Nissan executive’s advice for those she mentors

Wealth


Sonia Rief, vice president at Nissan North America, had a passion for engineering since high school. As a self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie,” Rief would build and race cars in college at North Carolina State University, as she told CNBC Make It.

Her strong interest in car mechanics would lead her to break into a notably male-dominated industry, and after graduation, she landed her first job as a durability engineer at General Motors.

Nowadays, Rief works for Nissan, and has for 16 years. There, in addition to leading vehicle connected services and program management, she has become an “unofficial life coach” for many women at the company.

As a mentor to many, Rief says her most significant piece of advice is simple, and especially relevant to new graduates across the country: “Don’t decide now.”

So what does that mean?

According to Rief, “so many people, especially women” feel pressure to decide what their 10-year plan will be.

“I guess I shouldn’t insult [human resources departments], but there’s a lot of HR pressure to have this career map and plan of where you’re going to be and where you’re going to go,” Rief told CNBC Make It. “The reality is, if I tried to imagine, 10 years ago, being here and what my life would look like, I think I would have been afraid.”

Sonia Rief racing at NC State University

Courtesy of Sonia Rief

She says there are many logistics that could easily overwhelm anyone trying to plan so far in advance, especially when the future is so uncertain as it is now.

“You just imagine, ‘How would that work?’ … And ‘Could I manage a family?’ The reality is, it comes together over time,” Rief said. “If we try to make decisions today about things that are so far away, it’s not a good way.”

When approached with these worries, Rief says her response is the same, encouraging those she mentors to focus on the present day.

“I really try to keep people focused on: Are you happy in what you’re doing today?” Are you living the life you want today?”

She adds, “you’re not the person you’ll be in 10 years. If you try to make decisions for the person you’ll be, even three years from now, you’re not gonna make the right decision. Live more in the moment.”

Rief isn’t alone in her thinking – Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has given similar advice.

“I tell people, don’t over-plan your life,” Khosrowshahi said at the Economic Club in New York in December 2019. “I see people, young people, make wrong decisions all the time because they have a picture in terms of where their career’s gonna be.”

Khosrowshahi says having an unwavering plan for the future is a mistake.

“I see people make mistakes all the time because they’re over-planning,” he said. “And when you over-plan in an increasingly volatile world, you stop looking for opportunities.

“I was not looking for this Uber opportunity, and I’m so glad that it came to me, and I’m so glad that I was open to it.”

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