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Breaking Glass

Want to give your career a kick? Step out of your comfort zone

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Van Adams was one of three panelists at a recent Leading Women Entrepreneurs event.
Van Adams was one of three panelists at a recent Leading Women Entrepreneurs event. - ()

One felt a push from her boss. Another, from the transformation of her industry. The last … by her age.

The three panelists at the recent Leading Women Entrepreneurs event all had different stories about how they were pushed out of their comfort zone in the workplace.

And each said she ended up in a better place because of it.

Randi Ungar, associate vice president, digital, at NJ Advance Media, said she never dreamed of being in management.

“I thought I was going to be a sales rep until I was 80, and I was fine with that,” she joked to the crowd of a few hundred.

Her, boss, however, thought differently.

“It was 100 percent my boss challenging me to think about getting out of being a direct sales rep,” Ungar said. “My whole life, that's what I had been. And I loved it because I had full control. I've never been someone who likes to blame someone else for what I can't do. If I was successful, it was because of something I did well. If I wasn't making a lot of money, then I must have sucked somewhere. I liked putting it all on myself.”

Her boss, however, saw something else.

“He said, 'I think you can do a lot more. I want you to be looking at the overall strategy,'” Ungar said.

“At first, I totally shied away from that. I said, 'I don't want to be responsible for everyone else's revenue, I don't know how I can contribute to that, I don't know how I can bring that back to what I can actually do.’ He said, ‘You've always been strategic in the ways you've approached your accounts, I'm just asking you to do it for the entire company now.’ And then my ego kicked in and said, 'If he says so, I guess I can do it.' He did push me and continued to push me.”

Ungar told the audience to accept the push. It’s worth it, she said.

“What I've learned is that I'm good at it and I really enjoy it,” she said.

For Van Adams, president of the Van Adams Sports Group, it was a realization that the sports marketing industry had changed. And she needed to change with it.

“I think society in my field pushed me out of my comfort zone,” she said. “When you look at the athletes’ side of the business, it's not enough to just have them show up and do an autograph signing and take a few pictures.”

The bottom line, Adams said, is figuring out the bottom line.

“(A promotional appearance) doesn't help the corporations that we work with improve their ROI,” she said. “We constantly have to figure out how to make an impact here and what are the hot buttons for the companies that are hiring these athletes and doing the endorsement deals.

“We can't just say, ‘He's going to be the VP of public relations.’ What does that mean? What is he really going to be doing to contribute to that company's bottom line? And, with technology and social media and all the digital assets, you really have to be creative and go beyond what the norm may have been because users and consumers and fans are consuming media much differently. It's constantly changing. It's constantly forcing me to evolve and be one step ahead.”

No one gets the technology battle as much as Tawana Murphy Burnett.

When she took the job as global marketing leader at Facebook, she quickly realized her experience may have been as much of a hindrance as a help.

The problem, she joked, was that she was too old.

“When I joined Facebook, that probably was one of the scariest things that I had done,” she said. “The average age is about 24. Nothing against the young people, but I was joining a company after establishing myself and my career. Now I was managing a large team around the world and being asked to take a seat on the rocket ship.”

Burnett said it was an interesting ride, one she wasn’t necessarily prepared for.

“Sometimes you don't always ask for details, you just say, 'OK, I'm going to do it,'” she said. “When I showed up, I realized this place is incredible, but thought, 'Wow, I am out of my element. I'm learning from people who are far younger than me.’”

She’s never regretted the move. In fact, she said making the leap is something that has separated herself from her peers. In a good way.

“It’s not about just following the money, but following the trends of how do you continue to grow,” she said. “Maybe it's finding places within your own business where you can take a risk, because the biggest risk you take is actually not taking a risk.

“So, I took a risk. Unfortunately, so many of my peers actually stayed with the status quo, continuing to climb from a title perspective. I think, today, there's just a little bit of a different dynamic. Titles are not necessarily the only way. I've been learning that the last couple of years. I have my seatbelt on every day and show up and make it work.”

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