Business

Choose gigs that feed your soul

Jo Miller

Be Leaderly
Jo Miller Be Leaderly

When I first spoke to Sara Sperling, a partner at Oxygen 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,” she said. “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 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 also was looking for her community.

Upon discovering that the company didn’t have formal employee resource groups, or 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.

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“Mind you,” Sara said, “this wasn’t part of my job. It was just something I did on the side that I was passionate about.”

Facebook’s leadership eventually caught on and saw 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 youth — letting them know that they’re not alone and that there is a lot of support for them in the LGBT community,” she said.

Sara was able to see a direct link from that cause to championing an inclusive corporate culture, where all employees can be themselves.

“If they can do that, then they’re going to do amazing work.”

Still, Sara took time to think before accepting the role.

“I had no background in diversity and inclusion. I didn’t go to school for it,” she said.

All she had was raw enthusiasm, but her leadership trusted that she could do the job 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 also was an opportunity to make an even larger impact in the world.

Sara helped the company create its transgender and 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.”

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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, explained 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 said.

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.

“You have one lifetime to live,” she said. “Choose gigs that feed your soul.”

Jo Miller is an award-winning speaker and bestselling author of “Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy and Thrive,” McGraw-Hill, 2019, from which this article is adapted; www.jomiller.com

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