Growing up, I was one of five children. Still, one of my favorite things to do was to play in the woods by myself. This may sound strange to some, but I absolutely loved the freedom of running through the trees, building forts, and (mostly) uninhibited exploration.
I was also that kid who knew the lyrics to every single song, and I exploited any and every opportunity to showcase my talent by belting out everything I heard on the radio station while riding in the car.
“Yeah, I’m gonna be famous,” I told myself. I just knew it.
At some point, however, I realized that while I had the enthusiasm to kill it as a singer, I didn’t exactly have the pipes (see also: “ability to sing”) to make it a career. Still, music was coded into my DNA from an early age, which is why I was able to still capitalize on that passion and become the famous music producer I am today.
OK, not really. But music did end up influencing my career.
The high school I went to had a very strong vocational program. I took advantage of the media production track and fell in love with it. Not the on-camera part, however. (I hated that.) It was behind the scenes – directing, editing, and spending hours painstakingly blending music into video to achieve some sort of poetic statement – where I found the most joy.
I also loved the camaraderie of working on teams where everyone played their part and produced something you could watch and be really proud of together.
By the time I started looking ahead toward college, I had my sights set on majoring in communications, as the natural business manifestation of my fledgling media training. I could see myself one day working in the music industry or on a film production team.
Although I did also briefly flirt with the “Almost Famous” dream of flying around the country, shadowing bands, and writing about them as a music journalist. That particular dream never materialized, but as anyone who has been through a communications program can tell you, I did a lot of writing.
But communications didn’t feel dimensional enough to me for my education. Brilliant fortune teller that I am, I thought to myself, “This internet thing seems to be going somewhere.” So, I took on an information technology minor.
Through this educational track, I learned a bit about how to code, I learned how to build a website, and I learned a lot about the foundational elements of computer science.
By the time I graduated, I had a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from. And you’d think from the seemingly linear track of my LinkedIn resume that I hopped right into the “real world” with a game plan. You’d be wrong.
Varied and exciting as a communications degree can be to earn, it’s not exactly an educational track that has a very specific destination. There is so much you can do with it, particularly in my case with my minor.
So, there I was, applying to dozens of entry-level jobs while working two waitressing jobs so that I could pay rent and afford to live in the city. I didn’t mind it so much, because I love being busy and I love people. But all the while, I was asking myself questions like:
Then, after I received my first job offer, I introduced a new question: “What scares me?”
At the time, I had a choice between recruiting temporary HR professionals, or I could join the New York City technology group, which was the top-earning team in the business. The former was the safer choice, and the latter one scared me a little bit.
From that moment on, I have always asked myself what scares me the most (in a good way) before taking on a new job or forging ahead toward a new path.
That’s how I stumbled onto recruiting after applying to everything from procurement to selling financial securities. Everything I was researching online naturally pulled me in that fast-paced, very people-focused direction.
Of course, throwing yourself into something entirely new is a scary proposition. I remember other points in my career later on where I struggled with confidence. For example, there was a time I interviewed for a different role that I didn’t think I was really qualified for … but the company saw something in me, and I got the job.
My first time working as part of an experienced leadership team, I struggled with imposter syndrome and often questioned myself and my ability to contribute at the same level. Again, those fears proved to be unfounded and instead of failing I learned the benefits of vulnerability and the power of being part of a team you can learn from.
Time and again, I learned how important it was to choose a path that scared me a little and then to lean in. So many of us struggle with those internal narratives where we question ourselves and our abilities, but they aren’t always right.
You need security in that you need to trust you’re working within an organization where you can fail gracefully and with the support of your team. You also need stretch, in that you always need to be working toward something that pushes on the edges of your comfort level.
I've always been really driven by the "stretch" part in my career and asking myself "Does it scare me?" is a good indicator for me on if the path I'm considering has the right stretch to keep me motivated in the longterm.
All of that being said, you need to also find moments to ask yourself what it is you need in that moment or stage of your life.
Sometimes life is creating enough stretch for you (see: small children during a pandemic) and you might need to find more balance in your work. In other instances, you may be more focused on trying to “do your best work” with what’s right in front of you.
It’s all about asking yourself the right questions when you’re checking in with yourself and how balanced you’re feeling where you are.
You don’t need to be taking risks all the time, but it is important that you do grab hold of opportunities that empower you to grow beyond your comfort zone. You have to have opportunities to prove to yourself what it is that you’re really capable of.
Depending on how early you are in your career, there’s a good chance you still have plenty of room to surprise yourself, in terms of your true potential.
Yes, my path was winding and took me down a number of different potential paths. But in order to land exactly where I am right now – a place I wouldn’t trade for the world – that is the precise path I needed to walk.
Moreover, I’m grateful for the wide variety of experiences I’ve had, as well as the different people I’ve been able to meet and learn from throughout my career. Many of them are now dear friends.
The only thing I will say is this. When you find yourself in the weeds of trying to figure it all out, it can be so easy to forget to stop and appreciate what’s happening around you. I wish I could go back and tell myself to enjoy things a bit more and worry less.
Own your worth and own your path, and remember there is no such thing as a “wrong path.” Try to appreciate these experiences (learnings, wins, and failures!) for what they are before they fade into your rearview mirror.
Don’t be afraid to raise your voice and your hand. Don’t be afraid to be who you are and to own your path fully. Yes, letting go of what brings you the most comfort doesn’t always sound appealing. But when it’s the right time, you need to let go. Chasing something that excites you will sometimes feel scary, but that’s how you’re going to find your true calling and do your best work.
And to those of you who want to grow into leadership positions one day (or you’re still developing as a new leader), I want to share the best advice I ever received from an amazing leadership coach I had when I was in a place of questioning my own path.
They helped me understand that the best and only way to be a truly effective leader is to be authentic and, at times, painfully vulnerable.
To empower those you lead to be successful, you need to give them space to learn, grow, and (most importantly) fail sometimes. The very best way to do that is to be a human; show them that you can and do fail, too.