117. Sarah Green Carmichael: Taking the Risk

I always love speaking with individuals at the low end of the learning curve. So many emotions are on the surface, but by the time someone hits the sweet spot, they often don’t remember how hard it was to do the things that now come easily.

In an attempt to capture this movement along the learning curve, today’s podcast is in a new format: part one was recorded back in December, when my guest, Sarah Green Carmichael, had just left her position as Executive Editor at the Harvard Business Review. I’ve known Sarah for ten years, and this was a BIG jump. She was comfortable at her job and loved her colleagues, but she was clearly at the top of her curve. It was time to jump…but that didn’t make it an easy decision.

But then I also felt kind of like…why wouldn't I try something else? And I think I had some fears about what if I'm not as good at the new thing? What if I don't like it as much? What if I try it and it doesn't work out? And when I was kind of honest with myself about that, I was like, well, I don't want the reason I don't try something new to be because I'm afraid.

Continued below…

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Conquering her fear, Sarah accepted an offer to work as a Managing Editor of Ideas at Barron’s. In part two of the podcast, we catch up with Sarah several months later, after she’s had time to settle into her new role. We discuss the steep part of her learning curve, what happened in her first few months, what surprised her, and where she is on her learning curve after an unexpected new curve came her way.

I loved discussing Sarah’s “jump,” because her story is so similar to many I’ve heard across the country. When you’ve grown complacent in your job but it’s not “bad,” is it worth the leap? It’s uncomfortable at the top of the learning curve, but it’s uncomfortable at the bottom, as well.

No matter what you decide there will be times you wonder if you made the wrong choice. So if you decide to play it safe and not change you will wonder if that was the right choice, if you decide to make the change and take the risk there will be times you wonder if that was the right choice, so you can't really avoid that kind of questioning or doubt by staying in one place.

I hope you enjoy this disruption of our format. Listen in the player below, or download the episode on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And please let me know what you think in the comments!

Takeaways from this episode:

  • Advice for those in the job market: cover letters and “thank you” notes to interviewers matter.
  • Sarah’s job at the Harvard Business Review was the result of some freelance work she did for a friend of a friend of her mother’s, who also happened to be related to someone who worked at HBR. You never know where your leads will come from—check your network!
  • Her first position at HBR wasn’t as great a fit as Sarah originally hoped, but she was able to disrupt herself within the same organization. She found something that challenged her and more closely aligned with her interests. She finally felt “This is the place for me.”
  • It took 12-18 months from when Sarah first began thinking of leaving HBR to it actually happening. Jumping to a new learning curve is disruptive, but it doesn’t need to be fast or reckless. If you have the option, wait to find what looks like a good curve and then jump.
  • Months after changing jobs, Sarah discovered that she still missed the people and relationships at HBR. She realized she will always miss them—and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean she made the wrong decision; it simply means she forged some great bonds over 12 years.
  • Sarah’s new boss at Barron’s left a few months after Sarah took on her new role, disrupting her disruption! A new boss meant new goals, new working styles, and new challenges. It’s different, but not “bad different.” As Sarah says, “Things around you also change, and you have to learn how to change with them.”
  • We know from disruptive theory that the odds of success are 6x higher when you take a disruptive course. We also know that not every new learning curve is the right learning curve. You may need to jump from the middle of a curve instead of waiting for the top. This is especially common when your initial leap is from a company where you worked for a long time. Don’t panic—jump again. No S curve is ever wasted.

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

97. Dan Shapero: Stepping Back to Grow

Dan Shapero’s team was a rocket ship. When he stepped in as leader of LinkedIn’s recruiting business, annual revenue was around $40 million. By 2014, it was a billion and a half dollars.

So it came somewhat as a surprise when the CEO of LinkedIn told him that he was probably in the wrong job.

“I started off feeling kind of angry about it, to be honest. Almost unappreciated. And…[he said] “Great tech companies are built on either great technology or great product. And if you want to lead a great tech company someday, then you need to understand how great products or great technology are built.” And as I thought about it (and it took me probably two months to sort of process that conversation), I realized I agreed with him.”

It was a hard truth for Dan to hear, but maintaining the status quo was no longer possible: Dan knew that he needed to transform, yet again, into something new. With support from an amazing supervisor/mentor, Dan was able to craft an exit plan that would allow him to transition from leading a 1,500 person organization on the sales team to becoming an individual contributor in product development.

Now, four years later, Dan has been tapped to return to the sales organizations at LinkedIn, and he acknowledges that his time in product development has made him a better leader than he was before. Equally as important, Dan recognizes that the team that surrounded him amplified his efforts, leading to success.

“The number one skill of a leader in many regards is self-awareness…leaders can’t be superhuman. They can’t be great at everything, and so there are a bunch of areas where I deliberately surround myself by people that are great at the things that I am not great at. And those people, in some regard are…some of the most valuable people on the team because we really come together and do the best collectively.”

Join us as we discuss the importance of teams, transformations, and the time that Dan told his boss he was the wrong guy for a promotion.  Listen using the player below, or download the episode on iTunes. If you like what you hear please consider leaving a review or sending me a message.

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Takeaways from this episode:

  • “There’s a real premium placed on taking something complicated and making it simple.” Look for ways to create clarity in your job.
  • Dan sold his startup while in college, but within only a few years the job market was dismal and he feared how he would pay his rent. Life is full of tough moments, especially at the beginning of your learning curve. Have patience and persevere.
  • It took Dan two months to recognize the truth behind his CEO’s assessment that he was in the wrong job. Dan then took nine months to transition from the sales team to product development. Transformation takes time!
  • “[Be] impatient for learning but patient for a new title.”

