Option B: Making the Most of Your Job or Internship (Even If It Wasn’t Your First Choice)

I recently listened to an interview with Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s COO) and Adam Grant (one of our amazing professors here at Penn). Sheryl has long impressed me with the huge amount of work she has done in empowering and inspiring girls and women to take on leadership roles through her book, Lean In, published in 2013. The book became widely popular and topped the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list. It inspired an immense amount of dialogue about women in the workforce and also resulted in over 30,000 Lean in Circles (small groups of individuals who meet regular to learn and grow together) in over 150 countries around the world. Impressive!

Her newest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, comes from different circumstances entirely and is focused on the hard truth that sometimes we can’t control what happens to us and life doesn’t always work out the way we had planned or hoped. Sheryl lost her husband suddenly and unexpectedly while on vacation, and Option B focuses on how to move forward after such a devastating loss and finding and building resiliency within. Adam Grant, as a co-author and friend of Sheryl’s, contributes with research on finding inner strength in difficult circumstances.

The idea of an “Option B” resonates strongly with me, as I often talk with students and alumni who are disappointed in how their job or internship searches worked out. Perhaps they had hoped to work for a large, well-known firm with a structured training program, but instead landed a job at a smaller organization that offers more “on the job” training. Perhaps they were hoping to land an internship in New York City, but ultimately could not find one that paid enough to cover the exorbitant housing costs in the city, making it an unrealistic option. Perhaps they were hoping to travel the world and land a job in Europe, but couldn’t find an employer willing to sponsor them for a work visa. These are all discussions I’ve had with students in just the past few weeks, and yes, they were disappointing outcomes. Through the many such conversations I’ve had with individuals, I’ve found that the most successful at navigating these disappointments are those who can acknowledge their disappointment and then move on to make the most of and capitalize on the options that they do have available, rather than focusing on “what could have been”. I believe there is always something positive you can take away from an experience, even if it is learning how to work for a difficult boss or how to tactfully ask for or negotiate different or new assignments if the ones you are initially given are not exactly piquing your interest. (Of course, keep in mind that this tactic always needs to keep the needs of the business in mind!) Rather than coming to work with negativity, focus on how you can make a positive impact and contribute. Good things invariably happen when people enjoy having you as a colleague and can feel your positive energy.

Think creatively about how to move forward with your Option B. For the person who wants to work in Europe, perhaps looking at US based multi-national employers would be a good next step – focusing on working in the United States for now, learning the ins and outs of the organization, and then exploring the possibility for an international assignment at some point in the future. For the person working at a smaller firm with less training, try seeking out online programs, workshops or conferences to learn new skills (and maybe even have it paid for by the employer). We all will experience “Option B circumstances” in our work lives. I encourage you to handle them with a positive and forward looking attitude – do the job to the best of your ability, learn new skills, increase your network, and when the time is right move on to the next (hopefully exciting!) chapter in your work life.

Author: Barbara Hewitt

Barbara Hewitt is the Executive Director of Career Services.

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