The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “Who do you go to when you need career advice?” is written by Lenore Karafa, partner at McChrystal Group.
One month into a new job, I knew it wasn’t going to work. I was at a fast-growing startup, but in the wrong role, wrong location, and my employer had just reduced my opportunity for a sizable bonus. It had taken me months to find this job, and I had difficulty wrapping my head around the fact that I needed to cut my losses and move on. So I turned to my friends for advice.
Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you
I am fortunate that the women I went to business school with are wildly successful. Less than a decade after graduation, they are CEOs, senior executives, partners at consultancies, managing directors at investment banks, and entrepreneurs who have stumbled and gotten right back up. I find myself often seeking their advice, as they’re faced with similar daily challenges that come with balancing young children and spouses who are as career driven as they are.
The same cohort encouraged me to leave the startup and to take a risk on another young company. So despite an initial decrease in compensation and title, I jumped into McChrystal Group in 2013, and really could not be happier.
Learn from your superiors
As I grew into new leadership roles, though, I still struggled with some old issues. When I expressed to my boss that one of my biggest barriers at work was getting caught up in the desire to be liked, he didn’t pull any punches in his response: “It’s better to be a bitch and right than nice and wrong.”
I truly admire my boss’s accomplishments, actively model his career path, and consistently seek his guidance with difficult decisions. We often disagree, and in sparring with him, I see my arguments become increasingly crisp and convincing as I learn what it’s like to throw elbows in a real boardroom setting.
During my last performance review, he framed up how I should be thinking of the next stage of my career: "Elevate and differentiate." His words have driven me to think more critically about my impact and priorities going forward.
Don’t forget to trust your gut
While it is vital to seek the counsel of others, ultimately, you have to rely on your own instincts. My previously mentioned cohort from business school has been wrong before. One of our friends stepped off her career journey after spending a year as a vice president at an investment bank following the birth of her first child. She said she wanted to spend a few years at home and “jump back in.” We actively tried to dissuade her, telling her that jumping back in just wasn’t possible, and when she wouldn’t listen, we took a collective sigh and said, “Good luck.”
We underestimated her. Three and a half years and two babies later, she landed an executive level position at a large retailer. It was like she never left. She decided to do things her way, and she was right.
In a modern world where careers are fluid, there are often numerous paths in front of us. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer. My boss’s advice continues to resonate—I have found that being assertive, although it may not seem like it in the moment, pays off in the long term—especially when you know you're right.
In order to navigate the chaos both inside and outside the workplace, surrounding yourself with a supportive network is imperative. I am married to a husband who approaches parenthood as an equal partnership, and I seek the guidance of intelligent friends who I know will provide me with honest and candid opinions stemming from their own experience. Despite the noise, it’s your life and your journey, and sometimes you have to take risks and trust that your own instincts will see you through.