Would you travel to moon sitting on a middle seat?
“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” — Eric Schmidt
This line is an excerpt from a marvellous speech given by Sheryl Sandberg to HBS class of 2012 on their graduation day. In her speech, she described her early career, challenges she faced in the industry and her efforts in raising the issue of gender equality in the workforce. Even if I dedicate few paragraphs to it, there’s no way my summary can do proper justice to the powerful speech she gave and if you’re interested, you can find it here.
In her talk, Sheryl mentioned how she was very particular about her career choices and created a spreadsheet (who wouldn’t :P ) of jobs and criteria she was looking out for to make a conscious career decision. When she took this spreadsheet to Eric Schmidt (the then CEO of Google) in order to discuss her role, he told him that if you’re offered a seat in rocket ship (here Google), don’t ask what seat, just get on. I’ve heard this phrase multiple times used in varying context by different people since and still remain amazed by the way the essence of working at high performing places captured in this quote. However, the more I think of it now, more I’ve started questioning it — should one really not care what seat?
Career choice is a big decision in anyone’s life and perhaps the most important one as well. While there are a lot of people for whom, this decision would be a result of external factors over-riding their personal preference but for the sake of this argument, I’ll only talk about people who are in position to define their own career based on their own choices irrespective of external constraints. This is also because the quote was originally shared from Eric to Sheryl and later from Sheryl to Harvard grads and I have reason to believe that most of them were in position to define their own trajectories. For those people who have the choice (or a ready spreadsheet), should they travel to moon sitting on the middle seat?
There can be multiple viewpoints in favour of this and first one could be that the seat doesn’t matter as long as you’re stepping on moon. While that is true in some parts, this argument simply values destination over the journey and career is not just about the end goal. Carrying this analogy forward, I’ve asked myself if I would choose to miss out on scenes during space travel for promise of an exclusive destination or enjoy the front seat in a car while visiting unexplored (for me) charters. As kiddish as it sounds, I’ve never imagined myself in a rocket not looking out of the window.
At this stage in my life, I still do not know what the answer is but I’m not ready to take Eric’s or Sheryl’s word for it. I might be someone who values the seat. However, as coming from leaders of our time, if they’ve stepped in spaceship without caring for anything else, it could be a lesson for all of us which we can only appreciate with time. Hopefully with more experience, this choice will become clearer but as of today, this for me is a quote which I refuse to accept without questioning.