How often have you been at work and wondered why you were there, where the work you are currently putting in will land you, or ultimately what your next move is career wise? Answering this question for myself, I’ve these thoughts in my mind at least once per week. When I have these thoughts, I tend to find articles or books that can help me figure out how to navigate where I need to go and that’s one of the best parts of reading Beth Comstock’s new book, Imagine It Forward. Beth worked for nearly three decades at GE and served as President of Integrated Media at NBC Universal. In addition to being an author, she is currently the director at Nike and a trustee of The National Geographic Society—in short, she’s a total badass.
The book — which was released September 18th — is different from many career-related books, because although it does provide practical tips that you could use towards your career, it reads almost as a career autobiography. Beth takes readers into a journey using her extensive career as a guide making it a great book for millennial women at any point of their career. “I wanted to chronicle the journey as a creative innovator, the struggle and the triumph of what that is,” the author, Beth Comstock, said.
With that being said, here are five takeaways from Imagine It Forward and why you should read it now:
You can have a family and a thriving career
Often in our culture, there’s a misconception that women can’t have a family and a flourishing career unless your finances are hefty. I’ve had conversations with friends who reiterate this thought, saying that they fear they couldn’t have both kids and a career. Beth’s goes into this concept — she never let having a family stop her.
In the book, Beth speaks about having her daughter, Katie, with her first husband and ultimately getting divorced. “I came to see that — while incredibly hard — there was nothing shameful about endings or mistakes. It can be a wise decision to leave on path and choose another.” The divorce left her as a single mother, but she didn’t let that stop her and she even had more kids, got remarried, and continued her career journey.
“My career and motherhood started at the same time. I wanted to move forward in my career and I had chosen this path and put us on a path and I had to make it work,” Beth told me. She also explained that often she gets asked questions from working women who want to start their family, but question when is the right time to do so. “I didn’t plan. I think you can overplan. I see women who wait for it to be the perfect time in their career, but there’s no perfect time. You just figure it out.”
Learn to trust your doubts and what’s meant for you is meant for you
In the book, something that stood out to me was to “learn to trust your doubts.” It’s a very powerful idea, and something that we so often ignore. That pit in your stomach or you not being able to sleep when attempting to make a big decision are your gut speaking to you, and it’s your job to figure out what the issue is. For Beth, a pivotal point in her career came while she was working at NBC and was given an opportunity to work with Steve Jobs at Apple. For her, it just didn’t feel right, and although she questioned her choice for years to come, she followed her doubt which made for an interesting career trajectory. “We can’t make uncertainty go away, but we can change the way we react to it. Every uncertainty is a new potential future,” Beth said.
Conversely, while it’s important to trust your doubts, you also need to trust your instincts and realize what’s meant for you is for you. While working at CBS, Beth was offered a job at NBC. Everyone in her world thought it was not the best move because she would be leaving a top network to go to what was a struggling network at the time. Beth however, followed her intuition and took the role, “in my gut, I knew this was the job I was meant to take. Well-meaning colleagues will try to stop you from making these bravely instinctive choices. That’s just how it is. Change-making creates resistance. It is against the roles. Change is seen as loss. It is scary,” said Beth. “But you have to learn not to stop yourself. You have to learn to give yourself permission to imagine a better way, to envision opportunity where others see risk.”
Naysayers, also known as “Gatekeepers” are all around, but don’t let them hold you back
Whenever Beth mentioned gatekeepers in Imagine It Forward, the song “Stronger” by Christina Aguilera ran through my head. Beth explains exactly what a gatekeeper is by saying, “Gatekeepers are those looking to keep hold of the little power they have. They see divergent thinking and action as threatening. They bank on our desire for approval. The worst thing they do is to create and police standards that the rest of us accept and internalize. You will find gatekeepers everywhere, in every job, in every classroom, in every family. And sometimes, I discovered, we invite them in our own minds.”
We all have gatekeepers in our lives, but reading this book — for me at least — will make me more conscious of the opinions I do take. So often, I know something feels right for me but sometimes ask the opinions of others to confirm what I know and sometimes, the feedback I get is not the answer that I want. Perhaps, these people could be gatekeepers and not people who genuinely care.
Change is inevitable
In the same way brands have to think about change whether it’s implementing new tools, technologies or leadership to their pipelines, change is something that we must keep at top of our mind as we grow and navigate throughout our careers. On change, Beth says “In change, people have to find their own path. You can’t mandate how that happens. But you can create the right conditions.”
Throughout the book, Beth shows the changes she made in her career, as well as the changes that have happened at companies that she has worked for. Change is inevitable, and realistically a necessary agent to grow. Beth said that one of the things she wanted to show with the book is the evolution of change, “the nature of change is changing and we all need to get ready by being more adaptable and we need to be that regardless of where you are in your career,” she said. “You need to give yourself permission to try things before you take on something huge, you need to take small steps to work towards that.” With the book, Beth shows that in order to grow, you need to change stuff up, and to expand your expertise you have to both be willing to accept change.
The journey although sometimes rocky, is beautiful
Although Beth’s resume is full, lengthy, and inspirational, there have been some disappointments along the way. Despite everything not panning out the way we may hope, the journey is always worth acknowledging. With Imagine It Forward, Beth writes about her journey in a way that in part gives her time to revel in all the change making she has done (and it definitely deserves a round of applause). In the ending of the book, Beth talks about some of the opportunities and lessons that have made her career journey feel whole, and she summed it up with a few notes:
- “Transformation is a never-ending journey, for your company, your team, for you.”
- “Story is the glue that binds us. We need stories to give our work, and our lives, meaning. Strategy is a story well told. Vision and courageous leadership never go out of style.”
- “Believe in possibility. Get comfortable with not knowing. With living in the in-between of what was and what will be.”