By Adrienne Gonzalez, Senior Counsel, Bristol-Myers Squibb
In honor of Women’s History Month, I would offer this piece of advice to women who want to advance their careers: get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Here’s why: I started my career working in a law firm, representing pharmaceutical companies in product liability cases. During that time, I focused on becoming an expert, because our clients expected us to have all of the answers and provide solutions.
It’s human nature to gravitate towards whatever feels comfortable, and lawyers tend to be particularly risk averse. But those times when I’ve truly stepped outside of my comfort zone are the times when I’ve experienced the most growth as a professional and as a person.
A Series of Lightbulb Moments
Between 2015 and 2016, I found myself in a number of situations—lightbulb moments—that helped illuminate a new and different career opportunity.
First, I attended a leadership development program that Bristol-Myers Squibb offers for high-potential professionals of color. The facilitator advised us to seek out the “sweet spot” where our values, skills, talents and passions intersect. Before then, I had spent most of my energy on improving my capabilities, with little time considering my passions.
In that same year, I encountered a woman who had lost her husband to cancer, and I had the opportunity to show her that her family’s loss mattered to us at Bristol-Myers Squibb, many of whom—myself included–have lost family members to cancer. It’s difficult to put into words how deeply the experience affected me, but I was forever changed by our conversation, and it made me think, among other things, about my place at Bristol-Myers Squibb in a different way.
Around this same time, Bristol-Myers Squibb announced the creation of two new roles, leading two of our People and Business Resource Groups: the Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD) and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Network of Women (B-NOW). I opened myself up to trying something completely different and seeing where the adventure led.
The fact our leadership recognized the need to take a unique approach to diversity and inclusion through these full-time positions was further proof that I work for a company that prioritizes its people. BOLD focuses on investing in the Black talent at Bristol-Myers Squibb and ensuring that the Black patient perspective is included in the company’s work.
I decided to apply for the BOLD opportunity—and was offered the role.
Making a BOLD Move
Before leading BOLD, I had a clearly defined career pathway: it was a straight line and limited to legal practice.
As a litigator, I was the problem solver. As head of BOLD, I learned that I did not—and in fact could not—always have the answers, because this was outside of my area of expertise. Instead, I had the chance to bring people together and act as a connector—and to see the tremendous value that these skills can bring to an organization and its members.
Leading BOLD was a purposeful move for me, and I felt both fulfilled and challenged, while at the same time, uncomfortable. I was the first person to do this, so there was no predecessor to shadow nor template to follow, but I learned to lean into the discomfort, ask for help and open myself to learning new things. Leading BOLD was an experience that added to my skillset and broadened my horizons well beyond what I could have imagined.
I don’t mean to suggest that I enjoyed being uncomfortable, but I learned that it’s not something to be feared but embraced. How does someone deal with the discomfort? Do your diligence about the opportunity and then have the confidence that you will come out the other side sharper and better for it. That will power you through the discomfort, and, while there will be bumps in the road, you will be more confident for having overcome them.
So, this Women’s History Month, do something that makes you uncomfortable. You just might be amazed by what you learn.