When Life Offers You a Rocket Ship – Get On

Sheryl Sandberg thought she was making a mistake. The year was 2001 and she had applied for a general manager of business units position. Sheryl began to doubt if there was even a job there at all. The small technology start-up didn’t even have “business” units so what was there to manage? Furthermore the position appeared to be several levels lower than jobs she was being offered at other companies. 😕

So when she finally met with the company’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, she kindly explained that the position meets none of her career criteria. 😐 Then the CEO of Google looked at her and replied, “Don’t be an idiot.” 😕 Which is some pretty solid advice. “Get on a rocket ship,” he continued. “When companies are growing quickly, careers take care of themselves. But when companies aren’t growing… that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

And that’s exactly what Sheryl did. 😀


Eric was right. When companies are small their workers can grow into new positions. Managers are created instead of replaced. People have more autonomy, feel more involved, and everyone can learn new skills and take on new responsibilities without stepping on each other’s toes. It’s more than a zero sum game. You don’t need to knock someone else off the ladder to get ahead because there’s plenty of room for everyone to climb. 🙂

Opportunity is everywhere, but not everyone is willing to seize it. People often want reassurance before taking a leap of faith. It’s easier to try something new if we have a plan. But often times the best choices we make in life are made with a generous dose of uncertainty. Sheryl didn’t know what her life would turn into if she accepted the job at Google; the position was uncharted territory. With an MBA designation she could have played it safe and accepted another job elsewhere to earn a high and steady income. But she chose to work for a private search engine company that was small, but growing fast. Other MBA candidates could have assumed this quirky job title at Google instead but they didn’t apply for the position. It’s often in the areas where few people look that we find the best hidden opportunities. 🙂

Your life’s course will not be determined by doing the things that you are certain you can do. Those are the easy things. It will be determined by whether you try the things that are hard.” ~ Sheryl

I think that’s the kind of attitude we should adopt. It means getting our feet wet even if we don’t know the temperature of the water. The details will take care of themselves. It may not always work out for us. But it’s worth a try. After all, if we aren’t failing then we aren’t learning. Good judgement is often the result of poor judgement. If an opportunity presents itself we should get on that rocket ship even if we’re not sure where it will take us. The mere act of being proactive will already send positive karma our way and give us an advantage over those who don’t seize the moment.

 “Ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it.” ~ Sheryl

Today Sheryl is the COO of Facebook and the author of the best selling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Eric is currently the executive chairman of Google and has an estimated net worth of $9.4 billion.

Random Useless Fact:

Students cheat on exams because the school system values grades more than the students value learning.

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02/27/2015 11:08 am

I love this part of his statement “If you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” Too many times we get caught up with things that don’t matter rather than recognizing the bigger picture. To be extremely successful you need to take that leap of faith 🙂 Great piece Liquid

02/27/2015 9:15 pm

Did u ever consider turning your hr based day job as a graphic designer into project based remuneration eg consultant such that you are compensated on the result instead of time with more automomy and focus the remainder of your time on your other interest looking for arbitrage opportunities?

02/28/2015 10:34 pm

I’m not an extrovert either but I suppose with enough experience you’ll gradually build up network and people will recognize your good work. My vocation doesn’t allow opportunities as an independent contractor where the latter can incorporate and enjoy the tax savings but with the cost of more filings and lack of employee benefits. Does give capacity for expansion. Looks like you already have an investment division!

02/28/2015 4:43 am

It helped that she come from an affluent family probably never has to flip mcdonal for a living if google go under. Very great speech, but if don’t buy it as much as I buy Steve Jobs’s story.

Two Degrees
Two Degrees
02/28/2015 7:53 am
Reply to  Vivianne

It is odd that I hear this criticism happen against women. I’ve never heard this being used against successful men.

But then again, this is exemplary of what is said in the book. Even our society, even women are encouraged to keep other women from being successful by negative comments like this.

Two Degrees
Two Degrees
02/28/2015 9:01 pm

My sister is a project manager and she is good at what she does. She’s also very blunt and even as a young girl, she was described by my family and I as “bossy”. I also have read similar articles to what you’ve posted and since then, have tried better to not use the word in a negative way.

The only way for us to be aware of our biases is to learn about them.

Two Degrees
Two Degrees
02/28/2015 7:51 am

When I left the charity that got me into my current school board, I was listening to the audiobook. It helped me transition to a classroom teacher because I was harbouring fear after burning out a few years ago. The audiobook is fantastic, Sheryl reads it herself. I ended up buying copies of the book for my favourite coworkers at the charity I left, hoping that it will inspire them to make good career choices. Many people who work at charities can become a bit too selfless and not ask for the right pay or even bother to chase down money when it is due to them. There is no sense in being overly polite, I always try to encourage young women to be a bit more selfish about money and career advancement and explain some of the psychological phenomenon and Behaviour mentioned in this book that causes women to screw themselves over. I made my best friend and also my sister read it too.

Two Degrees
Two Degrees
02/28/2015 7:59 am
Reply to  Two Degrees

I looked through some notes I had made while listening to the book:

“Women are more reluctant to apply promotions even when deserve, often believing that good performance will naturally lead to rewards (Tiara syndrome)”

02/28/2015 12:01 pm

Interesting post. Looks like I have a new book to add to the reading list. Thanks for sharing.

02/28/2015 12:31 pm

What a great story!

02/28/2015 2:20 pm

I really enjoyed her book Lean In. I’ve tried/applied for several things before in the past and wasn’t successful at them. Those failures kind of made me scared to try new things, but I’m trying to try (does that sound grammatically correct?) more new things and hopefully opportunities will arrive in the future. I like how you modified the getting our feet wet phrase.

Gen Y Finance Guy
02/28/2015 4:34 pm

I really enjoyed reading her book “Lean In” after my wife read it and passed it on to me.

Totally agree that it is better to be in a growing company with lots of opportunity. It’s increases the probability for Quantum leaps.

Messy Money
02/28/2015 7:48 pm

I have read “Lean In” and it was good. I also enjoyed a follow up TED talk she did about the response to her book (and her original TED talk) – and it was interesting to see how people have responded to it. What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?

Andrew McDavid
Andrew McDavid
02/28/2015 8:46 pm

Nice article. I had honestly never heard of this woman before I stumbled across this site. Very interesting. Good info. Thanks for sharing!

Weekend read | Well Rounded Investor
03/01/2015 7:31 pm

[…] Freedom 35 shared his view on Sheryl Sandburg, Harvard grad https://www.freedomthirtyfiveblog.com/2015/02/get-on-a-rocket-ship-sheryl-sandberg.html […]

03/02/2015 3:06 am

Absolutely beautiful story. Looking at the bigger picture is really everything. I feel more and more lately.

Thanks for the great posting.


06/14/2015 9:14 pm

This was great. Keeps people thinking about what they really want to do and go for it!


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