I was in learning and development and we were rolling out a company-wide leadership program. It was a huge rollout, 250 people in a ballroom over two days kind of thing. We were going to take the program to all 8,000 leaders across the world. I got assigned to the biggest business group in our company.
My job at the event was to be at the back of the room; making sure we’ve got butts in seats, the coffee’s hot and the ice-cream’s cold. We had hired an external facilitator who was emceeing the event. He got paid $10,000 for a gig. “That’s the job I want, that’s the job I should have”, I thought to myself.
Several months in I got my chance. We were bringing the event to Canada over the US Thanksgiving. Of course, none of the Americans wanted to miss their biggest holiday and come up to Canada to emcee the event. So I got my opportunity to be at the front of the room. It was a huge success. We had 350 people in the room. We scored 97% satisfaction on it. It was great. “Hey, maybe they will consider me now”, I mused.
The next city we went to was Sacramento. There I learned that we were no longer going to use the external facilitator. This was going to be the last job they did. I happened to be in the same working room as the two leaders when they were talking about who should take over. I was at the other end of the room, minding my own business as they started listing people who could do the job; my name wasn’t mentioned.
“Should I say something?”, I wondered.
“Maybe I shouldn’t say anything, they’re not considering me. I should stay quiet”, I thought. “But why aren’t they considering me? I can do the job, I just did a successful event. They should know I can do this. What am I? Invisible? I’m not even on the list”, I reasoned.
“What if I don’t say anything? They are not even thinking about me. I think I need to say something”, I convinced myself. So I screwed up my courage and said out loud “Umm… I’ll do it”.
They turned and looked at me blankly. And then they turned back and went on with their conversation.
“Oh my gosh, did I just make a huge mistake? Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything”, I shuddered.
I drove home with my colleague after the event. “Do you think that was a career-limiting move? Maybe they are mad at me for listening in to their conversation. Obviously they weren’t considering me. Why did I say something? That was dumb!” I brooded.
About 5 days later, I received an email: “Karen, can you do the event for us in Fort Collins?”
“Yes, absolutely. Sure, I can do it”, I replied.
Email came back: “Can you do the one in Atlanta?” And more emails came after that: Can you do the one in Miami? What about Boston? Can you do another one in Houston?
I kinda got the job. They didn’t quite say it explicitly, but I knew, if they were giving me a shot at this, I’d take it. Who cared that I only held the microphone once before in my life. I was taking it.
And the thing is, this became a career-maker for me. I became the worldwide lead for the project and ended up leading 30 events. I did all the financial tracking, so everyone got to know me for that. I got to know people from all over the world. The project led to all kinds of senior leadership experiences further down the road. I got to build my brand from that. I’m standing here today from doing that ONE thing. I stepped up, I spoke up and started up.
What I want you to know is that sometimes you get that little feeling, “I should do something, I’m being called to step up, but I’m afraid”. You have to do it anyway. Feel the fear, and do it anyway. Even if it looks like the odds are stacked against you. Or if they look at you blankly like you have two heads, not saying anything. If it’s your moment, you have to seize it. And see what happens. For me, everything built from that.
Is there ONE feeling you are getting about where you need to step up? Share with us in the comments below.