“You have one lifetime to live. Choose gigs that feed your soul.” — Sara Sperling
When I first spoke to Sara Sperling, a partner at Oxegen Consulting, her infectious enthusiasm quickly became evident. It wasn’t long before her philosophy for making career decisions did too.
As a math major in college, Sara was told that she had two career options: teacher or actuary. “But that didn’t feed my soul,” says Sara. “So instead, I kept choosing jobs that did.” Sara worked in academia and for a women’s professional soccer league before finding her way into high tech—and eventually a role that she never could have predicted.
At the time of our interview, Sara was working at Facebook where she had started out onboarding new hires and creating an engineering leadership program. But she was also looking for her community. Upon discovering that the company didn’t have formal employee resource groups (ERGs), she helped reinvigorate an informal group now known as Pride@Facebook. Word got around, and executives with all kinds of diversity-related questions started coming to her for help, as did employees who wanted to form their own ERGs. “Mind you,” says Sara, “this wasn’t part of my job. It was just something I did on the side that I was passionate about.”
Eventually, Facebook’s leadership caught on and saw that there was real value to having someone focus on diversity and inclusion. They asked Sara to start and lead the company’s diversity and inclusion function.
“One of the things that I’ve been passionate about throughout my life is being there for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth—letting them know that they’re not alone and that there is a lot of support for them in the LGBT community,” she shares. Sara was able to make a direct link from that cause to building an inclusive corporate culture, where employees are more likely to feel like they can be themselves. “If they can do that, then they’re going to do amazing work.”
Still, Sara took a couple weeks to think before accepting the role. “I had no background in this. I didn’t go to school for it. I had never even been to a diversity conference,” she says. All she had was raw enthusiasm, but her leadership trusted that she could do it and do it well. So Sara took a leap of faith.
Not only was it a way to make an impact on people inside of the company but, with over a billion Facebook users, it was also an opportunity to make an even larger impact in the world. Sara helped the company create its Transgender & Gender Identity Policy. And her leap of faith landed her on cover of Diversity Executive magazine and on Business Insider’s lists of “13 Secret Rock Stars of Silicon Valley” and “31 Most Important LGBT People in Tech.”
If you take a job for the money or the title, that gratification will be relatively short-lived, compared to a role doing work that you sincerely love, explains Sara. So what are Sara’s top criteria for assessing new career opportunities? It’s an impressively short list. “I ask ‘Am I going to be excited to walk in the door every day?’ and ‘Can I make an impact on somebody?’ That’s it!” Sara says.
You won’t always get to choose your ideal role or the projects and tasks you work on, but when you do have a say, Sara would encourage you to gravitate toward work you’re infectiously enthusiastic about. “I really think people want to wake up every day excited about where they’re going to go for most of the day,” she says. “You have one lifetime to live. Choose gigs that feed your soul.”
Own It: Choose Gigs That Feed Your Soul
With this exercise, give yourself the gift of time to get clear on what inspires and energizes you. Check in: have these priorities shifted as a result of covid-19 workplace disruptions, the killing of George Floyd, and galvanization of the #BlackLivesMatter movement? Reflect on one or more of these questions:
• What feeds your soul and doesn’t feel like work?
• What are you infectiously enthusiastic about?
• What work-related causes do you care deeply about?
• What would have you wake up every day excited about what you’re going to do?
• Reflect on moments in your career where you sincerely loved what you were doing. What were you working on?
Adapted from Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw-Hill) by Jo Miller.