Links Mentioned in this Episode:


86. Dave Hollis: Abandoning Certainty

When his eight-year-old son asked Dave Hollis what his biggest fear was, no doubt he anticipated an answer along the lines of “tarantula” or “scorpions.” Instead, he received a brutally honest assessment: “Not living up to my potential.”

At the time, Dave Hollis was the President of Worldwide Theatrical Distribution at The Walt Disney Company—you know, that little start-up out of California that has distributed such niche films as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Black Panther, and Toy Story. Dave had spent 17 years of his life working his way up the ladder at Disney, and to most of the world appeared to have achieved the apex of his career.

But Dave didn’t feel that way.

Despite working for one of the biggest (and in Dave’s opinion, greatest) companies in the world, he couldn’t escape the feeling that he was no longer challenging himself in the role that he occupied. He had an amazing team, amazing support, and given the track record of the company also had little resistance to do whatever he wanted to do for theatrical distribution. But he wasn’t challenged, and that was a problem.

“I had a conversation with my wife that came out of me not showing up as well for my life as I had when I was more challenged by my job. In some interesting ways I let the challenge of my job dictate a little bit of how I was as a husband, how I was as a parent. I started just pulling back. I'd go on really long runs, I was putting on headphones and playing video games, one after work drink was turning into two or three. I just wasn't the best version of myself…I needed to abandon certainty and that was the catalyst for making a big change.”

Co-mingled in this story is that Dave’s wife is Rachel Hollis – author of the best-selling Girl, Wash Your Face and an influencer in the world of personal growth. At the time of this hard conversation, Rachel was at the beginning of her journey into self-discovery and empowerment, and Dave knew that if he didn’t continue to progress they would be in danger of losing the strong relationship that he valued simply because Rachel would keep growing while he stood still.

So, he left The Walt Disney Company.

“I decided to go pursue dreams with my wife, and in doing so, uprooted our family…to Austin, Texas, where we now work together on an everyday basis and have this thing, The Hollis Company, that has us focusing on how we can in the media space, deliver tools to people on an everyday basis that will help them change their life and change their life forever.”

Dave is not only seeking to improve his life; he and his wife are seeking ways to disrupt others lives, as well.

Disruption at its finest.

There’s more to this story, and I hope you’ll take the time to listen to it. Download the episode on iTunes, or listen using the player below. If you like what you hear, leave me a comment and you may get a shout-out in a future episode!

Links Mentioned in this Episode:


49. Alison Levine: Standing (Or Climbing) Out From The Crowd

Today’s guest is Alison Levine, a former investment advisor-turned-mountain climber who has climbed the highest mountains on every continent. She’s the author of the NY Times bestselling book On the Edge, and is the executive producer of The Glass Ceiling, a documentary about the first Nepali woman to climb Mt. Everest.

Takeaways from this Episode:

  • You don’t always have to be “better” than others to achieve something; you can simply be different. Alison found a way to stand out from the crowd while seeking an internship with Goldman Sachs and doing what she loved (climbing mountains). Play where no one else is playing.
  • Show up. We put a lot of emphasis on preparation, and while preparation is certainly important, if you never show up you’ll never accomplish your goal. Sometimes taking the leap and figuring out how to make things work in the moment is the only way you’ll get moving.
  • The journey is often worth more than the destination. A mountain is just a pile of rocks, but the journey to the top can change your entire perspective on life.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure. If you’re going to take risks, you need to allow yourself and your team room to fail. Failure is one thing you did at one point in time, so it doesn’t define you. Similarly, rejection is one person’s opinion at one point in time.
  • There are some weaknesses we may never overcome, but if we are willing to be creative we can find ways to compensate (whether for ourselves or for others).
  • Let your constraints become a tool of creation. Alison is a fabulous example of a textbook disruptor: born with a heart condition, instead of resigning herself to a sedentary life she dreamt of becoming an adventurer. Being absolutely relentless, she did it. The next time you find yourself allowing your constraints to hold you back, ask yourself how is this an invitation to become a great adventurer in your own life—then act on it.

Born with a heart condition, Alison is not a person you would expect would be renowned for leading the first team of American women to climb Mt. Everest together. After her second heart surgery around age 30, Alison found a renewed zest for life and wanted to do something she couldn’t do before.  Remembering stories of adventurers that had captivated her in her youth, Alison used frequent flyer miles to hop on a plane to Tanzania and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, reaching the summit with a pair of heavy hiking boots and equipment borrowed from friends. The experience was difficult, yet exhilarating for Allison, and as she continued to climb mountains she realized it was about more than just reaching the summit.

“Standing on top of a mountain isn't going to change you and isn't going to change the world. It's really about the lessons you learn along the way.”

Alison didn’t allow her constraints to stop her from achieving the life she wanted, and her story has inspired some unexpected insights within me. Perhaps she’ll inspire some within you, as well. Listen on iTunes or in the player below, and if you enjoy the show, please consider clicking here to leave us a review.

Links from Episode 49 – Alison Levine:

Alison Levine
Twitter: @levine_alison

On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments by Alison Levine

The Glass Ceiling documentary

Reach for the Sky: Can 5 Ordinary Women Summit Mount Everest?

Ellevate Network

Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection by Jia Jiang

Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work by Whitney Johnson

A Beautiful Constraint: How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It's Everyone's Business by Mark Barden and Adam Morgan

Build an A-Team: Play to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve by Whitney Johnson

Download the first chapter of Whitney’s new book, Build An A Team


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