4 Ways to Fly Fearlessly: How a Chance Encounter at the Airport Became a Ticket to Career Growth


I still remember the day. It was Friday, November 6, and, after a busy week, I was waiting to catch the 6:35 p.m. flight from LaGuardia Airport home to Minneapolis. I had just updated my Facebook status. Within minutes, I connected with my two cousins--one had just landed at LaGuardia and the other was at Newark Liberty International Airport. The next Facebook comment came from Ellyn Shook, Accenture's chief leadership and human resources officer. It turns out she was on my same flight (what an incredibly small world!).

It wasn't long before I spotted Ellyn heading toward the gate. Since I work in HR, I've met Ellyn several times in group settings--and we're Facebook friends. But I didn't know her really well, so I wanted to walk over and say a quick hello. I couldn't have imagined our conversation would lead me to an amazing opportunity in Bangalore, India, two months later (First tip: Never underestimate the power of social media!).

Opportunity knocks
When we started talking, Ellyn asked me what I was doing in New York. I shared that I had been facilitating Strengths Workshops with a colleague. These workshops are something I've done informally for many years. Every chance I get, I love helping people discover and play to their strengths. And it was serendipitous that sharing my passion with Ellyn that day opened the door to my own opportunity.

All I had to do was open the door, but that's easier said than done. My conversation with Ellyn turned to strengths coaching and how it supports our reimagined approach to employee performance management, which we call Performance Achievement. No more ratings. No more looking in the rear-view mirror at what you accomplished a year ago. Now, it's all about having forward-looking, meaningful conversations with your leader about your strengths, career and being your best. That's a major transformation requiring leaders at all levels to be great coaches focused on their people's strengths and development.

Taking risks--and advice
That's when Ellyn told me about a great opportunity to help shape our new approach. She asked me to consider teaching strengths coaching--and if I was willing, "Get your visa ready!"

There was just one catch: I would need to live and work in Bangalore, India, for at least four months. I had never worked or lived outside the United States, so the thought of moving halfway around the world to an unfamiliar culture was a bit daunting.

I realized I had to start by facing all my fears head-on--quickly! That required several more lessons in overcoming them--and taking risks to grow. I want to share these tips with you in hopes they will be useful on your own career journey:

I'll be honest. Making a decision to travel halfway around the world to live and work in another culture is a big deal! So this idea took some convincing for me. It's easy to tell others to take risks. What finally made the difference was the advice I received from two great mentors at my company. Over time, they have seen in me what I haven't always seen in myself. They shared balanced counsel as my sponsors and truth-tellers.

I am probably the most thorough planner (and biggest bookworm) you'll ever meet. So I ordered three books on India. I also relentlessly peppered my global colleagues with all the questions I could think of. As a result, I compiled a great collection of recommendations--both wonderful and practical, from locals and others--for navigating everyday Bangalore life.

I already had my own to-do list for India: try everything on the menu, wrap a sari, ride in a rickshaw, take yoga and wear mehndi. Before leaving, I was also blessed with lots of advice--from medication and communication to transportation and recreation. But others' expectations can be overwhelming, though well-intentioned. Just remember: It's your once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don't apologize for doing it your way.

To find the courage for committing to this experience, the truth is that I relied heavily on the support of so many. But after I committed, what kept me squarely on the path was my 17+ years of passion and preparation. Yes, I was still anxious. But I recognized the opportunity to be passionate, excellent and impactful. In the end, was there really any other choice?

I'd like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It's from the well-known author and novelist, Paulo Coelho, in his book, The Winner Stands Alone: "Talent is a universal gift, but it takes a lot of courage to use it. Don't be afraid to be the best."

Today, I'm thriving in Bangalore because I was able to face my fears, take a risk and embrace a new culture. The decisions I made led to an amazing growth experience. Because of it, I will take a new assignment when I return to the United States. I'll be continuing my passion for coaching in my company's Learning and Talent Development organization. I feel like my career is coming full circle. And, I hope sharing my story will help you get outside your comfort zone and to start your own journey.

Exploring Lalbagh Botanical Gardens in southern Bangalore.

A day trip to Mysore included a visit to the 12th-century Chamundeshwari Temple.

Mysore Palace, evening illumination-official residence of the Maharajas of Mysore.

My pre-trip homework-always reading!