Today I want to share what may have been my biggest career mistake:
In the chapter, “It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder” Sheryl Sandberg introduces the metaphor coined by Pattie Sellers “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” It implies the former career model of spending your entire career at one company continuously progressing up the ladder (while staring at the butt of the person above) no longer applies to most workers. Instead today’s career path is more like a jungle gym. Sheryl writes:
There’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The jungle gym model benefits everyone, but especially women who might be starting careers, switching careers, getting blocked by external barriers, or reentering the workforce after taking time off. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment. Plus, a jungle gym provides great views for many people, not just those at the top. (Pg. 53)Sheryl has seen both men and women miss out on great opportunities by focusing too much on career levels.
This message really hit home when Sheryl writes about her friend who after working as a lawyer for four years realizes instead of shooting for partner she’d rather join a company in a sales or marketing role:
One of her clients was willing to hire her in this new capacity but wanted her to start at the ground level. Since she could afford the temporary pay cut, I urged her to make the jump, but she decided against taking a job that put her “back four years.” I understood how painful it was for her to lose hard-earned ground. Still, my argument was that if she was going to work for the next thirty years, what difference does going “back” four years really make? If the other path made her happier and offered her a chance to learn new skills, that meant she was actually moving forward. (Pg. 61)I had spent years working full-time as a staff accountant while taking the courses I needed to sit for the CPA exam in my spare time. After I passed the exam I began searching for a new job that would utilize my new certification and pay me a larger salary. I talked to one of my former classmates who had been hired by a local CPA firm. She offered to set up an informational interview for me with a partner at her firm to discuss potential job opportunities. She did say I would most likely have to take a significant pay-cut if I were hired as an entry-level accountant at her firm. Since I was looking for an increase in pay not a decrease, I decided to pass on the informational interview. I then proceeded to not send out a single resume to an accounting firm. Instead I went on to work as a manager in an accounting department at a medium-sized company in a dying industry.
Sheryl has learned from her own experience the only criterion that mattered when picking a job was – fast growth. When companies grow quickly, there are more things to do than there are people to do them. When companies grow more slowly or stop growing, there is less to do and too many people to not be doing them. Politics and stagnation set in, and everyone falters.
Another aha moment – I picked this job:
I have always felt I worked at my current job because they were the only company that offered me a job, but while reading Lean in I realized I picked this job. I consciously chose not to pursue a career with an accounting firm. I listened as my current boss informed me the hours were long and the money was tight at his company. Later he would joke I was the only one who came back for a second interview.
I suffered from imposter syndrome – this is a phenomenon where capable people are plagued by self-doubt and is also mentioned in the book. I was risk averse and terrified I was not qualified to perform a job that was too far out of my comfort zone.
Sheryl writes about this too:
One reason women avoid stretch assignments and new challenges is that they worry too much about whether they currently have the skills they need for a new role. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, since so many abilities are acquired on the job. An internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed. Men apply if they meet 60 percent of the requirements. This difference has a huge ripple effect. Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that – and I’ll learn by doing it.”Wow what an eye-opener. I can’t help but wonder where my career would be if I had leaned into a career as a CPA – pay-cut and all – rather than picking a job in another dying industry because that was what I was familiar with.
I have come to the conclusion this book should be given to every women upon graduation.
Would you consider taking a pay-cut if it meant advancing your career in the long-run? What was your biggest career mistake?
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