Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer, discusses grit, voice, and short-term plans in her conversation with Stacey Geiken. She describes her journey and the lessons she has learned along the way.
Dream long, plan short
Don’t try to map out your entire career from the get-go, advises Sandberg. If she had done so, she would have missed the opportunities at Google and Facebook altogether. After all, when she graduated from Harvard, the internet didn’t exist.
“If you try to plan out your career, it’s going to be boring. You’re going to miss all the good stuff, because all the good stuff hasn’t been invented yet,” says Sandberg. “You want to have a really long-run dream and you want to have a short-run plan. And that short-run plan, it’s not about what you accomplish, especially in the early days. It’s about what you help other people accomplish and about what you learn. You invest in yourself. You invest in the success of your teams.”
Find your rocket ship
Don’t just look for a job, says Sandberg. Look for an organization with a mission that matters to you. “When I finally got a job at Google, it felt like the wrong job,” she recalls. “I had a spreadsheet [of job criteria], and the problem with the Google job was that other than loving the company, it met none of the criteria.”
If you try to plan out your career, it’s going to be boring. You’re going to miss all the good stuff, because all the good stuff hasn’t been invented yet.
Then Sandberg showed her spreadsheet to Google CEO Eric Schmidt. “Eric put his hand on my little spreadsheet,” she recalls, “and said, ‘You love the mission. This is a rocket ship. When you get offered a seat on the rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat.’ And the job I took at Google and the job I took at Facebook were more junior than every other job offer I had. But they turned out to be much bigger opportunities.”
Get your hands dirty
Once you have a job, counsels Sandberg, work hard. “All the stuff out there on grit and determination and working on things that are challenging is all true,” she says. “There’s no substitute for hard work. I have a poster in my office that I got from [Starbucks founder] Howard Schultz of two dirty hands. It says the future belongs to those of us still willing to get our hands dirty. Do something you care about and get your hands dirty doing it. You’ll be able to do anything, I promise.”
The proper goal of hard work is not personal gain, but organizational contribution, adds Sandberg. “I don’t see that many people coming into the workplace asking what they can do for the company,” she says. “Ask what you can do. I promise you will get mentors. You will get sponsors. You will get results. You will get promotions. You will get opportunities by contributing.”
Be a voice, not a brand
The idea of developing your personal brand is a bad one, according to Sandberg. “People aren’t brands,” she says. “That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.”
“Who am I?” asks Sandberg. “I am the COO of Facebook, a company I deeply believe in. I’m an author. I’m a mom. I’m a widow. At some level, I’m still deeply heartbroken. I am a friend and I am a sister. I am a lot of very messy, complicated things. I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice.”Focus on developing your voice, she says. Figuring out what’s important to you and being willing to use your voice for that purpose is incredibly valuable. “If you are doing it to develop your personal brand, it’s empty and self-serving and not about what you’re talking about,” she says. “If you’re doing it because there is something you want to see changed in the world, that’s where it will have value and depth and integrity.”