Want to be the next COO of Facebook? Surround Yourself with Great People

I will never forget the conversation in the car on the way back from a meeting in Montgomery with my then boss.  I had been accepted into the graduate school program of my choice and was working full-time in economic development.  The graduate program was full-time and a two-hour drive away, but I didn’t want to give up the job.

I waited until about half-way into in to the two and a half hour car ride home, to say. “I want to go back to graduate school.”

“Okay,” my boss said.

“I got accepted.”

“Where?”  He said.

“Middle Tennessee State” I said.

“Okay.” he said.  “Isn’t that two hours away? Is it an online program?”

“Yes. No.” I said.

“So are you quitting?” He said.

“No, I don’t want to quit. I want to work part-time and go to graduate school.”

“Oh…” He said.  “Why do you want to do this?”

“Long term, I’d like to own my own business.”  I said.

“Oh….” he said.

I explained to him, that although I loved the work I was doing in economic and workforce development, I didn’t see an opportunity to advance, and even if he left, and even if I had a chance to be considered for his job, I didn’t even know if I would be interested in it.  What he did most of the time in his role I wasn’t passionate about doing.

I wanted a way to combine my passions- helping other people find their passion in work coupled with maximizing productivity in the workplace- in a realistic way. And I needed his help.

Our conversation turned into more than one to two word exchanges.  It led to me going back to graduate school, working part-time, and starting my own business.  This conversation took place almost 5 years ago, and I’m still doing consulting work for him.

I may not have ever taken the risk to pursue my passion had it not been for this boss that was willing to think outside the box with me.   He allowed me the opportunity to safely jump off into the unknown by taking an full-time employee-employer relationship, convert it into a part-time one, and then change it yet again to an employer-contractor relationship.  Throughout each arrangement, the same work gets done and results (or at least I hope he thinks so) get achieved.  I get to spend the majority of my time pursuing my passions through the work with other clients while continuing to pursue passionate areas in the work I do for him.

I wouldn’t have jumped if he hadn’t been willing to jump with me.

Just like I didn’t want to give up my job, I didn’t want to give up my marriage either! My husband was unbelievably supportive (despite his risk aversion) of us in taking the leap.  My parents who always taught me I could do anything I wanted if I just put my mind to it encouraged me, and my mentor gave sound and splendid advice about jumping.   The board of the organization I worked for has been supportive through these transitions, my brother has been a key critic and bottom-line minded brain behind my plans and my in-laws and parents are always available to keep our child during demanding work times.  My friends and colleagues talk ideas with me and motivate my thinking, not to mention help me have a good time while doing it!

What does this have to do with being the COO of Facebook?

Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg who is the COO of Facebook, is about “Women, Work, and the will to Lead.” Like most books it begins with a dedication.  Sandberg writes,


For raising me to believe that anything is possible.


For making everything possible.”

I think she sets the tone of the book as well as who she is with her dedication. I learned more from it than the other pages that followed.

The Bottom-Line

We are who we are and we have the chances that we have, not entirely because of ourselves, but because of others who have supported us along the way.  Want to be the next COO of Facebook, or even just a wife and a mom with dream to pursue her passions in and through work?   Look around, build your team of cheerleaders, and thank them.  They will be the ones that will help you pursue your passions and maintain them.

Who has helped you take the leap into your passion?


Mary Ila Ward