Stretching your body is crucial to staying flexible and healthy… and stretching your brain and heart to take on new challenges is the key to creating a fulfilling career. Crystal Cook, General Manager of the Fillmore Street Athleta store in San Francisco, is about to celebrate 15 years of stretching her way to new opportunities with Gap Inc. So with all of the experiences she’s had along the way top of mind, she shared her insights about how making moves that might feel less than comfortable can get you to a career you love.
Stretch 1: Let Your Heart Lead the Way
Listen to your heart, even when it’s telling you to take a different path than you’d planned. “I was hired as a seasonal sales associate at the Gap in 2003, when I was in college at the University of North Texas. I was shy, and left the group interview thinking ‘they’ll never hire me.’ They did, and I ended up working part-time all the way through college. My plan was to be a teacher after graduation… but I was surprised by how much I loved my Gap job, especially the visual merchandising piece of it. I had told myself that retail was just temporary, but I found a passion that I didn’t know I had. After I graduated, I chose to stay with retail, and 15 years later I have a career I could have never imagined.”
Stretch 2: Never Settle
Resist the urge to settle in. “Once I committed to my job at Gap, I moved across the Dallas–Fort Worth area a few times for promotions, but then I got the chance to take what felt like a big leap: moving to Houston to be the General Manager of Merchandising for our flagship location in the Galleria. All my family and friends were in North Texas, so it was a little scary to move five hours south. But I knew I wanted and needed more of a challenge. And I knew I didn’t want to stay in the same place forever. During my year and a half in Houston, I realized that I wanted to expand my focus beyond merchandising to be a General Manager and have a whole store under my wing. Taking that job helped me realize that, and eventually I found my way back to Dallas–Fort Worth as a General Manager.”
Stretch 3: Focus on What You’re Passionate About
Set your sights on what sparks your passion. “Every time I went to visit my grandmother, she’d hand me the Athleta catalog with pages dogeared to mark products she thought I’d like. Looking through it and seeing strong, confident women in those amazing clothes really inspired me. I’ll never forget when Gap Inc. bought Athleta in 2008: I looked at the news on the portal screen in my store and said, ‘I will work for that brand.’ I made it known to my boss and my mentors how passionate I was about Athleta. Fast-forward to early 2016, when there was a brand new Athleta store opening in the DFW area. The timing was perfect and I was able to make the move to Athleta GM because I had been vocal about that career goal. It would have never happened if I hadn’t made it known what I was passionate about.”
Stretch 4: Go Find the New
Be willing to explore entirely new territory. “About a year and a half after I joined Athleta, I got the opportunity to do a bona fide stretch project: three months as acting GM of the Broadway Plaza store in Walnut Creek, California. I knew that in order for me to keep growing, I would have to take risks and not be afraid of something new, so I said yes. And then the stretch project stretched even more, into an acting area manager role! It was an amazing experience. I finished that project, went back to Texas, and barely three months later my small stretch turned into a huge stretch with the offer to return to California full-time. I had a lot of conversations with my Texas family and friends and with my personal ‘board of directors’ — mentors and friends from Gap, Old Navy and Athleta. Everyone said, ‘this is the right move for you,’ so I said yes! I moved here at the end of April, and it’s about to get real: I’m getting a California driver’s license.”
Stretch 5: Find Your Fears and Use Them as Motivation
Acknowledge what’s intimidating, and do it anyway. “In Texas, I had minimal exposure to anyone from Gap Inc. headquarters. I’m fully aware that here in the Bay Area, every store is at HQ’s back door. But that’s not something to fear — it’s an opportunity to take advantage of! If you truly want to grow, this is the place that gives you the opportunity to meet people, build relationships and open up new paths. Moving here was the best decision I could have ever made.”
Are you looking to be part of a company that gives you opportunities to stretch, grow and see just how far you can go? Click here to check out open jobs at Gap Inc. locations all over the country — and follow us on LinkedIn for news and more opportunities.