Stepping outside your professional comfort zone
Below, Vanessa shares her perspective for those considering a career in STEM. She offers a thoughtful perspective on how to step out of your comfort zone to take advantage of opportunities to advance your career. She discusses universal obstacles many individuals face when considering new, challenging roles that could offer significant career growth, including fear and familial obligations.
I work at Mirati as the vice president of clinical development operations, where I help support the clinical development organization with initiatives related to continuous improvement and operational efficiencies.
I have worked in the biotech industry for 26 years, but I began in a different space than where I am today. I have a pre-med background, but I started my career at a clinical research organization. Even though I had no idea where it would lead me, I kept an open mind. It can be intimidating to consider a STEM career, but there are so many avenues to find the area within this industry that is right for you.
I encourage young professionals to understand there are a variety of opportunities regardless of background or education. For individuals with no experience in a specific industry, it is important to get your foot in the door in your interest area because there is so much growth that can happen within a role. My advice is to accept that a role may elicit feelings of hesitancy but use it to your maximum advantage. Step outside your comfort zone and try something new because that is when you thrive.
I encourage young professionals to understand there are a variety of opportunities regardless of background or education.
I love my current role at Mirati, but I was not always fulfilled with my career. I stayed well within my comfort zone for many years in a previous role, but I didn’t have a lot of growth opportunities because I could only go so far with the qualifications that I had. Although I was content in my role and would have stayed, I received the chance to join a new company that would provide exciting opportunities. The new role had the potential to expand beyond my comfort zone and taking the job would require a leap of faith. This new position ended up being a great learning experience. I realized that making changes and taking chances can open up many opportunities for professional and personal growth.
I would strongly advise others to not let fear keep you immobilized in a role with no growth potential. Give yourself that chance. Once you have succeeded in a certain role, keep moving forward and grow. Throughout my career, I’ve had several conversations with my colleagues who have been doing one avenue of work for a significant period of time and are afraid when presented with a different opportunity.
It is not always the easiest decision to change, especially when you have obligations, like family. When considering a new opportunity, you might be more inclined to stay if your current situation is comfortable and stable. I also have seen other factors – such as concerns of handling additional responsibility or having to travel frequently – affect whether to take a new opportunity, especially for working mothers. I went through that myself and have had that same conversation with some of my colleagues.
It has been encouraging to see my female colleagues go through similar journeys, where they started in a certain role just to get experience then found specific interests and inspirations that led them to executive roles in various companies.
Ultimately, you can never know with complete certainty if a new opportunity is right for you until you try. Once you acknowledge the opportunity and choose to commit to the unknown, your growth potential increases dramatically. And if it doesn’t work, at least you’ve tried. Allow yourself to learn what you capable of, you may surprise yourself!
Ultimately, you can never know with complete certainty if a new opportunity is right for you until you try.
My advice to someone who is interested in taking a leap of faith professionally, but does not know whether the timing is right, is to not focus on evaluating the timing of the move. It is easy to get wrapped up in thinking about the various reasons why the timing of a move may be bad, but don’t restrict yourself. I think we use timing as an excuse, and we make excuses because of fear. However, we move forward and grow by overcoming our fears.
We should all be able to have an adequate life-work balance that allows us to grow as an individual in all our roles, as a partner, a mom, and a colleague. Fortunately, we continue to see improvements in the workplace to accommodate individuals to ensure they can bring their best selves to work and strive for the career that they want. I sincerely appreciate Mirati’s culture which has provided me that flexibility, and I hope others are increasingly able to work in similar, supportive environments as well.