Know When to Pass: A Leadership Lesson

The last few weeks have been long. Like really long. The quick story is I was offered an opportunity to put my hat in a ring (a ring I previously very much wanted to be in) and after a lot of sleepless nights, frustration, gut checks, and more…I decided to pass.

Of course there is much more to the story, but for the purpose of this post, that’s the gist of it. It has been a growing experience to say the least. I have always been the “lean in” type. I’m the “go after it all” woman, the “you can do this, just try harder” person. I was brought up with that mentality. I very much believe that if you work hard for things, and you do good work, you’ll get where you want to go.

Well that’s true, but along the way you often find where you wanted to go has very little to do with that open door in front of you. Talk about a confusing time. I mean a “who am I, what do I want from life, have I really fucked this up” type of confusing time.

As a woman in tech I pride myself in knowing what I want. I pride myself very much in doing the hard work and long days it takes to get there. I have never passed up an opportunity to be considered. I’ve never passed up an opportunity to be tested, or challenged, or anything “more” really. I can honestly say…I have absolutely never passed any of that up.

This week I did.

And guess what? My world did not shatter. I repeat — MY WORLD DID NOT SHATTER. me = surprised.

I am at SXSW this week, and I had an amazing conversation with an ambitious, brilliant woman at a top tech company. She has worked her way from the bottom to the top. She leads a huge team. She handles global issues, she carries the weight of a growing company on her shoulders, and she does it with a remarkably humble, beautiful grace about her.

We were chatting, and I talked through this situation, and you should have seen her face when I said “I passed.” I had built myself up…I had talked through the startups, the years, the love of the marketing game. Then I dropped it…”I passed on this opportunity to stay just where I am.”

She said, “I’m shocked.” I told her…so was I.

There is something incredibly freeing to admit it out loud. Because inside, I admit, I’m a bit embarassed for some reason. I feel like I am taking a step back, or not rising to the challenge. I feel like I backed down when I should have leaned it, and it shakes my “thrill-seeking-career-driven-company-loving” soul. It makes me feel like a fraud. It made me feel like I let every woman that ever invested in my growth down. It smacked my confidence so low, that I spent the last week wondering what the hell I’m doing.

Then I had a margarita.

Tequila always helps. #fact

Okay, FINE, I admit it…I had a few.

I took a deep breath and I reminded myself — I get to choose what I do. I get to choose whats next and whats not.  I get to choose when to throw my hat in, and when to take it out. This is my damn career people. I teared up, and then I smiled…I felt great, because I love what I do, and how I do it. I am surrounded by amazingly smart and supportive people, and there are some beautiful things on the horizon.

I think, without even knowing it, I absorbed a lesson in leadership that will shape me forever — you can lead from within. From within a team. From within a company. From within yourself. You don’t always need to prove yourself to be a leader. You can lead from example, from your behavior, and from right where you are.

Seriously friends — take a long look at where you are standing and ask yourself — what can I make better from right here?

You might just find, that the next door that opens is one you pass on. Passing on something does not say anything more about you than you want it to. This specific lesson reminded me just how freaking stoked I am for my career. I have a lot of years left in this crazy game, and there is a lot of remarkable marketing to be made with brilliant marketers. Passing on this did nothing more than re-ignite the fire folks.

Life lesson learned. Just when you thought you were bowing out, you were in fact…leaning in. Well done you life…well played.

  • Pbecci

    Good timing on this post, its some good advice my way. Funny how that works sometimes.

  • Mack

    Hey Joanna. There is so much win (and power) in passing. Clearly there is a maturity about it that will push you further in what you’re currently doing and also help you determine what you really want out of where you are. I admire your strength and courage and so will the people who just lost out on you :)

  • Danan Margason

    This was an AWESOME read. Thanks for sharing. I went through the same thing recently, and 2 weeks later a way cooler opportunity came along :)

  • Joanna Lord

    me thinks that latest decision was a great one for both parties involved ;) thanks for reading!

  • Joanna Lord

    thanks for jumping in here Mack. Its hard thats for sure, but it was therapeutic for sharing, thanks for the encouragement :)

  • Joanna Lord

    serendipity FTW! best of luck on your decision, Ill send good karma waves your way!