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Former GE executive Beth Comstock shares best career advice



Bethany Comstock
Beth Comstock is the
former vice chair of GE and the author of the book “Imagine It

Hollis Johnson/Business

  • Beth Comstock spent 27 years at General Electric, also
    working for its former NBC properties, rising to the position of
    vice chair.
  • She recently wrote the memoir and career guide “Imagine
    It Forward
  • Comstock said that she owes her success to learning to exist
    with ambitions that can sometimes leave her uncomfortable and
    living with uncertainty.
  • She developed a “three no’s” rule, where she would continue
    pitching an idea to her boss, allowing for it to be rejected a
    maximum of three times.

Beth Comstock initially wanted to be a journalist, but ended up
one of the most powerful people at one of the world’s biggest
companies, General Electric.

Comstock spent 27 years at GE, also working at its former NBC
properties in communications and marketing roles, before ending
up as vice chair.

When CEO John Flannery (who is no longer in the role) took over
for Jeff Immelt last year, he did a clean sweep of Immelt’s
leadership team, including Comstock. It gave her a chance to
consider the entirety of her career, and she collected her
thoughts in her book, “Imagine
It Forward
,” with elements of both memoir and career guide.

She recently spoke to Business Insider for an episode of our
podcast “This Is Success,” exploring why the idea of constant
change has been so fundamental to her story, whether it was the
evolution of the businesses she worked for or herself.

Listen to the full episode here:

Subscribe to “This Is Success” on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or
your favorite podcast app. Check out previous episodes with:

Transcript edited for clarity.

Beth Comstock: It’s not like I love change all
the time, and I think “changemaker” is kind of a weird phrase. I
don’t know of a better one, but it’s not necessarily that I’m the
one that always makes the change. I’m kind of like a translator
of change, if you will. To me a changemaker is what’s next and
new. I think earlier in my life, I’ve always been curious. So
that’s consistent my whole life, but earlier in my life I was
definitely more reserved, held myself back and was often kind of
against the wall as opposed to stepping out and seeing what’s
next. So that’s definitely something I had to change in myself.

Richard Feloni: At the beginning of your career,
when you wanted to be a journalist —

Comstock: Yeah, I wanted to be sitting where you

Feloni: Yeah, so I just think like seeing that
span, obviously, a lot happened between the early days and where
you went. When you ended up at NBC, wasn’t that in kind of a
tough time for the network?

Comstock: Eventually it was. I went to work at
NBC. And then they moved to New York, and I left and went to CNN
and CBS and then came back and that was the time I came back. And
the news division had pretty much blown up, literally. They
staged a news event, it was the original fake news, or maybe not
the original, but it was true fake news of the time. And they had
faked a story and it almost brought the news division to its

Feloni: They actually blew up the truck.

Comstock: They blew up a truck. Yeah, they put
rockets in it to get the perfect shot.

Feloni: And it was supposed to be real.

Comstock: Well, apparently, these trucks were
really exploding, but they couldn’t get one to explode on camera.
So they faked it. And it was obviously wrong, and a scandal and
the news division got fired, and most of the people, and so I got
a call. I was working as a publicist, then at CBS, and I knew
some reporters, and they’d put my name in, for them to consider
me. Frankly, no one was taking that job. And for me, it was my
kind of entrepreneurial awakening because I got to form a team,
we had nowhere to go but up as a news division. I was allowed a
lot of freedom to try a lot of things. And so it was, I think,
one of the most formative jobs of my career.

Forcing herself out of her comfort zone

Feloni: Is that what drew you to it, this idea
you would have the chance to build something with a real impact
instead of having a more comfortable job?

Comstock: I don’t know why I took the job. It
was one of those formative times, I think earlier in my career,
being divorced and having sort of picking a path going forward
with a young daughter and moving to New York. And that was
another time I think, probably one of the biggest tests of my
early life.

Feloni: In your early 20s?

