THE BLOG
11/19/2014 12:57 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2015

The Road Not Taken: Forget Your 'Plan B' Career, You'll Need a Strong 'Plan D'

Jamie Grill via Getty Images

By Sallie Krawcheck, Chair Ellevate Network

This article was originally featured on Linkedin

Lois Lane. I wanted to be Lois Lane. Or, better yet, Mary Richards.

I was a journalism major at UNC, but had taken a several-year detour into investment banking. My thinking was that I would learn something about business and then would have a writing specialty. So, after my post-college stint at Salomon Brothers, I landed a summer-between-years-at-business-school internship at Time Magazine. Mission accomplished.

But on my first day, my boss told me they had accidentally over-hired for the summer... and that over-hire was me. Scratch Plan A.

Plan B: No job at Time Inc., so I blanketed media firms with my resume. And, lo and behold, Disney actually responded. And had a job available. In New York. Interview after interview went well. They flew me to Los Angeles. I aced it. They offered me a job... in LA.

One problem: I was married, and my husband wasn't moving to LA. Scratch Plan B.

All of my other opportunities involved returning to my old industry, the industry I had gone to business school in order to leave. This wasn't Plan C; it wasn't part of any plan. I had thrown away tens of thousands of dollars and two years of my life to change careers and had failed. It was absolutely devastating. (To add insult to injury, my husband chose not to be my husband for very long soon after that. On my first day on the new job, I had to excuse myself between meetings to be sick; I was alone and working like a fiend in a job I didn't like. But, hey, at least I got the cat.)

I know the story is now supposed to be about how I persevered and became a world-class banker. Or about how I continued my quest to get into media and it eventually paid off. But that didn't happen.

Instead, after divorcing, working, dating (ugh), remarrying, quitting my job, having a baby and becoming a stay-at-home mom, one morning, I had the brainstorm of my life... which was that I should become an equity research analyst. It combined the writing and communications of my first love -- journalism -- with the analytical skills I had acquired on Wall Street, in a way no other job did. The pieces fit together almost magically; and while I wished I'd had this insight years earlier, my road was clear. In a very short time[1], I was at the top of my profession.

The lesson? Well, you know it: One's career is a journey, and that journey is by no means a straight line. As a research analyst, I was viewed as an "overnight success." But, before that, there were years of false starts and wandering. But when the pieces to my Plan D finally all fit, they fit like a puzzle, and the result was extraordinary.

[1] A short time that included being turned down for a job by most of the major Wall Street firms, including repeated rejection letters from Lehman Brothers. They seemed to really want me to know they didn't want to hire me.

Sallie Krawcheck is the Chair of Ellevate Network and Ellevate Asset Management. Ellevate Network (formerly 85 Broads) is a professional woman's network, operating across industries and around the world.