Brandeis International Business School

007: Quarter-Life Crisis

(Not) selling out and developing leadership skills in college

Our guest today is Sarah Green Carmichael, who was an Executive Editor at Harvard Business Review at the time of our interview, where she co-hosted HBR IdeaCast and Women at Work Podcast. Sarah now works as the Idea Editor at Barron’s.

If you’re not familiar, Harvard Business Review is the world's premier management magazine and publication. They publish articles, podcasts, videos, books and other media with the goal of trying to help people be better managers, get more out of their careers, be better bosses and have more of an impact on the world.

From the Dorm Room

Sarah graduated from Brown University, though she originally enrolled at Connecticut College. She ended up transferring partway through, which was difficult because she didn't really want to go through the whole college admissions process a second time – one time is bad enough, right?

But it was ultimately the right thing for her to do, and it actually ended up being a good experience because “it helped me realize that even if you make a mistake with a pretty consequential decision, like where to go to college, you can fix it later on.”

To the Board Room

Sarah’s first job out of college was as the research assistant for op-ed columnist Ellen Goodman. It was a great opportunity to work with a writer she admired, but there was no advancement as a researcher. So after two years, Sarah started asking herself questions like, “Now what do I do?” And that’s when she had a bit of a “quarter-life crisis.”

So she took a cross-country road trip (her second) and then sampled a few things: working part-time in a bookstore, part-time in a school and freelance writing. “And through that process of freelancing and trying different things, I realized I'm not a very good teacher... And I liked working in the bookstore tremendously, but you just can't make any money working an hourly job in retail. So, I knew I kind of had to go back to what I had wanted to do before, which was journalism.”

Through the “old girl’s network,” Sarah jokingly called it, she found an opportunity to apply at Harvard Business Publishing, but she actually wasn’t very excited for it at first.

“I felt like I was just selling out. I thought I was doing this because I want a full-time job with healthcare benefits, and I hope to do it for three years, maybe. And in the end, I've stayed there almost 12 years. And it was wonderful, and I loved it. So, you just never know.”

Our student question this week is about how academics transfer into leadership skills in the workspace, and Sarah says one of the skills that will make you a more effective leader is being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes – and college is actually a great time to practice empathy.

“As an English major, that was a skill I had worked on extensively because you're trying to imagine the inner lives of these fictional characters, and you're trying to sort of analyze the text on multiple levels... I think going through that experience of analyzing and empathizing with fictional characters actually helped me, then, relate to real people as a leader.”

So, if you need another reason to actually read your books for class, there you go!


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