From every angle, I was on the “right” career path - the kind you’re not supposed to leave. I was in my first job after grad school as an international lender with a predecessor bank of Bank of America. But after a couple of years, I was asked to interview for a position leading the Management Training Program for a region of the bank.
Many of my colleagues, friends and my parents thought I was crazy. Why would I consider veering from the traditional, predictable banking career path?
But that wasn’t my main concern. I had two others: First, I didn’t know how to drive. I am from the Middle East where you have to be 18 to get a driver’s license. Since coming to the US at age 16, I had attended universities where I didn’t need a car. So, I never learned to drive – a skill which would be vital for this new position.
Second, I didn’t have experience managing people and certainly no experience with remote management across multiple locations, which this new position would require.
I was faced with my first of many career Lean In moments.
Leading up to the interview, I considered backing out several times. Believing the likelihood of getting the job was very low, I nervously met with the hiring executive. During the interview, he asked: “In this role, you will be managing trainees in three states. Do you foresee any problems with that?” I heard myself say: “No, no problem at all.”
When offered the job, I called my husband in a panic wondering how I was going to learn to drive in the two-week period before the job began. With no time to waste, I got behind the wheel, read books on managing people and got advice from as many managers as I could.
On the first day of the new job, I had to drive from Washington, D.C. to Richmond, Virginia. It was my first time alone on the highway. I got in the far right lane, went the speed limit and never passed a car or changed lanes for the hour-and-a-half-long trip.
I loved the new job and excelled at it. Success there led to a string of promotions in various parts of the bank.
Before I took the leap of faith to pursue this new path, I thought: You aren't prepared to do this job – you can't even drive to get there. You don't even know how to do it. You're not equipped. Yet, this early experience taught me that you can’t let self-doubt hold you back. If you are determined, you can figure it out.
Not only did the job work out, it was a great move. The broad experiences and career path gave me the foundation I needed to eventually launch and grow my own business. Today, 26 years later, I share career advice through The Way Women Work with women in emerging and developing markets, all because I leaned in.