Comstock: In my early 20s. And just that sense
of, you have no choice but to just go forward. You’ve made this
choice, it’s the right one for you, and you just have to make it
work. So I think that gave me a bit of confidence, like, OK, I’ve
done this before. So I tend to be good at listening to my
intuition. I think it gets harder as you get more busy. As you
get older, your life takes over. I think we have a hard time
listening to that voice inside of us. And I sometimes look back
and try to remind myself, how was I so in tune to that? Because
sometimes you worry and you think, is that my intuition? Or is
that just my nervous brain taking over?

Feloni: And on this aspect of saying that you
were just naturally introverted — I mean, in your leadership
roles, and even in your public-facing roles, you’re always very
dynamic. But when did that change? Where you realize that you
couldn’t make an excuse of, “Oh, I’m just an introvert.”

Comstock: Yeah, well, I just started seeing time
and time again, where people would throw ideas out, and I would
leave a meeting without saying anything. And I was mad at myself.
I was, like, “I had that idea.” Or, “I had a better idea.” And
well, who can I blame? I didn’t say anything. After a while, one
too many of those times, and you just push, I just finally would
say, OK, this is it, and I gave myself small challenges. Change
starts with these small steps. It’s taking a risk, it’s facing a
fear that’s just small. It’s me saying: “I’m going to bring an
idea to that meeting. And I’m actually going to pitch it.”

So I think those are the things you’ve got to recognize, kind of
what holds you back, and I was shy and introverted. There’s shy
and there’s introverted. And I think they’re somewhat different,
but introverted is also just you’re reserved, you reserve energy.
And so over time, I had to find that internal extrovert that was
there. I had to kind of pretend sometimes, even when I didn’t
feel it, because I made it my job. And I think that’s how I gave
it perspective. It’s like, “My job requires me to do this.” So it
was getting out of my head. It wasn’t like, now I’m going to be
confident, and now I’m going to put myself out there because I’d
freak myself out, to say, “My job requires this.” So it was a way
for me to get out of my head.

beth comstock
Comstock developed a
dynamic public personality, but it was one that took effort to
develop, she said.

Frederick M.
Brown/Getty Images

Feloni: At what point did that kind of happen,
that necessity?

Comstock: Yeah, I think I just saw places where
I was holding myself back, like we talked about that NBC job I
took after they blew up the news division, two years later. I was
in a situation where we were launching MSNBC and there was like
Jack Welch and Bill Gates. Jack and I worked at GE, but I’m sure
Bill Gates had no idea who I was.

But those moments, you just say, “OK, this is my job. I have to
go talk to Bill Gates now. I have to say, ‘Bill, you sit here.'”
It wasn’t like I was having a lengthy conversation. As I said,
you just say, “I have to do my job.” And those are the
situations. As I grew in my career, especially when I got to GE,
I started to feel more comfortable in talking to customers,
talking internally, having to give presentations, and I just got
more comfortable with that. It’s talking to your team, then you
get called into a big meeting. Ten years later, you’re able to
talk to the board. But I couldn’t have done that right away.

Feloni: Did you end up on a manager’s path just
kind of by accident? Or did you end up having like, a clear
vision of I want to end up being an executive at this company?

Comstock: A little of both. I’m one of those
people that probably was carried more than I had a big strategic
plan, at certain parts of my career. I certainly never would have
imagined I’d end up where I would at GE, but I was ambitious.
I’ve always been ambitious. I knew I wanted to keep learning, I
wanted to keep growing, I wanted to keep rising in the company.
So ambition has always been a part of who I am.

And then in the beginning it was managing projects. And then
you’re like, “I want to manage people,” then it’s like, “I want
to manage many people.” And so you see, each step, you see
others. And honestly, you kind of get into a habit of that, you
kind of see the next thing above you. There were times I probably
didn’t stop and say, “Is that the right job for me?” I was just
like, that was the next one.

Feloni: And in terms of figuring out how to deal
with that ambition — there’s a story that you’ve told when you’re
at NBC, when you had been going for a promotion, but it hadn’t
been offered. Could you explain that?

