Carol Sawdye: Allow a Sense of Urgency to Propel Your Career

The vice chairman and chief financial officer of PwC recounts how being diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at 25 pushed her to become more active in pursuit of career goals.

In today's featured Big Think interview, Vice Chairman and CFO of PwC Carol Sawdye recounts how being diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at 25 pushed her to become more active in her pursuit of career goals. Being told she had a 50% chance of seeing 30 forced Sawdye to reconsider how she managed her life. She became less passive, more willing to take risks, and eager to push herself beyond her comfort zone. In the clip below, Sawdye explains that it doesn't take a challenging personal event like a diagnosis to commit yourself to urgency:

"A healthy sense of urgency and willingness to take some risks and push yourself outside your comfort zone, generally speaking, rarely has its downsides."

The traits heralded in the video — risk-taking, urgency, initiative — are all seen as major assets in today's job marketplace. Companies seek people willing to both think and act outside the box. They want fearlessness and innovation. And they're more open to failure than they've been in the past. That's why Sawdye encourages ambitious young professionals — and women in particular — to take calculated risks. The lessons learned will be just as valuable in failure as they would be in success. Naturally, the advice to stretch beyond one's comfort zone isn't limited to young people; it applies to people of all ages. Here's what Sawdye told Melissa J. Anderson of The Glass Hammer in 2013:

“I think the more experience you have, the tendency is to become complacent. You need to push yourself to take on further challenges.”

In 2002, Sawdye left PwC after 17 years as a partner. Despite the comfort and security of her position, Sawdye's goal was to lead a firm. She explained what happened next over at Lean In

"At that time PwC had nearly 2,000 partners, the majority of whom were more senior than I was. It was going to take years to rise within the ranks. So I decided to lean in by leaving. It was a huge risk. Many people I trusted thought I was crazy to give up the security of being a partner at PwC. And it was scary to leave a place where I had built 17 years' worth of relationships. But when a recruiter called offering me the chance to be chief financial officer at a prestigious law firm, I said yes."

Sawdye spent eight years in that position before becoming the CFO of the National Basketball Association in 2010. Two years later, Sawdye returned to PwC to serve as its own CFO. It took guts to leave the comforts of her job 13 years ago, but Sawdye decided to be active in how she managed her career and took a major risk with the switch. It looks like it paid off big time.

"Keep that in mind — that sense of urgency in order to sort of continue to propel your career. I think that’s the best advice I could give anybody at a young age."

This video is the fourth in a series brought to you in partnership with PwC. Previous videos include:

-Coaching the Next Generation of Women Leaders, with Amanda Mesler

-Tara Sophia Mohr on the Three Keys to Empowering Young Women

-Authenticity Will Close the Confidence Gap, with Claire Shipman

OFebruary 27th, PwC will host a live webcast on developing great women leaders with ABC News's Claire Shipman and her "The Confidence Code" co-author Katty Kay. Register here for the webcast, and follow the conversation on Twitter: #PwCAspire. Big Think will be featuring more related videos and other content throughout the month.

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