The title of Sarah Robb O'Hagan's new book "Extreme You" seems to suggest it's some tough love served up by an avid exercise enthusiast; after all, she is the CEO of indoor-cycling company Flywheel Sports. But her career advice is suitable for people of all types, even those who aren't hard-driving athletic sorts.
Drawing on lessons from her own experiences (including leadership stints at Equinox, Gatorade, Nike and Virgin Atlantic), O'Hagan's book delivers a key take-home message: Conventional thinking is wrong about people needing to conform and fit in in order to shape a career. This is from someone who was fired twice while in her early 20s.
What O'Hagan learned from interviewing extraordinarily successful individuals of different ages, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and skiing champion Bode Miller, is that "so many people didn't even start to peak until they were way into their 40s," she said during a recent episode of "Salon Talks." Some people "actually started over with a totally different career because they were square pegs in round holes, in [their] mid-40s, and went on to crush it."
Said O'Hagan: "I was told very specifically when you're trying to build a career and you go into an interview, never ever admit to weakness." But she added, "What I now know as a CEO is that the more you openly walk in the door and say, here's what I'm great at, here's where I got fired and I sucked and I learned this is what I'm not so good at . . . the more the person on the other side is like, 'I know what I'm getting! This is great!'"
Being honest about shortcomings can help a person advance, said O'Hagan, acknowledging, however, "It's really hard to make that leap because you suddenly feel like you're marketing yourselves out of the job."
After having interviewed tons of prospective employees, O'Hagan said, "the one that comes in the door trying to look so perfect is like gone; I have no interest. I want to get behind and see where's your self-awareness, where's your humility, where have you learned. That tells me that you're curious and you're going to grow with me."
She dismissed recent HR industry advice to businesspeople to plan the career of millennials so as to not lose them as employees. "No, no, no," she disagreed. "It's up to them to really explore their own potential and to figure out the best that they can be and [up to] us to get behind them as they're doing it."
Catch more of O'Hagan's career insights on Salon.