When I think about the most dramatic make-or-break moments of my life, some personal but also some professional, what stands out about them is how crystal clear I was in my mind about what I wanted, believed, thought, felt. I was willing to risk losing what I had for something much greater. These moments are like the pearls on a necklace – each one amazing and stunning and perfect when I look at them now – but not as many as I wish I had made by telling the bald face truth when I had the chance. Let me tell you about two of them that started my career in the best possible way.
I was in my first year of business school. My suitemate asked me to go to a wine-and-cheese mixer (do they still have those?) for the MBAs to mingle with the Fortune 500 executives attending the Advanced Management Program. Truly I can think of few things worse than mingling in a roomful of strangers while competing with fellow Type-A’s for internships and jobs.
Fulfilling my friend-obligation, I find myself sharing chardonnay with two gentlemen: one who worked in shipping, the other in publishing. They ask me “What would you like to do when you graduate?” I have a split second to decide what to say: Publish books about shipping? (please hire me!) Ship books around the world? (please hire me!). Or the truth.
“I want to work for Disney. It’s the reason why I came to business school,” I said plainly. I really don’t know what got into me, blurting out an answer that was bound to send both of my new friends drifting away. But, in fact, the opposite happened. Their eyebrows shot up and they said, “Then you have to meet our colleague, Norm! He’s an executive at Disney and in our program!” They escorted me across the room where an executive held court over about 10 MBA students, regaling them with entertaining stories. My new friends parted that crowd, introduced me to Norm as “this woman really wants to work for Disney” and left me to bond with someone who could truly make my dream come true. Norm was smart, warm, inspiring. He was a top theme park operations executive who was, obviously, being groomed for even more. As I headed home that night, I truly thought – I’ve got it made! I’m going to work for Disney!!
But I still had to finish my MBA for the next 16 months and Norm told me to stay in touch and contact him the next year as I was looking for a full-time role. In the February before graduation Norm set up seven interviews for me at Walt Disney World in the kinds of departments MBAs are typically interested in working: marketing, finance, sponsorships. I could tell that the last thing these home-grown leaders wanted was a newly minted MBA who was going to be gunning for their jobs. After two days of interviews, I left empty handed. I thanked Norm and went back to school thinking “Oh, boy, I’m really NOT going to work for Disney. Time for plan B.”
Plan B involved a whole lot of other interviews for jobs in consumer marketing, entertainment and similar fields, none of which stand out now except for the one that changed my life in that moment. I took an interview with a brand-new television network called Fox. At the time it was an entertainment division, not a news division, and my interviewer was a young wunderkind named Steve Chao. Hyper, charismatic, smart, funny, Steve was quite the interview. He asked me point blank: what’s your dream job?
Again – a split second to decide: “I want to work for Fox television!” or, the truth. Steve was never going to buy a BS answer.
“I want to work for Disney…[pause] and I think Fox is like an up-and-coming Disney where I could get in on the ground floor,” I blurted at Steve hoping my honestly would still get me passed along.
“When why are you sitting here talking to me, then?” “Because I had a few interviews with Disney and haven’t found the right place for me there, so I’m looking to do similar creative/business work with someone like Fox.”
Steve looked at me sideways and said the words that changed everything: “I want you to leave this interview. Go to the nearest phone, call your contact at Disney and tell them: ‘Thank you for setting up those interviews for me but none of them were right for me. I’m willing to put mustard on hot dogs, Norm. What’s it going to take to get a job at Disney?’” It was as if the bell tolled. I got up from the interview, thanked Steve, and went to the nearest phone. I called Norm and said the exact words Steve Chao had urged me to say. And you know what Norm said to my blurted-out truth?
“If you mean that, I’m going to hire you myself.” And in an hour, I had my job at Disney. Thanks to a virtual stranger, I found the courage to speak the truth – and landed my extraordinary, amazing, unlikely, serendipitous job working at Disney, with the most amazing people.
Know your truth!
I look back on that story, and tell it sometimes, just to remind myself that knowing your truth – and speaking it out loud – can lead to amazing things. Instead of doors shutting, they opened. In fact, strangers were willing to open them and show me the way because I was truly crystal clear about what I felt, believed, thought, wanted and the world conspired to help me make it real. Sometimes I get so caught up in what other people need to hear that I forget to say what I really think, believe, feel, mean.
Know your truth – and speak it when the moment to do so is presented to you. It will take you exactly where we want to be. That’s the truth.
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