Comstock: Yeah. So I was at NBC and the head of
communications job had opened up. I was at NBC News doing
communications and the job had been open for about four, six
months. And I wanted that job and I was just waiting for them to
call me. I was convinced they were going to call me for the job
and they never called me. So finally I was like you go from
waiting, to then annoyed, to then like, I’ve got to go tell them.
So I kind of tiptoed into the HR leader and said, “Hey, I want to
put my name and it seems the job is still open.” And he said,
“Yeah, we thought about you. But given you are a young mother, we
thought, hey, you can’t travel and this job requires a lot of

I was so furious. I was mad at him, but I was especially mad at
myself. Because I’ve been sitting there all this time. It’s a
classic business mistake: You wait to be approached. I felt too —
I don’t know. I was ambitious but I was afraid to show it, maybe.
And I figured if they thought I was qualified, they’d call me.
And meanwhile, they had already thought about me and discounted
me for reasons that weren’t true.

I was mad at myself. And it was a big lesson. And one I’ve tried
to take through as I grew my management expertise: Don’t assume
that about people. And as a person, if you’re looking to be
manager, don’t assume they know what you want. So tell them, if
you see you want another job in three years, tell them, “That’s
what I want, and I want you to help me get ready for it.” They
can’t read your mind. And if you’re leading people, don’t assume
something just because once they told you, “Hey, I can’t move, I
got a kid in school, or my mother’s ill.” Three years from now,
that may be very different. So always check in with people, I
think, and tell them.

Feloni: So how did he respond when you saw him?

Comstock: Well, I ended up getting the job. But
also he became something of a mentor to me. I think I became
something of a mentor to him. And we forged a good relationship
out of what could have been simmering anger on my part, but I had
to get over that too.

Learning to lead

Feloni: And on that note of learning to be a
leader, did you learn to be a leader through like a series of
mistakes? And then, “OK, here’s what I did wrong,” or did you
have certain mentors come in?

Comstock: All the above? I think there’s a
champion, there’s a mentor, and there’s a coach. I’ve tried to
have all three. To me a champion is kind of like an agent; they
know your story. And they kind of say, “Hey, you’re really good.
This person is really good.” The mentor is somebody who kind of
invested in your career, they want to see you do better, and
they’ll tell you that you lack confidence or whatever. Then a
coach helps you fix that, “OK, I do lack confidence, help me get
over that.” And mentors can come in all forms. I’ve had mentors
10 years younger than me, mentors 20 years older than me.

And feedback is critical. One of the most defining sort of
leadership lessons was I got one of those 360 reviews and at GE,
boy they, it was like a Ph.D. I mean, they interviewed 30 people.
Like, you went back to high school. I mean, it was crazy because
I was potentially on a path for a promotion. And I realized
that’s what they do. And the feedback was really mixed, and there
was some really tough feedback I got. It was basically, “Your
team, they liked working with you, but they think you leave them
out of ideas. You don’t ask for help. You’re abrupt.” Oh my gosh,
I remember just feeling devastated, because there were some nice
things, but I went right to the defects. And the HR person, who
turned out to be a nice coach, in this case, he coached me to
say, you’ve got to march in there tomorrow, to the team you work
with, and you have to say, “Thank you. You gave me feedback. I’ve
heard it. I accept it. And now I need your help. So when you see
me being abrupt, can you point that out to me?” That’s really
hard to do that, but I’m so glad that somebody coached me through
that. It was a defining moment for me.

Feloni: In your role, too, in executive
positions, you got to work with a lot of heads of companies who
have big personalities, sometimes for better or worse. There was
a point where you were at NBC and Jeff Zucker was on his way to
becoming CEO, that when there was tension at the company that was
starting to get covered in the press, what happened there?

Comstock: Yeah, well, Jeff and I, we had been
colleagues before, at NBC, and then I was brought back in, after
a time at GE, to lead digital. And it was a time of great tension
and change in the media industry. YouTube had just emerged on the
scene. I was trying to lead new digital models and Jeff was in
the running to be CEO of NBC, and people were rumored that I was
the corporate spy; I was sent in from on high, from GE, and that
I was a contender. And so he saw me as a competitive threat.

Feloni: And so this was because GE owned —

Comstock: At the time, GE owned NBC. Exactly,
yeah. And so it was a very rocky relationship. I didn’t help
myself either. I didn’t help that situation with him. There are
certain people you work with that are just competitive and that’s
just the way they are, and partly, he was that way. But also, I
could have taken the time to say, “Wait a minute. It’s not you
against me. It’s not my team against your team.”

But people would plant stuff in Page Six about me, and it really
rocked my confidence and made me paranoid. You know, you pick up
Page Six and someone says, “She’s so vicious, she’ll take out
your kidney and you don’t even know it’s gone.” Well, it’s maybe
kind of a compliment, but they didn’t mean it as a compliment,
and I didn’t take it that way.

Feloni: Not in a good way!

Comstock: And you’re like, “Who said that? Did
you say that?” So it brings out the worst of you, when you
realize that it’s your colleagues who are doing that, who are
planting these things about you. So we were all suspicious of
each other, and we brought those fears, and I think that’s one of
the points I’m trying to make, is people bring bad behavior to
work because they’re afraid.

They’re afraid they’re going to lose their job. They’re afraid
they’re going to lose face. They’re afraid to change. And
sometimes it gets really ugly, and I kind of took the bait on
that. I kind of got in it and duked it out with people, and I
should have had a bit more perspective, in hindsight.

Feloni: And so when you were at GE, another
Jeff, Jeff Immelt, when he was CEO, that was a good relationship?

Comstock: Yeah, generally, it was a good one.

Jeff Immelt GE
Comstock was part of
former GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s leadership team.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Feloni: Yeah, and so I mean, when you have
colleagues that you’re working with that have completely
different personalities, do you have to adapt your approach to
them, or do you make them adapt to you?

Comstock: I think it’s a little bit of both. You
have to stay true to who you are. I think that takes a lot of
learning, over a course of a career. Just silly things. I
remember when I first got to GE and I was leaving NBC for GE. Not
many people went from NBC to GE, but if you’re not careful,
everybody wears the same thing, and I just wasn’t going to wear
golf sweaters and try to fit in. I wasn’t a golfer, and things
like that. I am not going to golf. I just made it my thing: I’m
not going to golf! For a while, I tried to take lessons and tried
to fit in, but then I was like, “This is stupid. I’m not that
way.” It’s a simple example, but you have to pick those moments.
But you do have to adapt your style. So I felt like, at GE,
people talked over each other a lot. They were very passionate,
and everybody did talk over each other, and they didn’t listen.

Feloni: Is this part of the culture?

Comstock: It’s just part of the culture, and you
had to get your word in edgewise, and I adopted that, and I’m not
sure that was a good habit at all, where you’re interrupting
people, you’re talking over them. And so you have to check
yourself sometimes. If you’re in another situation at home and
you’re talking over your kids, you’re like, “Wait a minute.
That’s not good.”

So I think both of those happened. In my time at GE, I was in a
journey to open myself up, and I opened the company up to
external forces in the world outside. Companies tend to look
inward, and so my differentiation was to focus outside, so
hopefully, I brought that kind of style to my colleagues. Like,
“Let’s bring in people who are different. Let’s go look at
something outside that might be different.” Hopefully, that was
little bit of an adaptation I was able to bring.

Feloni: Yeah, and actually, your role was really
to kind of take this massive old company and make it faster

Comstock: It was the whole company’s leadership
team that had to do that. I mean, a 125-year-old company has to
continually change, and the world is moving faster. It was the
digitization of industry. We had to find trends early. You need
people who fight for the future in your company, and here we’re
talking about business, and too often, we get caught up in the
quarterly predictable earnings. This is our quarterly prediction,
and we’re going guarantee we’re going to make this, and that’s
hard to do when you’re thinking about the future, and you need
both of those in companies.

Feloni: How did you balance that?

