How to Navigate a Nontraditional Career Path
Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy is one of the top women in her field—and you might be surprised by how she got to where she is today. From dashed dreams of seeing the world as a flight attendant to taking a position at the helm of a fleet of mega-sized cruise ships, Duffy has taken a winding course in her work life. And one of her early role models? Her Girl Scout troop leader.
“I was very inspired by her,” says Duffy, who comes from a Girl Scout family. (Her mother was a cookie chair and her sister was a Girl Scout Brownie.)
“She had it all together. Everyone listened to her and respected her.”
Today, Duffy is listened to and respected by those in her company and the travel industry at large. Read on for her advice to women who want to follow in her footsteps.
Remember you don’t have to know exactly where you want to end up when you start out.
Duffy initially wanted to be in the airline industry, but she
learned she wasn’t tall enough to be a flight attendant. (Fortunately
for women with similar dreams today, height restrictions have been
loosened and weight restrictions have been dropped altogether.) So she
decided to take a job as a travel agent and worked her way up there
instead. “That’s not the normal path to [becoming] head of a cruise
line,” she laughs.
Make lateral moves when necessary.
“A career ladder doesn’t always just go up,” says Duffy. Keep in
mind that sometimes you have to take a parallel position in a
different field in order to get to where you want down the road.
“I was the CEO of a travel agency, and our business went through
tough times during the financial crises,” recalls Duffy, mentioning
that when the stock market crashed in 2008, many companies stopped
holding conferences, retreats, and off-site meetings. “I became very
active in lobbying. I responded to a comment
President Obama made about [how executives should not be] taking
trips to Vegas [during a financial crisis], and I was able to turn the
story around. The president then came out and supported the travel
industry, which employs a large number of Americans and had been hurt
by the economy already.”
Don’t forget that challenges can bring opportunities.
“In times of crisis, people may be willing to [confront] things they
should have [confronted] before,” says Duffy, referring to the public
perception that corporate meetings are a luxury for executives and not
the foundation of the entire business travel industry. She says that
thanks to her lobbying, she was recruited by a trade association—the
Cruise Line Industry Association—which is how she got into
Be willing to stand up and tell your story.
“[Some] women think if they keep their heads down and word hard, the
work speaks for itself,” she says. “But being under the radar is not a
sustainable strategy. You have to be willing to educate others on what
you have done—to tell the story
of your contributions.”