Case

Sally Schiff
Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

Introduction

Sally was on her daily stroll home from work. It was January, so the sun had already set, but the streets of Georgetown were illuminated by the lights of local stores and restaurants. Too consumed in her own thoughts to window shop, Sally played over and over in her mind the phone conversation she'd had at work today. "Yes," she understood the pending deadline she'd said, and "yes," she was confident she could get an answer to the caller by Friday. It wasn't the usual stress of a client calling to strategize about how to get their non-for-profit organization on the front page of The New York Times. This call came from an admissions officer at The George Washington School of Business with an offer Sally wasn't expecting.

 

Background

Sally grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati, OH. Her parents raised her with those traditional Midwestern values you hear about in political campaigns. She did well in school. She had a passion for the arts. She was co-captain of the dance team at her high school and taught ballet at a nearby studio. When it was time for college, Sally dreamed about moving to a big city like Boston or LA, but it wasn't practical. She dreamed of skipping college altogether to dance on Broadway, but again, it wasn't practical. Instead, she applied to three Midwestern universities that were a healthy driving distance from home and ended up at the very respected, but very practical, Indiana University in Bloomington, IN.

After college, Sally settled on a career in communications. She was a good writer, an articulate speaker, and did will in her summer internships with local communications agencies and organizations. Just as communications was a logical next step for Sally, so too was a move to Chicago. Her brothers had recently relocated there with their families. She had other family in the area, and it was a reasonable driving distance to her parents' home in Cincinnati. However, first the first time in her life, Sally took a leap of faith (quite possibility in the name of love!) and moved to Washington, DC without a job or much of a network. Stepping out of her comfort zone for the first time paid off. In Washington, Sally found GMMB, Inc. – a communications consulting firm specializing in social advocacy and nonprofit communications.

Professional issue

Professionally, GMMB "raised" Sally. In five years, she went from assisting two senior executives to managing her own team and portfolio of clients. She was good at her job. She was comfortable in the environment. She was respected by her colleagues and her clients. And she knew exactly what the future held for her if she continued to do well. At the same time, Sally was too comfortable. While the initiatives she worked on to prevent malaria, raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, and protect women's reproductive rights were personally fulfilling, communications consulting was losing its luster. After only a few years on the job, Sally began to panic when she realized that public relations and communications wasn't where she wanted to spend the rest of the career. For the girl who always had a plan, the future started to look very blurry.

 

Personal issue

The words "business" and "corporate" always had a negative connotation f Sally and the circles she ran in. Her friends worked for the government agencies, on political campaigns, for NGOs, in classrooms, etc. They would all get together on the weekends eat take out, drink cheap wine, and question how people could ever go to work for companies whose mission it was to simply make money. Why would people choose to market Coke cans or sell insurance when they could do something more meaningful? So it was an utter shock to Sally's friends when she announced one evening that she'd applied for business school. "Why? What will you do there? Are you going to sell-out and go to work for 'the man'?" they'd all asked. "No, no," she'd assured them. "I'll stay true to my convictions and commitment to advocacy. I'm not selling out."

As Sally approached her apartment building after her walk home that night of the phone call from GW, she continued weighing the pros and cons of leaving GMMB and going back to school. What if she hated business? Would she be the only person in her class who hadn't taken an economics class in her life? Would they look down on her? What if she couldn't be successful outside of GMMB? What if her friends were right about selling out?

Sally started to slip the key into the door of her apartment and as she was about to unlock the door, she felt her Blackberry buzzing in her pocket. She grabbed the device and unlocked the screen to see who was trying to reach her. Next to the envelope symbol representing her email inbox was the number 23 in bold. In the 25 minutes she'd been away from the office, she'd received 23 new messages – a couple from an assistant asking about a new project, several from her boss about the next day's meetings, a few listserv newsletters and news clips, and emails from a handful of clients who wanted to bounce around more ideas about how to get press for their various initiatives. It was nearly 9:00 p.m. Why can't these things wait until the morning! Sally asked herself. Still standing outside the door to her apartment contemplating whether or not to start replying on her Blackberry or go inside and fire up her laptop, the door suddenly swung open. On the other side was Sally's husband, Adam. "Hi, I thought I heard you out here. What are you doing?" Sally started to explain, but instead, put her Blackberry back in her pocket, kissed her husband, and said, "I'm going back to school…that's what I'm doing!" Sally had made up her mind. She was going back to school, but now came the real question, what was she going to do with her life when she graduated?