Ann Veneman has broken so many glass ceilings that she is understandably asked about it often. After all, she must have had a very clear career plan. And yet, Veneman tells Big Think her approach was very unorthodox as she reached a cabinet post in the White House and top leadership position at the UN. According to Veneman, career success for her was a matter of taking advantage of opportunities.
Ann Veneman: Well, many young women in particular but young people in general ask me, "How did you plan your career to get where you've gotten?" And I've said oftentimes that I never would have imagined that I would end up in the cabinet of the U.S. or even the cabinet of the state or in the leadership position in the United Nations; but it was a matter of taking advantage of opportunities that were presented to me that I would not have necessarily thought about taking in my career.
So when I was a young lawyer practicing law in California, the opportunity to first go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture was presented to me to work on trade issues and international issues. Had I said no to that, had I not taken that chance, taken that complete turn in my life, I would not have done any of the things I've ended up doing. And so I often look back at my life and say it was not about having goals to do these things, but taking advantage of opportunities that came my way.
I know that that's not the advice a lot of people give others. They tell young people to have goals, to look to the future, to look at what—to imagine what you want to be, but I also think you can't be so goal-oriented that you say no to an opportunity that could lead you places you never imagined you could end up and opportunities that are a great possibility to impact the world.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd