To Have a Great Career, Get Out Of Line
I learned early on that if I was going to be successful I was going to have to step out of line . I had to figure it out for myself by getting to know my own strengths and then learning from other successful women how to navigate the waters ahead of me. I learned a great deal from others who were gracious enough to share their knowledge with me.
In the late ‘80s, I was privileged to teach upper-division marketing classes at the business school at the University of Texas, now known as the McCombs School. The school wanted some faculty with “real world” experience and I fit the bill.
During that time, I discovered a book that deeply resonated with me: Taking Chances, by Dale Dauten. The author shares his fable about a young lad, Swift, who goes out into the world and happens upon a huge line of people waiting their turn to enter the “house of the privileged few.” Swift waits in line for a while but becomes impatient, and gets out of line. He follows a fence line that takes him to the house’s back door.
“Welcome” a dozen voices say in unison.
“Come in, come in,” they say in unison, and offer him a beverage and a chair.
“I can stay?” asks Swift.
“Of course. You’ve arrived.”
“But what about those in line?”
“They will wait.”
I read this fable each semester to my students and it always spurred provocative dialogue about taking the unknown path.
Most every successful woman I know got out of the proverbial line at some point in their careers, myself included.
Attorney Nancy Ebe’s Stepping-Out-of-Line Story
My friend, Nancy Ebe is a stunning “Bette Midler” look-alike. She is brains and brawn. She regularly hosts “Women Who Love Business” lunches at the Austin Four Seasons Hotel and blesses me with a seat. The stories told at that table are hugely entertaining and one-of-a-kind. Here’s one of my favorite get out of line stories from Ebe.
Graduating from Smith College (Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude), Ebe (and her then boyfriend) late one night had a margarita-inspired idea: Boldly respond to their grad school wait-list letters. You know the ones that open with “I am sorry to inform you… We have 800 seats for 20,000 applicants.”
They each decided to write back!
In response to a waitlist letter from University of Chicago School of Law, Ebe wrote:
Dear Admissions Director,
I am sad to inform you I have many “top-ranked” university opportunities and only one choice, and I will not be able to attend your school.
The Admissions Director called her shortly thereafter, and told her that she was accepted. After a few minutes of rapport building and expressing appreciation for the acceptance, Ebe revealed, “I have a scholarship from Columbia School of Journalism. What can you offer me?
“Let me investigate,” responded the admission director.
Four phone calls later, Ebe clinched the deal she needed: Ample scholarships and loans in exchange for three years of schooling and a diploma from the prestigious University of Chicago School of Law. After law school, Ebe’s first job was with the prestigious San Francisco law firm, Morrison & Foerster where she practiced trial and labor law on behalf of corporations.
Today, Ebe is COO and general counsel, for iKey, Ltd., the world’s oldest and largest manufacturer of rugged industrial keyboards and accessories.
- The herd mentality is everywhere. It takes real courage to go against the “status quo.”
- Getting out of line takes boldness. Ebe, like many successful women, viewed a “no” as “game on.” What started as a fun, “what-the-heck” lark turned into a very big win. Be fearless. You never know what your actions can bring.
- Make friends with gatekeepers. As the old adage teaches, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.” Ebe’s letter was the spark. She used her talents of relationship building and persuasion through a series of phone calls, to win over the Admission Director. He became her champion.
- Stepping out of line paired with rapport-building can open many doors.