Comstock: A good leadership team has to do both.
And I give Jeff Immelt a lot of credit. GE’s had a tough year,
and I think Jeff hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves for being
bold and having to have feet in both places and officiate that
long and short-term. It’s hard. And it’s so easy for a leader to
say, “Ah, you know what? My investors, they don’t want me to do
that,” And to use quarterly earnings as an excuse. That being
said, it does make it harder, because you have to protect ideas.
So that was one of the first things we did, was we created a
class of ideas that were protected. We called them “Imagination
Breakthroughs,” and what I mean by protected is, you couldn’t cut
them, just because you needed to make a quarter or your budget
for the year. You had to make sure you killed them because they
were a bad idea, not because you needed the funding to make

So companies need to do that. What I learned over the course of a
career is you need the right people. The people who like
operating a $10 billion business are not always the people who
like seeding an idea that has no revenue. So you need different
people. You need different time. You need different metrics. You
don’t know if you’re going to be profitable if you don’t even
have a customer. Why are you asking me what the profit is? I
don’t know if anyone’s gonna buy this yet. So you need different
metrics, and what companies do is we just throw too much money at
something before it’s ready.

Jumping into the unknown

Feloni: Looking at where you started to where
you ended up, how do you think that at the early part of your
career, when you were working on a marketing level, in publicity,
how did that help you on more of the bigger picture stuff,
towards the end of your career?

Comstock: Yeah, well, I think the common thread
for me has been story and storytelling. I am a storyteller at
heart, and to me, strategy is a story. Vision starts with a
story, and if you’re going to imagine it forward, which is, to
me, about having vision and being a visionary leader, it’s a good
story. The old JFK, “We’re gonna go to the moon,” and everybody
gets excited because they see it. They can actually imagine the
boot touching the dust. It’s a story.

Feloni: Was there ever any difficulties as you
were rising up the ladder of not having had the more traditional
managerial route, where it’s like, you went to business school
and then you were at a consulting firm?

Comstock: Yeah, and I felt intimidated about
that. I still feel like, “Should I have gone to business school?”
Again, given where I came from, I didn’t take many business
classes, either, as a biology major. So when I first took over as
CMO, I had to hire a lot of CMOs at the business unit, and hire
MBAs, and I did that specifically because I didn’t have that
expertise, and I couldn’t pretend I did.

When I first got the CMO role, I took 90 days. Literally, I got
Phil Kotler textbooks — Phil Kotler, a professor of marketing at
the Kellogg School — and read “The Four Ps of Marketing.” And I
had to learn those things, and I had to hire and find people who
had that expertise and say, “Teach me.” So it’s a very vulnerable
moment to say, “I don’t know this.” But clearly, I was put in the
job because they saw something else. They thought I was creative.
They thought I would take risks. So I had to also say, “I’m here
for a reason. Don’t try to be a business school person, because
you didn’t go to business school.”

Feloni: That almost sounds kind of terrifying,
to be ready to be the chief marketing officer, and you’re reading
the basics of marketing!

Comstock: Yeah, and in fact, AdAge at the time
wrote, “She’s one of the rare chief marketing officers who’s had
no marketing experience.” And they didn’t mean it in a good way.
GE hadn’t had a marketer in 20 years. Jeff Immelt had a good
vision. He knew marketing. He wanted it to be about growth and
innovation, ultimately. But most of the people in the company
thought it was the advertising department. I was already doing
ads, so they didn’t know what it could be. And so it was also
about change and innovation, and that wasn’t even clear to me in
the beginning. So frankly, it wasn’t like I was filling some
other job. They didn’t have high expectations to begin with, so
again, it’s one of my philosophies to kind of take the job no one
wants. No one really knew what marketing could be. So it was a
clean slate, in some respects.

Feloni: Yeah, and it seemed, kind of from what
you were saying, that you were very open to being transparent
about what you needed help with or didn’t know.

Comstock: Well, at points. But I want to make it
very clear, I’m not naturally that way. I had to learn to be that
way. So if you’re listening to this now, it may sound like, “Hey,
wow. She had it all together. That’s how it happened.” Not at
all. I mean, I got feedback. You need to ask for help. People
were very generous, and some people didn’t have time for me and
you find the ones who do. So you have to ask for help. You cannot
go into these situations and go, “No, I’m going to act like I
know everything,” because you’ll get called out.

