asking

CAROLINA FRYER

Carolina and her family in the Eiffel Tower at the beginning of their 10 month trip around the world. 

Carolina and her family in the Eiffel Tower at the beginning of their 10 month trip around the world. 

CAROLINA FRYER
on luck, networking like a pro, and retaining your freedom

Carolina seems to operate on another plane than the rest of us. She just seems to know things that about career development that the rest of us have had to learn (or more likely, are still learning). The most exciting part about talking with Carolina is that she doesn’t just have an intuition about career development, she is also able to clearly articulate her ideas on the subject. (Of course, this is my take. She is much too modest to ever talk this way about herself.)

After getting her start at Proctor & Gamble, Carolina has had a successful career working with consumer packaged goods (CPG), driving innovation for WhiteWave Foods (makers of a lot of the natural food brands you know and love). She is now Managing Director at Mission Field, an agency focused on supporting Fortune 500 CPG companies with new product innovation with an entrepreneurial focus. Since she has been very much in the driver’s seat propelling her own advancement throughout her career, I was really happy to get her ideas on the subject.

Below, you’ll find the biggest takeaways I got from our conversation.

 

TAKEWAYS

1. LUCK DOESN'T JUST HAPPEN TO YOU

When Carolina was pursuing her MBA, she got a coveted internship at Proctor & Gamble just a few weeks into her program. Some might call her lucky. She went to a conference, showed up at the career fair, got an interview on site, and then *poof* she had the job.

Carolina acknowledges that it was extraordinary to have such a sought-after internship so early in her MBA program, but she also shared that there were a number of things that aligned to allow this to happen – luck being just part of it.

There is that famous quote by the Roman philosopher Seneca, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”.  Carolina likes to imagine this as an athletic stance. You can picture it – standing on the balls of your feet, eyes open, ready to jump when the ball comes your way.

So, in the case of Carolina and her MBA internship, while she was lucky to have the opportunity present itself, she also did her part and seized the opportunity. She was in that athletic stance at that conference.

I love the image of the athletic stance because it is empowering. I have come to believe that we can make our own luck. We do this by increasing our exposure to opportunities that may be advantageous for us, and then leaping when opportunity strikes. The more we say yes, the more likely we are to come across those “lucky” breaks.  

What does increasing exposure to opportunities look like? Well, the luckiest people I know share a number of characteristics:

  • They are not afraid to ask for things
  • They show up
  • They say yes often
  • They aren’t shy about letting others know what they’re looking for
  • They are willing to go with the flow and just see where things lead

If you’re like me, when you look at the characteristics listed above, it triggers a couple of things. First, like many women, I’ve been trained my whole life not to take up space. Asking for things and being transparent about the opportunities I’m looking for is really uncomfortable! Second, as a recovering perfectionist, saying yes to things that I’m not certain will be fun or interesting or beneficial does not come naturally to me.

The good news is that I believe that welcoming this type of luck and opportunity into your life is a skill that anyone can cultivate. It may take time and effort, but consider for a moment what you have to gain from the extra luck and opportunity that you welcome into your life!

 

2. YOU'RE AS STRONG AS YOUR NETWORK 

A couple years ago, Carolina went on 10 month around-the-world adventure with her husband and son. It was the result of many years of planning and a very intentional decision to quit her job and shake things up.

When she got back to Colorado and landed a great job within just a couple of months, people remarked at how lucky she was. (Are you seeing a theme here?)

What people didn’t see is that she met with nearly 50 (yes, FIFTY!!) people during the eight weeks after returning from her travels. She hustled for it. She reached out to her network and was explicit about what she was looking for, and it was through her network connections that she found her current position. She wasn’t just in her athletic stance, she was out there on the field making things happen.

Carolina has lots of thoughts on networking. Making connections with people seems to come naturally to her, but she’s also strategic about her networking efforts. Here are a few of her thoughts on the subject.  

