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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.