Feloni: We’ve been talking a lot about how
you’re making change at a company and in your own career. But
what if someone listening, they’re not in the position of
leadership? Maybe they’re just starting out or they’re just in a
different role? How can they bring that mindset to their role?

Comstock: Well, I think the first thing I say is
just, one, give yourself permission to take a risk on something
small. So I’m big on that. You probably have more capacity and
permission than you think. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to ask
the boss about this? Is this within the scope of my
responsibility that I can make this small change?” So I think
some of that is a perceived and I think people need to ask
themselves, “Is it real or am I afraid?” And I would challenge
you, because I’ve seen so many people who tell me, “The boss
won’t let me,” “I don’t have any money,” or “Our investors won’t
let us,” if you’re a startup. And that’s not always true. Maybe
it is true, but ask yourself that. And then just test little
things. Try little things. Go back to your boss and say, “Look at
what I just did. It worked, can I have some funding to do more of

Now look, you’re always going to work for gatekeepers. I worked
for many of them. And there are always people who say no. Might
be a bad idea, may not really have the money, or they just may be
control freaks that don’t want you to have it. I believe you have
to keep going back. The first time, your idea may not be ready.
You’re not ready. So I’m a big believer in, “This no is ‘not
yet.'” Keep going back, keep going back.

I had a three-time rule with Jeff Immelt especially, and with Bob
Wright at NBC. I made sure I went back at least three times with
an idea. That takes a certain amount of confidence. But just
because someone says no, why can’t you go back again, and take
feedback? Why is it “no”? “OK, I’m going to go back and I’m going
to do my homework and I’ll come back again. You said if I can fix
this and this, OK I did.”

So those are a couple of things I would encourage people to do.
But, look, at the end of the day, you may just work for somebody
who’s not going to drive change. And you may have to say, “Is it
time for me to look for another job? Do I need to adapt my style
in a different way?” Or I just may need a different outlet to
express myself that I can’t get and I’m going to pick up some
activity on the weekend. Maybe I’m going to do a freelance
assignment on the weekends to give me that skill in a way my
company won’t.

Feloni: And how did you know it was time to
leave GE?

Comstock: Well, the decision was made for me, so
that’s a pretty good one! John Flannery comes in, he wants a new
team. So the old team is gone.

Feloni: Yeah, so you left when Immelt left.

Comstock: Yeah. Pretty soon after Jeff left in
June, and I left in December. And John wanted a new team in, and
that’s what happens. I mean, that’s part of change. We have this
magical thinking that you can control your exit. I think I
thought that. I was at GE a long time — I probably stayed too
long. That being said, I loved working there. I feel like I
contributed a lot and I got developed a lot. So I had a lot of
reason, there were always new challenges. And that’s one of the
reasons I stayed there as long as I did. I loved that company.

imagine it forward
Comstock’s book, cowritten with author Tahl Raz, came
out this year.


Feloni: What do you mean by that you probably stayed too long?

Comstock: Well, I think, you know, you always
have to ask yourself, “Is it time for another team to take the
reins?” I kind of came to the end of the road of what I was doing
at GE. There wasn’t the next necessary obvious thing. I wasn’t
going to be the CEO of the company. And I think sometimes we have
to be honest with ourselves. Have I done as much as I can? And is
it time to go? So I’m not sure I asked that enough.

Feloni: You’re on the board of Nike now, and
that’s a company that has been in the news a lot lately because
of changes in its branding and its approach, especially with the
whole Colin Kaepernick ad campaign. How do you see that? What was
the discussion around there of how Nike wants to represent

Comstock: Yeah, well I mean Nike’s had this
amazing tagline and campaign in “Just Do It” for 30 years, and
their strategy is to reinvigorate “Just Do It” around mission and
the sort of passion around sports and sports for progress and
social progress. And so they were telling athletes’ stories. And
they know their consumers really well. They know their consumers
think it’s important that their athletes and that a brand stands
for something. I think we’re in a time of brand courage. And I
think anyone who might be listening who’s in a brand kind of
role, it means sometimes you have to take uncomfortable
positions. It happened to me when we, in GE, when we were doing
“Ecomagination.” Not everybody liked that GE was standing out for
clean energy.