  1. It’s important to have non-overlapping groups of people in your network. This one feels obvious, but I’ve never heard anyone articulate it before. Having a broad network exposes you to so many more opportunities than you would otherwise have access to if everyone in your network knows the same people. She advocates getting involved in areas that genuinely interest you and expand your horizons at the same time.

  2. Be generous. The more that you’re generous with others, the more folks will be in your corner. You want people to want to pick up your call when you need something. In Carolina’s case, she also feels that sharing what she’s learned with the next generation is the right thing to do.

  3. But, be generous without the expectation of future favors. The goal is to make and maintain genuine connections with people, because you are really interested in their views, you share a passion or have similar expertise and ambitions. It’s the idea of “paying it forward” - give often and freely and you will reap the benefits – sometimes when you least expect and most need it. It’s not about cultivating “useful” connections in the traditional network “meet & greet” sort of way.

  4. And, be in it for the long haul. Maintain your relationships over time and you’ll be surprised when old friends come back in and out of your life is surprising ways.

 

3. PRIORITIZING FREEDOM

Many of us know the feeling of being trapped in a job that we hate because we have to support ourselves…where every morning you need to give yourself a pep talk to get out of bed.

Well, Carolina has arranged her life so that she doesn’t have to experience that agony.

She has developed a Freedom Fund – a savings account she can use to cover living expenses in the event that she needs (or wants) to quit her job. She told me, “It gives you choices”. Just imagine what it would do for you to have the knowledge that you don’t have to work.

Building a savings safety net is not a subject that people talk about much, but there are some major benefits of saving up for yourself. If you like the job you’re in, you have the added psychological benefit of knowing that you are choosing to be there. You’re in the driver’s seat.

Would that feeling of freedom make you enjoy working more? Perhaps it would make you feel safer taking risks at work?

Obviously, the greatest benefit is that if you truly hate your job, you have the resources to make a change. You don’t have to suffer through it.

Sure, it’s not easy to eke out a bunch of savings, but it certainly is possible. It requires making it a priority. In Carolina’s case, she values the freedom that comes with financial security, and she’s worked toward that goal.

 

GINNY CORSI

Ginny addressing a group of women on the topics of leadership and risk-taking. 

Ginny addressing a group of women on the topics of leadership and risk-taking. 

GINNY CORSI
on authenticity, risk-taking, and life-long learning

 

Ginny is a magnetic individual. She is incredibly positive and engaging. It seems that she is at ease in every setting. In fact, she is so at ease with herself, that her ease becomes contagious. You can’t help but be at ease around her. It just might be her superpower.  

Things weren’t always so sunny for Ginny, though. By age 21, both of her parents had passed away. She didn’t have a safety net or models for success. She created both for herself.

Despite the major hardships she faced as a young person, she has been able to build a very successful career for herself. Glancing at her LinkedIn profile, you see a bunch of director-level positions. She ultimately built her own consulting business, Corsi Associates, which provides executive teambuilding and consulting. (It’s not a coincidence that her company carries her name. She built the business.)

 

TAKEWAYS

1. ALWAYS BE YOURSELF

Ginny has known me for about a year and is aware that I’ll be graduating soon and on the post-MBA job hunt. So, our conversation naturally turned to job interviews. Given Ginny’s superpower, what came out of her mouth was no surprise. She believes that people are looking for two qualities in their candidates:

  1. That you’re competent – (obviously, you have to be able to do the job)
  2. That you’re comfortable with yourself

Easier said than done, I know. But, I think that there is a lot of wisdom to this line of thinking. I decided it would be helpful to unpack why comfort with one’s self is so powerful. Here goes:  

  • Emotions are contagious! Think about some of the first dates that you’ve been on. *cringe* Sitting across the table from an awkward person you barely know can be excruciating. On the other hand, spending the evening with someone that is lighthearted and helps keep the conversation afloat can be a really good time! Interviews are kind of like first dates. You’re really checking each other out to see if you live up to each others’ expectations.
  • Authenticity is disarming. Interviewers are humans, that are hiring humans. You need to be relatable. If you have 105% of the qualifications, but the interviewer can’t see themselves working with you, you’re not getting the job.

