My life has been a series of unexpected open doors, tentative steps into unknown challenges, and wild and unexpected success and happiness. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of my professional life: After thinking I’d give the Navy a try for 4 years to get college money, I wound up doing a full 24-year career as a Russian linguist – turned Naval Academy graduate – turned Surface Warfare Officer (ship driver) – turned Naval Aviator (helicopter pilot) – turned IT leader and Deputy CIO for the US Navy – turned Vice President at the world’s largest IT research and advisory firm – and now Chief Technical Advisor for Public Sector at Splunk, a huge and growing software company that makes data available and usable to everyone. Oh, did I mention my BS is in History and my MS is in Global Leadership? No technology education or credentials to my name. Good luck finding a common thread in this career journey, aside from continuous growth and risk taking in completely foreign subject matter areas.
You don’t have to have it all figured out.
My takeaways and lessons for those unsure of themselves or their own future are here:
- Say “yes” to things offered to you by people who you know and trust. If five people you admire tell you you’re good at something, you’re probably good at it regardless of your own self-doubt. If they suggest something for you, trust them and jump in. The world is full of people who say “no”to uncomfortable things. Stand out by saying “yes, I’ll do it.”
- Ask for what you want. Here’s an example: you’re a junior staffer in a large organization. You know you want more, whether that’s a promotion or more money or an assignment overseas, or whatever. You aren’t exactly sure what you want to be when you grow up, but you’re ambitious to move UP. TELL your supervisor or mentor, and ask them to help you. If you don’t ask, they won’t know you have ambition, and by extension, won’t look for opportunities for you or sponsor you to achieve them. What if you don’t know what that is, exactly? Practice on small things and you’ll get good at the big things. Example: Instead of saying to your date that you don’t care what you do for an evening, say “I’d really like to see that cool chick flick and go for pizza afterwards.” Speak your truth!
- Spend more time looking forward than looking backward. If you’ve ever been in a car, you know there’s a huge windshield in front of you, and a tiny rear view mirror looking behind. That’s a great metaphor for life. Don’t entirely forget or eschew the past, but use it as a reference point rather than a guide. EVERYONE makes mistakes, has skeletons, would do at least one small thing differently if she had the chance. You’d be shocked at the very senior, successful, powerful women who still question themselves from time to time. So you made a mistake, so what? Use it to learn, grow, and move forward.
- Put other women you admire on a pedestal and praise them publicly. I can’t describe enough the power of a group of women who support, encourage, and challenge each other. Some say “there’s a special place in hell for women who backstab or undermine other women.” We are truly stronger together. Find and build your tribe, and there is no limit to what you can help each other achieve.
Julian’s recommended books: