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Sheryl Sandberg Is Calling BS On Your Long-Held Career Phobia

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It’s miserable to be stuck in one job while daydreaming of another. But we’re often discouraged from making the leap, because the path won’t be clear, the pay might be lower, the move might look—or worse, feel—like a step down.

Sheryl Sandberg is calling your bluff on all of it.

On a podcast aptly titled When To Jump, the Facebook COO said she’s seen too many people stagnate professionally, and avoid making potentially beneficial moves into new industries or job functions, because they think of their careers as linear paths, where the only direction is up.

“There are so many times I’ve seen people not make that jump because they’re afraid they’ll—and I’m doing this in air quotes, you can’t see me—’move backward.’ So let’s say you’re a lawyer and you’ve decided you don’t want to be a lawyer, you’d really rather be in marketing, and you’re 35… but you’re at a certain level and you’ve never done marketing so no one’s gonna hire you at that level, so you’re gonna need to take a step back, meaning go down a couple levels. If you can financially afford it, and you’re gonna work the next, I don’t know, 30 years, who cares about ‘going down?'”

For Sandberg, this experience is close to home. When she left Washington DC for California, she faced 10 months of unemployment before landing at Google. And her first role there was what some might call a step back for someone who had served as chief of staff to a US Treasury secretary, as she had for Larry Summers.

At Google then, “there was no chief of staff, but if there was that job, no one was going to give it to me because I hadn’t worked in tech,” Sandberg told podcast host Mike Lewis, who is the author of When to Jump: If The Job You Have Isn’t The Life You Want, and Sandberg’s second cousin.

“I came in as what we call the business unit general manager,” Sandberg said. “The first team I ran at Google had four people. The Treasury had tens of thousands.”

Of course, risking your present career to pursue your dream job may not make you a billionaire industry icon, as it did Sandberg. And if going somewhere new requires a pay cut, you’ll need the financial flexibility to manage that, as Sandberg acknowledges.

Still, we could all benefit from taking a page out of Sandberg’s book, in recognizing that many of the industries leading today’s global economy didn’t even exist 30 years ago, and thinking about what that might mean for the future. Reflecting on how she wishes she’d spent less time anxiously planning earlier in her career, she said to Lewis, “I tell people: long-term dream and short-term plan.”

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