What does High School Career Day have to do with sabbatical?

A few weeks ago, I volunteered at Denver’s North High School to talk about my career journey and give advice to high school students. In prepping for that talk, I realized that the three pieces of advice I had to give were the same ones that both helped me get where I am in my career and were now giving me the opportunity to take a sabbatical.

  1. Do something that scares you every day.
  2. Build your network.
  3. Be indispensable.

Do something that scares you every day

Take risks in life. As I thought about the steps in my own career journey, I realized that I’ve regularly pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. From moving to Boston from Texas after college with little more than a few hundred dollars in graduation money to applying for jobs for which I didn’t think I was qualified, taking risks has paid off for me. I encouraged these mostly 9th graders to consider this statement:

There’s no growth in the comfort zone, and there’s no comfort in the growth zone.

I’m following my own advice as it pertains to my sabbatical. I’m scared to leave a job that I love, the comfort of my paycheck and knowing what most days are going to be like. I’m scared that I may not find another job I love when I return. But I jumped off the sabbatical cliff anyway.

Check out my post on taking risks and facing your fears.

Build your network

From the time that I was in high school, I remember people telling me that I needed to network because “that’s how people get ahead.” Who those people were, I had no idea. My Mom was an underpaid teacher and my Dad was an underpaid social worker. Nobody seemed to be getting ahead in my family.

Growing up without much money and even fewer “connections,” I had no idea how to build a network. It wasn’t until many years later, after college and graduate school, that I figured out the real value of having a network and how to systematically and strategically build one.

I got my first job after graduate school because a family member knew somebody who knew somebody in higher education in Colorado. That got me in the door, but the rest was up to me. I got my next big break because my mentor put in a good word for me with the hiring manager.

When I first started working this network concept, it felt so strange to me. I didn’t like the idea of “using” people. Well, I’ve realized since then that’s not at all what it’s about. It’s about building real and authentic relationships with people who believe in you and who are willing to help you along your journey and vice versa.

One of my favorite things about my current job working with low-income, first generation college students is helping them figure this out for themselves, and being a part of their networks. Building social capital is one of the hardest things to do if you didn’t inherit it from your parents.

When you meet someone through work or play with whom you connect, admire, or just generally want to get to know, make it a priority to have coffee, offer support, work on a project together. Be authentic and invest in the relationship.  Then give each relationship care and attention over the years because relationships are living things that need to be nurtured to be sustained.

I’ve spent the last 15 years building up my network in the world of educational nonprofits. That means I’ve spent 15 years building meaningful relationships with the people I encounter through my work and social networks. I have been a reference for many of the people in my network as they have sought to grow in their own careers, and I know that I have dozens and dozens of people I can count on for the same support when I return from sabbatical looking for my next gig.


Be indispensable.

Finally, be your very best in every situation. Be the person your friends, family, boss, peers, and teammates can rely upon. Follow through on your commitments, and don’t let people down.

Be the person that everyone wants on their team because they know you will have their back. Strive to have integrity in all that you do. Be kind to people.

Make your boss look good, and then give your team credit. Make your team look good, and then give your team credit. People want to work with people who will raise their own value. Strive to make everyone around you look good, and it will make you look good in return.

Thank your colleagues for a job well done. When you show appreciation, it comes back to you.

When you mess up, and you will, be accountable. Instead of making excuses, fix the problem, learn from it, and move on. People will respect that you are willing to own up to your mistakes and grow from them.

Bottom line, work hard and be willing to put in twenty percent more effort than everyone else. Others will notice and they will want to work with you. Build a reputation for being a hard worker who does what she says she’ll do and does it better than expected.

Leave them wanting more. That’s what I’m counting on when I return from my year off.

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