Many of those intangible moments that impact a career often happen outside the office.  If we aren’t there, how can we leverage a spontaneous career-advancing moment to our advantage? Here are 4 ways to help manage the calendar and still advance.

In Her Words: How To Know When A Business Event is Worth It

Author: Jennifer Kohl

Often I am asked to share some of my own struggles coming through the ranks of the messy middle.  One particular on-going struggle was knowing when to say yes and when to say no – whether it was to a meeting, an event or a business trip.

woman talking through mobile phone while sitting on swivel armchair
Photo Credit: Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Case in point.  There was a 32-inch snow storm coming.  All weather forecasters agreed……there WAS a 32-inch snow storm coming.  The airlines cancelled flights.  The meeting was in California on Tuesday.   A meeting potentially worth $4 million.  I am scheduled to fly from New York with four colleagues Monday midday.  I am hesitant.  I have two children, a household to run, other professional and personal obligations.  If I fly to California, when can I return?  One day delay? Two day delay? Or more?  The client offered a conference call since we have already met three times.  Clearly this does not have to be an in-person meeting.

After much internal debate, I ultimately decide I cannot be pulled out of my life for an unknown amount of days. But my four colleagues?  They flew directly into the unknown! I pondered, Why was I ‘left behind’ and my counterparts could so easily fly into a completely unknown schedule?  Who was taking care of the kids, the dog, the cat, the parents, the house?  We as women—no matter if we are the primary, equal or secondary earner—are in most instances the default primary caregiver and ‘taker carer’ of all things.   Some colleagues can more easily rip cord from their life, while I smiled over video conference.  We did win the business and my colleagues were delayed two additional days, finally returning Thursday evening.

Another week I was staring down the calendar at three evenings of business events.  Certainly, I couldn’t be out at a steak house until midnight, then entertaining clients at a hockey game until 11 pm, and then having drinks/dinner/drinks with our CEO.   I cannot easily go missing from my non-work life.  It became obvious to me that I could say yes only to the things:

  • I would enjoy
  • that could advance my career
  • or that helped achieve my goals

It made me ask myself “does this lack of schedule flexibility make a messy middle manager stay a messy middle manager?”  Disturbingly, I thought “probably.”  Many of those intangible moments that impact a career often happen at the hockey game, the drinks dinner drinks or the epic blizzard biz trip.  If we aren’t there, how can we leverage a spontaneous career-advancing moment to our advantage?

Here are four ways to help manage the calendar and still advance:

  1. Pick and choose. No, you cannot attend every function or meeting, but you can and should be selective about the ones you do attend.  Determine which ones are smart business meetings, but also smart career moments, and focus on those.
  2. Stay, play and leave. Maybe drinks and no dinner is better than nothing at all. Maybe attending Day 1 (and not day 2 and 3) of a business trip is better than not attending at all.  There have been plenty “day trips to Chicago” and 6 am flights allowing me a career presence, but also respect my other responsibilities.  I even did a day trip to Florida once.  Who does that?  Regardless of the amount of time you can carve out, make sure to have your presence felt while you are present.
  3. Make career moments happen. If you are going to an event/meeting, be sure you know who you need to speak with versus who it would be nice to see.  Insert yourself to help prompt a conversation to demonstrate your contributions, discuss your ideas, get a photo taken together.  These are moments that you may need to make happen.
  4. Never, ever miss the important moments. Only you know which moments are not negotiable.  And for each person, they are different.  First day of kindergarten.  Mom’s surgery.  A family trip to Disney.  Sixth grade graduation.  Your anniversary.  Father’s Day.  Trust that instinct and have the courage to politely decline whatever it is.  Those heartbeat moments are not coming around again, but drinks/dinner/drinks with your CEO will. I promise.

For more on how to rise up in middle management, check out:

Equal Pay: What the Wage Gap Costs You and How to Know Your Worth

The Leadership Traits that Will Empower You—And Your Team

The Motherhood Penalty: Why We’re Losing Our Best Talent to Caregiving

headshot of author Jennifer KholJennifer Kohl has lots of jobs.  Her paid gig is the SVP of Integrated Media at VMLY&R.  Most days are like an episode of Shark Tank where she has the privilege to work with different brands, clients and business issues.  Whether its pregnancy testers or chocolates, Rx or appliances, Jennifer brings her innovative solutions to the most vexing marketing situations.

Her unpaid jobs include wife to a very chill Australian, mom to a middle and high schooler, daughter, aspiring writer, speaker, panelist, CYO and Girl Scout volunteer.