Tag Archives: Work

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, asks this question in her book Lean In, challenging women and girls to lean in to their careers. Her non-profit website shares women’s answers to this question. 

It’s an interesting question to consider, and I believe women need to ask it more than men do. Studies show we are far more likely to put others’ needs before our own. It can be debated how much of that pressure comes from society and how much comes from within, but the outcome is hard to debate. Fifty years after the women’s liberation movement began, and nearly 100 years after receiving the right to vote, women still occupy only 21 Fortune 500 CEO spots. There is debate over whether more focus should be put on leaders of organizations and the environments they create, or on the women themselves. Most believe the answer is both, but Sandberg’s question is a good one to spur at least conversation, if not change, among women.

I’ve been asking this question of myself in the weeks since I read the book, and I’ve struggled to answer it. I’m afraid of why that is: I think I’ve spent so long doing what I was supposed to do, that I’m not even sure I know what I’d do if I felt free to choose. Maybe that’s the normal result of being a responsible adult, but maybe not. How many people are doing what they want to do? How many even know what that is? My gut says I’m in the clueless majority, but I don’t even know that. I know most working adults aren’t totally fulfilled at work, although we are wired to need work. It’s a conundrum.

If I had to choose one answer to what I would do if I weren’t afraid, I’d start a company to coach others on their careers, as that’s the most rewarding thing I get to do at work. But I need a steady paycheck and health insurance, so coaching will have to stay part-time, as much as I can get away with in my job. In the meantime, I will challenge my daughters with this question, and ensure they grow up thinking about what they would do if they were not afraid. They are young, their lives not yet set. They, too, already have fears, but it is still early for them. Perhaps this next generation can finally conquer the fears of their mothers and grandmothers, fulfill their dreams, and live up to their full potential.

“Fear is a habit. I am not afraid.” –Aung San Suu Kyi


What’s Your Hurry?

I was a financial manager in my late 20’s when the CEO of my company at the time went on a witch hunt. We all knew what was at the root of it: a key group of leaders in our organization had not been set up for success. The natural tensions across functions which, when well-managed, help a company optimize its results, were grossly out of whack and results were tanking. It was a failure of leadership which went straight to the top, but naturally the CEO didn’t see it that way. Somebody had to be the scapegoat, and he chose the group where the most noise was coming from, through no fault of theirs. A management consultant was brought in to diagnose and report back to him what the group’s problems were.

In my interview, the consultant/psychologist asked me questions about myself to get started. I gave him my background, which must have included the fact that I completed my bachelor’s degree in three years. He then asked me a perceptive question I could not answer then, nor have I been able to in the 20 years since: What was my hurry? The question stuck with me precisely because I could not answer it. I only know that for as long as I can remember, I have always been in a hurry, with a high energy level that I can’t explain. It’s interesting to see the same trait in my oldest daughter. She has only two speeds: highly active and asleep. My husband doesn’t understand why neither one of us can just relax. I don’t either, though I’ve gotten better at it over the years. It has its upside in that I get a ton done, both at work and at home. But the downside is definitely bad – I can wear myself out and sometimes crowd out time with the people in my life to get stuff done. That last part bothers me the most.

I’ve always wondered what that consultant reported back to the CEO. I shared with him my perspective, that the group in question was in a tough spot. I got the sense from his body language that he knew it. But he, too, was in a tough spot: the truth would not have been welcome to our CEO, his paying customer. The CEO was eventually fired, but not before bringing our company a lot of heartache. I guess everything we do catches up with us at some point. I suppose I’ll just keep working hard to slow down and let the rewards of a less hurried life catch up to me.

“The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.”  –George Eliot

I Got It Wrong

A colleague recently brought up the relative youth of a fairly high-ranking executive in our company. I was mostly joking when I said I must have done it wrong to have not reached that level that early. This wise colleague then gave me a swift and awesome gift of perspective when he rebutted that no, I hadn’t done it wrong if I had balanced work with my family. His observation was that no one achieves meteoric success without significant sacrifices on the personal front. While there are always exceptions, I know in my heart of hearts he’s right.

I’ve been pretty reflective since my mid-career move last year. Leaving a company after nearly 15 years and starting over gets you thinking…about your values, what’s really important, the impact to your family, and the friends you leave behind. On one hand, I wish I had moved on earlier. It was time before it was time, but comfort zones and the status quo are powerful forces. Awhile back a bunch of factors had caused an apparent, temporary career stall. At least I hoped it was temporary. That’s the thing about being human – we can’t predict the future. But I stayed put, learning lessons I needed to learn. When the current opportunity finally came, we acted on it, but for the right reasons. I now know that if I’d have moved when I first thought about it, I’d have missed some cool experiences and awesome people. And I would have definitely missed some personal growth opportunities which have given me peace and made me a better person and employee. I’m sure it turned out the way it should have.

So did I do it wrong? I’d say yes, but only halfway. I experienced the most career growth during the first half of my career, but I also worked long hours and sacrificed much on the home front during that time. Since a health scare ten years ago, I’ve become a recovering workaholic. I’m doing better at balancing work and family, but that’s when I began to see my career plateau. While I don’t think my new balance explains quite all of it, there has been a strong correlation between my career growth and the choices I made between work and family. I think I did get it wrong–in the first part of my career. I sacrificed too much then. I’m happier now, more at peace. My colleague’s perspective only reinforced that as time goes on, maybe I’m starting to get it right.

“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.”  –Michael J. Fox

Please don’t give me a Blackberry!

I’m a recovering workaholic. There, I said it. I’ve been an overachiever all of my life – always thinking, always in motion. I’ve often wondered why, but I really have no idea. One of my daughters is the same way – it’s like looking in a mirror. But mirrors are one-dimensional and provide no answers. I’ve worked hard on it over the last 5 years or so and have made good progress. I sleep and eat more regularly, and I even (gasp) exercise. And I work fewer hours than ever before…still maybe more than I should, but I’ve found a balance that works for me. I feel better than I ever have. But a friend gave me a wake up call this week:  she works in a group I’m moving to next month. I responded to her Facebook post that she should work fewer hours, and she pointed out that was ironic coming from me. I haven’t worked with her since I gained my new balance, and it was a good reminder that I will need to work hard to regain it under the pressures of a new job and a system implementation environment. But it’s critically important:  I don’t want to give up my life…again. I missed too much with my family in the past. A friend just published a compelling post on his blog about the importance of how we spend our time. A great reminder.

So I’m really hoping I don’t have to carry a Blackberry in my new job.  I don’t want to be plugged in 24/7…again.

“Time is free, but it’s priceless.  You can’t own it, but you can use it.  You can’t keep it, but you can spend it.  Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”   –Harvey MacKay