You've been singing "Put me in coach, I'm ready to play ... today" since you started working. You've gone to every meeting, done every project with enthusiasm and really impressed your co-workers and bosses. And finally, you have been given the opportunity to become the company's youngest product manager or first under-30 executive veep. Just what you've been dreaming of.
Just like a character in one of those old feel-good movies, you want to show 'em what you've got, impress them despite your young age. Let them be awed by your talent. Earn that title of CEO by 28. And get carried out of the office on everyone's shoulders with champagne corks popping around you.
Then all of a sudden you realize that a multimillion-dollar company is taking a chance on little old you. Oh no, you led them to believe you actually can do it. You got what you thought you wanted. Now how do you handle the title you just earned? Without letting anyone down, including yourself?
It's a Good Thing
Jeannette Kennedy, 32, acknowledges that her company, Sun Microsystems Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., has taken a chance by promoting her so fast. Just this month, Kennedy was appointed manager for .com business development at Sun. She will be the one to show the companies using the Internet that Sun should be the technology partner of choice to reach consumers and other businesses.
But before Kennedy hit 30, she already was responsible for a multibillion-dollar product line. In this role, she helped move Sun from a workstation company focused on technical markets to the $12 billion server and software Internet company that it is today.
Kennedy coped by remembering that she had thought herself capable of this much and more. "I found it energizing," Kennedy said. "When Sun has taken risks on me, I feel like they're tapping into potential that I knew I had."
You don't want to look dumb in your new position. But don't fake it.
Kennedy admits that she has been in situations where "there is additional knowledge that I would like to gain to remain confident." Her solution is the easy and logical one: Ask questions. "I figure out what it is I need a deep knowledge of and then make sure to go get that information," she said. "I learn those skills so I can remove any fear of being caught without information."
How Do I Add Enough Value?
Now that you're in the big office, how do you make sure you're earning your keep?
"You have to focus on what you can give," said Bruce Tulgan, president of Rainmaker Thinking, a twentysomething workplace think tank in New Haven, Conn. "Speak up, don't be timid. You've got to take chances."
And realize that you'll make mistakes. Just because you got promoted doesn't mean you aren't human. "Take responsibility for [your mistakes] and fix them," he said. In doing so, you'll get rid of that one thing that can get in the way of all goals: ego.
"Don't get an ego. And don't take yourself too seriously," said Tulgan. "But take your work seriously."
You'll be able to do that by remembering that neither you nor your colleagues will ever be perfect.
"Don't get paralyzed by the myth of 100 percent," Tulgan advised. You can get to 98 percent pretty quickly, but even that's only if you double-, triple- and quadruple-check your work. "The people who spend their time agonizing by that [2 percent] get steamrolled by the people who are getting stuff done," he said. "Don't get freaked out by that."
Tulgan thinks there are only five ways that human beings can add world value.
Identify a problem no one else has identified.
Solve a problem no one else has solved.
Improve a product or service.
Invent a new product or service.
And finally: "Get a whole bunch of work done, do it well with accuracy, focus and quality."
Why Am I Here?
"When anyone is ready to move up, it is always before they think they're ready," said Nicholas Lore, director of the Rockville-based Rockport Institute, a career counseling center, and author of "The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success." "They have powerful intentions to get there, but when they reach there, they think they are not ready for it and are in awe of their situation and wonder why they were picked."
Yep, it happens. You've been ready for this promotion, you've wanted to move up and now you're wondering why you did.
Silly you. You're there because someone thinks you should be.
"You have to be very careful that you keep in mind that [one of the decision makers] has likely had to persuade other decision makers in the organization" to hire you, Tulgan said. Remember that, because that person wouldn't have put his or her credibility on the line to get you a job unless that person believed you were ready.
"You never feel ready," Lore said. "Once you've mastered what you've done before, it's time to move on." You can't stay in the same chair for the rest of your life.
Trust your organization.
"A company that has a real expertise in managing its people knows that and will move those people up, and always before you think you are ready," he said. "It's a little like going through grade school. You get to sixth grade, can't wait for seventh and the new school. Then all of a sudden there's all the homework, the classes for `bigger people.'"
But you know you should be there, right? So be there and enjoy it.
If you have questions about getting ahead, you can e-mail Amy Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org