role she’d played in keeping herself where she was. Like many women, she’d always taken the just-work-hard approach, attending to what needed to be done that day, that week, or that month. She says, “I knew I wanted to produce, but I always figured that when the time was right, it would happen. That retreat made clear that my approach wasn’t working. I needed a different plan.”
As she considered how to take action, Serena realized her first task had to be letting people at the network know she was ready for a challenge. But the thought of doing so stirred up strong feelings that gave her a clue to the fears that had held her back. “Just the idea of telling my boss I wanted his support in becoming a producer basically filled me with dread. I was afraid he’d see me as disloyal for leaving him in the lurch. I was afraid he’d think I’d just been using my position with him as a stepping-stone. As if standing on the same stone for eleven years wasn’t enough .
Some of Serena’s resistance had to do with family. She knew her parents would never understand her wanting to move higher, not only because they idolized her boss but because they came from a culture in which anyone who managed to land a decent job hung on to it forever. “In Egypt, you were lucky to have any job, so you proved yourself worthy by being fanatically loyal. If you weren’t, you were seen as arrogant and irresponsible to your family.”
Once Serena understood that loyalty had been the chief factor in keeping her trapped, she was able to approach her boss about her desire to move ahead. He was immediately cooperative, and within months she was producing a series of documentaries in New York. “I was so worried he’d think I was disloyal,” she reflects. “But most jobs are stepping-stones on the way to something else. And I’ve come to realize there’s no shame in using where you are to position yourself for what you want next. Of course he understood that. How could he not? That’s what he did, or he wouldn’t have gotten to where he was.