What did you say when you were first asked what you wanted to do when you grow up? Did you end up choosing that career path when your time came to join the work force? Most of us probably didn’t.
I started reflecting on this when I prepared to give a presentation on Sheryl Sandberg’s groundbreaking book, Lean In. As of 2010, the average American had 11 jobs between the ages of 18 and 42. In prior generations, it was not uncommon to have one employer and expand one’s career along one field of expertise, climbing that ladder.
“Ladders are limiting,” Sandberg writes. “Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment.”
I grew up in East Germany where one’s career paths were determined based on government allotments and plans. I had dreamed of becoming an interpreter. I have always thought that becoming a translator of people’s thoughts and ideas – becoming the connector – would be inspiring and fulfilling. I was assigned to study Chinese.
Shortly thereafter, the Berlin Wall came down and many clinicians chose to move to West Germany to build a better life for their families. As a result, many East German hospitals experienced serious staffing shortages. At the same time, universities had extensive breaks to allow for an alignment of the educational systems of both countries. I spontaneously decided to fill these breaks by becoming a nurse in acute mental health. On many days, I found myself translating between patients’ needs and their families who may not have understood how to communicate with their loved ones who suffered from mental illness.
Fast forward a few years… I lived in Kansas City and received a call from Cerner, a dynamic young company that specializes in IT systems for healthcare settings. There was a need for someone who was bilingual, knew the basics of computer linguistics and German hospital workflows to bring Cerner software to Germany. I had never considered working in software development, but felt this opportunity was a great way to combine my past professional experiences. I came to learn that successful IT leaders are masterful in translating clinical and business needs into technical solutions.
Over the following 15 years, I was asked to take on a number of different roles in three large healthcare companies. Some roles were in IT, some were focused on acquisitions, others were focused on clinical and business functions. I enjoyed each assignment and learned a great deal. Each of my past jobs added to my perspective and made me a more balanced professional, allowing me to draw from many different experiences.
I joined FMCNA three years ago this week, serving in FKC Operational Excellence. To me, this role represents a wonderful opportunity to bring different parts of our organizations together, identifying opportunities to make a difference by improving processes to better serve our patients and employees – once again translating needs to opportunities.
I have met many colleagues here who have chosen the jungle gym approach in their professional lives: From PCT to Nurse to Clinical Manger, DO, RVP, Clinical, Quality or Educational Leader; from Financial Analyst to Program Manager, or from Nurse to DO to Leader of our ScheduleWise software program. Sometimes, you might even take a detour to become a race car driver like my boss did. What adjustments have you made in your career – I’d love to hear your stories. Chances are, those experiences will make you react faster when faced with having to make critical decisions quickly. So, next time someone approaches you to explore a different area of the jungle gym, go and explore! This new set of bars might just be the starting point for a whole new adventure playground.