The CEO of OpenTable says there's no such thing as a 'wrong turn' in your career: 'You really don't have to stress out'

Debby Soo, CEO of OpenTable
Source: Open Table

At some point, you might find yourself agonizing over an important career decision. Am I taking the wrong job, or joining the wrong company? Will all of my life plans fall apart if I choose incorrectly?

Debby Soo, CEO of restaurant reservation service OpenTable, can relate.

"I had a lot of anxiety and stress regarding what my path would be," Soo, 41, tells CNBC Make It. "I was second-guessing my decisions at every inflection point of my career."

It's worked out for her: Soo became OpenTable's CEO in 2020 after spending more than a decade at travel search company Kayak. Both companies are part of Booking Holdings' vast portfolio of travel services. And Soo says she never would have even made it to Kayak if not for an early career job she initially thought she'd regret.

In 2007, when Soo was in her mid-20s, she joined Google's strategic partnership team to work on the tech giant's shopping feature. Upon her arrival, her manager immediately told her she'd instead work on Google Maps, a project she saw as "quite mundane, and not sexy by any means."

Over the ensuing months, Soo says she found herself questioning her decision to join Google in the first place. Yet ultimately, the experience ended up being a "home run," she says: She learned how to do business development, negotiate a contract and work with developers to build a product that is used by more than a billion people each month.

Those skills helped Soo eventually land her role at OpenTable, she adds.

Her takeaway: Whether you enjoy or hate your job, you'll undeniably learn from it. What feels like a bad decision at first could put you on a fruitful career path you never anticipated.

"I didn't have to spend so much time stressing out," Soo says. "I realized that there are no wrong turns in your career. All your experiences — the bad, the good, the mundane — are just additive to that final career destination that ends up being right for you, wherever that is."

Here are her top three tips for using your job as a learning experience, whether you're a fresh college graduate or 20 years into the workforce: 

Work hard in any position

If you don't like your job, you might not want to work particularly hard at it. But doing your job well helps get you to your next opportunity, Soo says: You'll refine your skills, prove you're worthy of a promotion or gain the experience necessary for another job you might prefer.

That's true even if you're stuck in an industry you don't enjoy, or never intended to be in. Skills like time management, relationship building and teamwork are applicable to almost every job.

"Do the work, do the homework, be prepared, even if it's a boring and tedious task or position," Soo says. "If you put in the effort, something will come to fruition eventually."

Be open-minded

Even if you dislike your position right off the bat, remember that there's always something to learn from the experience, Soo says.

In a best-case scenario, you'll grow to love the work you initially disliked, or you'll pick up new skills that'll be applicable to your next job. In a worst-case scenario, you'll learn about what kind of work you don't ever want to do again, or how to deal with difficult people in the workplace.

"Just keep an open mind to what's in front of you," Soo says.

Don't stress too much

You might avoid taking a new opportunity because it doesn't seem to get you any closer to your dream job. That's not the right way to think about it, Soo says.

Careers aren't direct, straight lines to your ideal position, she explains: There will always be "turns and twists," and the further down the career path you go, the more your definition of an ideal dream job might change for the better.

"Your life or your career won't come to an end just because of one decision about which job to take," she says. "That hasn't been my experience, and I'm sure that won't be what other people experience ... You really don't have to stress out too much."

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