  • You instill trust. When your words and your body language are consistent, you’re believable. Your confidence in yourself communicates to your interviewer that they have no reason to doubt the words coming out of your mouth.

When you believe that you’re awesome, you’re much more likely to convince your interviewer to agree.

But how?! I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Fake it until you make it.

  2. Be really nice to yourself. Treat yourself like your own best friend.

 

2. ASK. JUST ASK. 

Having lost both parents at an early age, Ginny had the very real knowledge that her ability to support herself was a matter of survival. She told me a story about one of her early job interviews that includes a lesson in it.

She moved to a new community and went up for job at a local school. The superintendent let her know that he regretfully would be unable to offer her a job. (This is where the story would end for most of us. We’d thank the superintendent for kindly considering our application and ask him to keep in touch if anything else came available. Right?)

But not for Ginny. She had done her research before arriving in this town and knew that there was a small local paper. So, she asked the superintendent if he knew the managing editor and asked him to make a connection for her.

I thought this was craaazy!! This guy didn’t owe her anything! In fact, he had just given her a rejection of sorts by not extending a job offer at the school.

You know what, though? He did make that connection for her and she ended up getting that job over at the local paper. (As a little side note - it's worth mentioning that Ginny has paid this kindness forward generously throughout her career. She loves to use her personal friends and resources to help others in any way she can.)

I asked her where she got the audacity to make that first ask, and that brings us to another of Ginny’s operating principles:

 

3. PEOPLE ARE MOTIVATED BY THE ESCAPE FROM FEAR, NOT THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

Ginny’s willingness to take risks didn’t come from courage (though she developed it later), she simply didn’t have another choice. She asked herself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” After losing both of her parents, the risk of getting a “no” from the superintendent when she asked for a connection was trivial.  

She was warm and likeable and created a situation where the superintendent wanted to help her. She gave him the opportunity to be generous.

Ginny found that the more risks she took, the more certain she was of her competencies, allowing her to take even more risks in the future. It’s a virtuous cycle. She also found that when she asked for things, she would get them (and then did her part to work her butt off to deliver on her promises). The result was that she became less fearful.

There are a couple of lessons that I’d like to pull out.

  1. Don’t pre-eliminate a possibility. I would venture to guess that most of us reading this would never think of making an ask like Ginny did. We are trained subtly (and directly) by our society that we shouldn’t impose on others or take up too much space. We jump to the end of the story and put ourselves in the minds of those we’re asking and make wild assumptions about what their answers may be. When we fear the answer may be “no”, we end the conversation before it even began. Ginny shows another option: be someone that people want to help, and then give them an opportunity to do so. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?

  2. Adjust your lens. Many of us live with limiting beliefs that hold us back from living our lives to the fullest. A common limiting belief is that risk is scary and dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Did you catch that Ginny doesn’t credit courage for her risk taking? Necessity drove her to take risks, but then she noticed the results. She was attuned to the fact that her risks paid off. She allowed her worldview to shift based on her experiences. (Of course, she could have also looked for all the ways that life is dangerous and would have found plenty of evidence for that as well, but that’s no way to live.)

 

4. SEEK A FULFILLING LIFE, THE CAREER WILL FOLLOW 

As has been firmly established in this post, Ginny has had a tremendous career and achieved notable success. When I asked her about her secret, she told me that she just wanted life to be interesting.

She said, “If I had had a 5-year plan, I would have missed out on the most incredible career.”

She didn’t aim for status – she aimed for new challenges, tackling something different, not being bored, and learning opportunities. She trusted in herself that she could accomplish anything that she put her mind to, and she jumped at opportunities that came her way.

This approach has paid off for her. She has excelled in business and had incredible experiences that she cherishes.

I think the key here is that she reached. In reaching for the things that fulfilled her, she was always growing and finding new places to showcase her unique abilities.