Graduation season is here, and I don’t think I’m the only semi-recent college grad reminiscing -- not just about what an exciting time graduation was, but also about the wild ride life has been since.
If you’re a recent or soon-to-be grad, you’re probably up to your eyeballs in job applications, hopefully receiving lots of encouragement and helpful advice. As someone only a few years into my career, I don’t have much sage wisdom to dispense. What I do have is a truly stunning track record of things not going the way I planned. And the gradual realization that this is okay.
I’ve learned that things not going according to plan is part of the plan. And I’m grateful for the collection of friends, experiences, and skills that I never would have gained had life unfolded in a neat, straight line.
And on that note, I'd like to share with you three (abridged) stories about derailed plans, and how glad I am that they went so far off track.
When I was applying to college, like most folks, I had a top choice school. Before my campus visit was over, I'd already decided my major, knew what clubs I’d join, and already mentally decorated my dorm room. When -- plot twist -- I didn’t get in. It took about three days of unrelenting tears before I remembered that I had, in fact, applied elsewhere and all was probably not lost.
When the fall rolled around, I found myself 5,000 miles from home at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. And every single day for the next four years, I woke up and resisted the urge to write my top choice school a thank you letter for rejecting me. St Andrews exploded my universe and made it so much bigger and more colorful than I could have ever imagined. My golf game did not improve, nor did I meet Prince William. Who I did meet were friends from all over the world, who I’ll know and love for the rest of my life, and eventually, a more confident and adventurous version of myself who wasn’t afraid of backpacking to unfamiliar places or eating sheep’s intestines.
As my graduation from St Andrews approached, I knew I wanted to move to London. And after months of job searching, I was offered an internship exactly 24 hours after being handed my diploma. In Los Angeles. So in a complete 180, I moved to LA to work for a non-profit. Constant rain was replaced with constant sun, and instead of haggis and Irn Bru there was kimbap and BBQ.
Much more importantly, my perspective and priorities refocused. It wasn’t geographically where I thought I’d end up, but there was never a day that I didn’t want to be there. There was never a day that I wasn’t completely humbled and blown away by the people I worked with, by their strength and resilience in the face of experiences that I cannot even begin to imagine. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for the myriad of ways that my life has changed just for knowing them.
In my next job search, I tried to find another organization with a similarly vibrant culture and sense of purpose. And I found one that had both. But it was at a tech company. If you told the teenage Sophie, who edited her high school LitMag and snuck into dive bar poetry slams that someday she’d be working at a tech company, she would've laughed at you.
HubSpot is an incredible place to work, and as soon as I became open to the idea of working in the technology industry, opportunities opened up that I never even knew existed. I learned skills that I never thought were accessible to me. And it’s been at HubSpot that I’ve met some of my biggest role models and mentors, along with an army of wildly intelligent, incredible women who inspire me every day. While I still love a good poetry slam, learning to operate outside my comfort zone has made me more inquisitive, more adaptable, and a better advocate for myself. It’s also nice to know that, while the transcontinental moves were life-changing and I’d recommend them to anyone, radical growth can happen close to home too.
So, while it would be swell if the road from education to gainful employment was smooth and nicely paved, the experience for most of us involves a pothole or two. Or ten. And although they can sometimes mean the start of some of the richest, most wonderful parts of your life, what do you do when you’re there in the moment, watching your plans go pear shaped?
Know your weaknesses, and run directly at them.
Eyes closed, head first, no hands. Literally fling yourself at those weaknesses. Is it also important to know and maintain your strengths? Of course. But in my experience, I haven’t made much progress when I sit comfortably in what I’m good at. I’ve seen the most growth (and the most new opportunities) when I’ve been the furthest outside my comfort zone.
As an Implementation Specialist, I teach customers the technical and strategic ins and outs of the HubSpot tools. Tools which are constantly changing and improving. I’ve made a habit in the last year of leaning into areas of our product where there are new features or updates, doing as much research as I possibly can on them, and then talking about those features with customers. HubSpot customers ask the best questions, and when there’s an answer I don’t know, the process of finding it has turned out to be a really effective learning method, not to mention it gives me a deeper understanding of my customers’ needs.
Surround yourself with people who believe in transparency.
When things inevitably begin to stray, in both big and small ways, from what I expect, those are the moments when I’m most grateful to be in an environment where honesty and transparency are prioritized. Being transparent means generously sharing knowledge, and that makes it way easier for everyone to succeed. If I didn’t know where to get the information I need to do my job, I probably wouldn’t be super effective at it, and that wouldn’t be good for me or for our customers. Luckily, t HubSpot I can search through what might possibly be the biggest Wiki in the known universe, or go to one of the many regular office hours held by product experts or senior members of my team that are designed specifically for knowledge-sharing.
Being transparent also means being open and honest with yourself and others. For someone starting out in their career, being able to be honest with my managers about the career trajectory I’d like to take in the future has been a breath of fresh air. What’s even more remarkable is to have your manager turn around and say “That’s great. You should attend this meeting, shadow that person, and read this book to get a sense for if that kind of role is a good fit for you.”
When you’re in a transparent environment, you have the knowledge, the tools, and the autonomy to make informed decisions about your career.
Choose a direction in which you don’t need directions.
Simon Sinek made a great point when he explained that there's a difference between direction and directions: “Direction is the far-away destination to which you are heading and directions are the route you will take to get there.” And while this statement speaks particularly well to the managers and leaders of organizations, I’ve found it really helpful when making decisions about how I’d like to grow, both professionally and personally. I know I love working with people to learn, to solve problems, and to grow their businesses. I also know that there are probably a million different ways I can do that in my career.
Know the things that energize and motivate you, and then pursue those things. You may find them in the very last place you expected.