A Flight Plan for Women (& Men) Who Want to Soar!

I worked my way through college and grad school as a Reservations Sales Agent with Delta Airlines so I can truly relate to the flight plan analogy. In those days, I would book what we called long haul or short haul flights for passengers. 


As an HR professional with ExxonMobil, I’ve also done a lot of recruiting throughout my career. So, continuing with the flight plan analogy, as a recruiter I was trying to confirm prospective employees for a long haul with ExxonMobil. I’ve been on this flight for over 30 years, and it’s been quite an experience. This trip has taken me places I never even imagined when I first got on board, and we’ve made a couple of stops along the way where I got off. For those of you who have chosen to come along for the ride, there are some things we all need to remember about this career journey that we are on.


First, remember that the captain of this flight is our chairman.  There are co-pilots (Senior leadership), flight crew members at all levels of responsibility (supervisors/managers) and passengers with varying degrees of status/experience flying with us.  And like most commercial flights, all we have is a general idea of where we are going but we leave flying the plane to someone else.


Before we take off and soar to higher heights, I need to provide you with a safety briefing. We need to lighten our load of any excess baggage. We can only lift off when we feel confident in our own skin, when we are cultivating our own sense of safety by setting personal boundaries, and when we are clear in minds regarding our compelling personal brand. I believe that in order to have a psychologically safe flight and soar as passengers on this journey, we need to remember 4 things:


1. The S in soar stands for our Strengths. We have to know what we bring to the table we can operate from our strengths. For those familiar with core strengths, I’m a red-blue. That means I’m generally quick-to-act, persuasive and inclusive. I also have strong facilitation and communication skills. We all need to know our strengths and how to put our skills to work in a way that shows we are aligned with the direction of the pilot. But more importantly, we need to know what it takes to get from coach to first class and that’s by taking advantage of opportunities that come your way.


2. The O stands for Opportunities. Early in this career journey, you get onboard and there are plenty of open seats. Sometimes you get to choose but often you have opportunities presented to you. I was always ambitious, and to climb the corporate ladder in HR, so I needed to be flexible to get operations, HQ, and manufacturing experience. I also knew that all roads in the oil industry led to Texas so I needed to be mobile. It’s up to each of us how we respond to the options presented and whether we see them as a chance to learn and grow or just another seat change.


3. The A stands for Aspirations. One of the lessons I learned early in my career is that you need to have personal goals and priorities that allow you to evaluate the opportunities that are put in front of you. In my first marriage, my husband and I discussed each opportunity as it came to us. We didn’t have a clear sense of what we wanted as a family to measure those opportunities against. After 13 years with the company, I got an opportunity for a great career move, but my husband decided he didn’t like where the flight I was on was headed. He decided to get off and I stayed on. Things might have turned out differently if we had defined our aspirations up front together. You have to know what you want out of this so that you can make decisions that align with your goals and aspirations. Then you have something to measure your results against.


4. That’s what the R in soar stands for – Results. We each measure success differently and it’s all relative. Relative to where we started. Relative to the opportunities we chose to take or not take advantage of. Relative to what we expected and our aspirations. More often than not the definition of success changes the longer we’ve been on this journey. As our altitude changes, we see the world differently. Remember, we sometimes have to adjust when we hit turbulence and trust the crew keep us on course. That’s all a part of the journey.

I’m really proud of the journey I’ve had, the great people I’ve been able to work with, the places I’ve been, and the things I’ve accomplished. I had high aspirations when I got on board, and I’ve had many opportunities to learn and grow. As passengers, we have different itineraries with different destinations but remember to buckle up and listen to instructions from your flight crew. We are ready to SOAR!


This is a picture of me realizing a dream after 30 years with the company, which was to fly on the corporate plane. I’m truly soaring!