interested. I had recently made Partner and was looking forward to a well deserved 10-year sabbatical break at Microsoft. But my former colleague wouldn't take no for an answer and I reluctantly agreed to talk to Amazon's executive recruiter.
In between these conversations, I found out that I was expecting our first child, a baby girl. Again, I politely declined to continue the discussions but their recruiter was persistent. After multiple rounds of interviews I accepted the new role at Amazon. By then, I was well into the second trimester of my pregnancy, and my first week on the job was the last week I could travel. So, I didn't take a single day off between jobs. Many colleagues and friends thought that I was crazy. Such a move had too many risks, both personally and professionally, and questionable upside potential. But, I saw it differently. I was ready to build a global team and a business from scratch and to learn a great deal in the process. Besides, I already had a lot of learning ahead of me as a first time mom. So being a new boss and a new mom went hand-in-hand.
Time management took on a whole new meaning in a global role as I focused my time and energy on the stuff that really mattered to me. The rest I just stopped worrying about and stopped doing. It was liberating. For example, I made it a priority to get home in time to read a bedtime story to our daughter. Reading together became our “sacred time” and I did everything in my power to carve out that time to be with her. It required discipline and prioritization to make this happen and it has been worth it.
Another important realization for me was learning to tune out the skepticism about my move. I believe those who voiced their skepticism did this out of concern and goodwill for me. Nevertheless, there were many such voices and the skepticism lasted for the first couple of years at my new role. In the years that followed, most of those who questioned my career decision early on became supporters and some even joined my new, growing team.
Last November, I took on a new opportunity at Yahoo. As with my previous career move, there were no shortages of skepticism and questions about the potential risk and reward. While others focused primarily on the legacy of Yahoo’s business, I wanted to help re-build the company for the future. At Yahoo I work with smart and talented people who bleed purple in their passion for the brand, and that gives me a lot of confidence. Most importantly, I still manage to hustle home for bedtime reading with our six-year-old daughter.
Picking jobs that others questioned and even ruled out is the best career advice I have received. Focus on the opportunity, tune out the skepticism and turn the challenge into a success. Do what terrifies you and gets you out of your comfort zone. Identify what is "sacred" from a personal perspective and make it non-negotiable. Lean In.