Feloni: What’s Ecomagination?

Comstock: It was our clean-energy effort back in
the early 2000s, and it was uncomfortable. Some of our customers
thought we were getting ahead of them. They didn’t like that we
were doing that, but we saw that as important for our customers
and the future. So that’s what brands have to do. And I think
Nike showed real brand courage. It means not everybody’s going to
agree with it. You have to recognize the politics and you have to
realize the potential backlash. I keep talking about the
consumer, but I think more and more employees and companies say,
“I want you to stand for something.” They’re looking for
leadership in the world. And unfortunately, or thankfully, for
brands, that’s a role they’ve been asked to play in the world
these days.

Embracing ambiguity

Feloni: As we’ve kind of looked at the broad
span of your career, is there a moment that you could point to
where it was maybe the biggest challenge that you faced?

Comstock: I think that time I was at NBC where
it was just very personally challenging. It was disruptive
change, everybody was afraid of YouTube coming and what’s going
to happen. People just were not well behaved. I think that was
probably the most challenging part of my career that I’ve had.
And, look, those early years of my career, I want to reinforce
it, because I know that the people who are listening to this are
just filled with uncertainty and wondering, “Am I doing the right
thing?”And yet, I had made this path and I’ve got to make it work
and you just do your best you can. And it’s not like I had this
well-oiled plan, and I want to make sure people know it’s filled
with uncertainty and challenge. And every day you’re like, “Am I
doing the right thing?”

Feloni: So in some ways that’s reassuring if it
seems like someone, their grand plan that they had isn’t panning
out exactly how they thought it.

Comstock: You can start over again. I always
have this, “What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?”
You kind of get yourself ready. “What’s the best thing that could
happen?” Challenge yourself a little bit to think of, “What
happened if I lost my job tomorrow? What would happen?” OK, I’d
be horrified, I’d be sad, but I’d figure it out, right? What are
some things I want to do? So those are good mental-agility tricks
and that some would want to try to advocate for.

Feloni: And how do you personally define

Comstock: It’s changed over the years. I think,
for me, success is being part of a team that just does stuff
that, individually, we couldn’t do on our own, and stuff that we
just create this momentum like we’re going to do our best work
ever. To be part of teams that did that, I feel, is incredible

Feloni: So how are you defining success for
yourself now, when you’re not working with a larger team?

Comstock: Yeah, I mean, success is figuring it
out. To me, I’m huge on big picture for setting the vision and
then break it into small pieces. But also, allow yourself the
space to just wallow in ambiguity. Just wallow in it. I talked a
lot, when I was at GE, in sort of change, and what you we’re
talking, the short term and the long term. Get used to living in
the in-between. The old’s going away, and the new’s coming up.
And, this last year, I’ve had to eat those words. Get used to
living in the in-between. The old job went away, I don’t have a
title anymore. The new — I’m not sure what it is. I’ve had a
book, so that’s been good for me to say I’m an author!

But I don’t know what’s next. And you have to get comfortable
with, “That’s OK.” I’ll meet people, or I’ll run into people I
know, and they’ll go like, “What’s next? What are you going to
do,” and I’m, like, “I don’t know.” They’re like, “Come on. You
just don’t want to tell me, right?” Like I have some stuff
planned. But I really don’t know, and I’m trying to make myself
be comfortable with not knowing. Taking my own advice.

Feloni: So the way that your understanding of
success changed is kind of embracing that ambiguity?

Comstock: I’ve always said, in work, I was
really good at embracing business ambiguity. But for myself? I
think that’s what I’m saying to people right now. Whether you’re
20 or 40 or 60, there are times in your life when you’ve got to
kind of let yourself wallow in the ambiguity. Get out and kind of
discover new things. Put yourself in uncomfortable positions,
because you’re going find out something about yourself and an
opportunity that might not have existed. So that’s what I think
it’s about.

Feloni: Well, thank you so much, Beth.

Comstock: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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