Power Players

How working with a career coach helped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set goals and succeed

MANDEL NGAN | AFP | Getty Images

As the youngest woman to ever be elected to Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's had a memorable entrance into politics. And Ocasio-Cortez worked with a career coach before running for office, New York Magazine reports.

A representative for Ocasio-Cortez confirmed to CNBC Make It that she worked with Megan Hellerer, a 35-year-old career coach and former Google employee.

Hellerer told New York Magazine that she first connected with Ocasio-Cortez at one of Hellerer's workshops in 2016. Hellerer's specialty is working with women who identify as "underfulfilled overachievers," according to her website, and she often counsels CEOs and founders.

Hellerer said she helped Ocasio-Cortez figure out what her direction was in life around the time she was deciding to run for Congress. Prior to politics, Ocasio-Cortez graduated from Boston University and worked as a bartender.

In a testimonial that Hellerer posted on Instagram in April 2019, Ocasio-Cortez wrote that her career coach's "guidance, help, and support was pivotal, in a time when I felt very lost."

"You helped me reframe a lot of my thinking and were part of a series of events that culminated in the big adventure of a Congressional run … and win!" Ocasio-Cortez wrote. "I opened a door I didn't even know existed."

Reframing is a strategy that anyone can use when working to a goal. Hellerer told New York Magazine that she often used the metaphor of certain career moments bringing Ocasio-Cortez "warmer" or closer to a goal and "colder" or further from it. (For example, volunteering for Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign was "warmer.") This strategy can help make broader goals feel more manageable, and Hellerer calls it "directional versus destinational thinking," she said.

Research suggests that this type of tactic works: A 2017 study from Stanford Graduate School of Business found that when you're first setting out to accomplish something, it's more effective to think of your smaller, achievable "sub-goals" before you broaden your horizon and shift to your larger one.

Sometimes, even small steps require being brave, Hellerer said.

"Even when [Ocasio-Cortez] decided to run for Congress, she wasn't like, 'I'm going to win!'" Hellerer told New York. "And that's where the courage comes in. If she was like, 'I'm only taking a next step if I'm positive that this is going to be my career for the rest of my life' — you don't run for Congress in those circumstances, against [Joe] Crowley," Ocasio-Cortez's predecessor who had been a U.S. Representative for two decades.

Many people admire Ocasio-Cortez's bravery, which is a trait she referred to as a "moonshot" in an interview with NowThis in March 2019

"Brave does mean you may fail," Ocasio-Cortez told NowThis. "It's not just like, 'oh, I'm going to do this thing that's probably going to succeed. I'm going to do something with a 70% chance of success.' No, brave means you're going to go in with a 2% chance of success."

While Hellerer was working with Ocasio-Cortez, she recalled that AOC was also grappling with her "Saturn return," a supposed astrological phenomenon that occurs between ages 27 and 30. Saturn is often associated with discipline and success in astrology. When the planet completes its orbit around the sun, it's believed to be a time of professional reckoning and growth. Ocasio-Cortez was elected in June 2018 at 28, and turned 30 in October 2019.

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