Carol Sawdye, the chief financial officer of PwC, shares the story of how a startling life event pushed her to become more active in career management. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at 25, Sawdye received a wake-up call that pushed her to lead life with a heightened sense of urgency. In this video, she offers a deeply personal case for, and case study in, risk-taking, operating outside your comfort zone, and taking the initiative to achieve your goals.
Carol Sawdye: So unfortunately when I was 25 years old I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and ended up facing a year of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. And as strange as this is going to sound, and I often tell this to my mother, sometimes the worst things that happen to you do have a silver lining and often, in many respects, they end up being the best things that happen to you. I know it’s hard for that to believe it and she’s never willing to take that to believe it was the best thing that happened to me, but it changed the course of my life. And the reason it did was because my parents raised the four of us — my siblings — in a very risk-averse, very traditional environment. And I saw my career in a very lock-step, ladder way. After that happened I looked at myself much more, and my career and my personal life, much more with a real sense of urgency. I’d been faced at a very young age with the doctor telling me who knows how much longer, how much time you really have.
In fact, you probably have a 50 percent chance that you won’t make it to 30. That’s a pretty sobering statement to receive at that age. And I took that as really a call to action and I did many things personally and professionally at that point that probably most people don’t have the benefit of doing at 25 years old.
I will say I became less patient and perhaps that’s not a virtue, but I think in your career many people — and I’ll be honest — I think a lot of women tend to sit back and see what’s going to happen to their career. I think you need to recognize that to really move forward you need to take an active role in managing your career, even from a very young age. So for me it’s always sort of making sure somewhere in there you have a bit more sense of urgency than perhaps you would normally have about making sure you’re moving yourself along.
And I got that by having a, you know, going through a very challenging personal event in my life that forced me to feel like I needed to have a sense of urgency, but I think a healthy sense of urgency and willingness to take some risks and push yourself outside of your comfort zone, generally speaking, rarely has its downsides. And I think most organizations today are looking for people willing to take more risk and are a bit more tolerant of failure than they used to be.
You know, keep that in mind and keep 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.