How to Take the Leap Toward Something New

Change is a sometimes scary and uncertain idea that many, if not all, of us have had to come face-to-face with in some way this year. For some, change came in the form of a career shift, whether that’s transitioning to working from home or in a new environment to maybe having to look for an entirely new job. 4word COO and former Nike executive Pam Johnson has experienced many changes over her career journey and has learned the best response to have when faced with something new.

What has your career journey looked like?

After graduating with a degree in Finance and a minor in Computer Science from Oregon State University, I packed my bags and moved 600 miles south to Silicon Valley, jobless, alone, but with high hopes to contribute to society and make it on my own. That adventure taught me that with God, faith, perseverance and a sense of discovery, all things are possible. 

After six years at United Technologies, a Fortune 50 company in the Bay Area, I headed back home to Oregon, eventually landing at a fast-growing local sports and fitness company: Nike! For a kid from a sports-crazy family, it was a dream come true. My career journey at Nike spanned 24 years where I was blessed to work under some of the most talented and innovative leaders who continually encouraged my sense of discovery and inspired me to never stop leading and learning! I held Director roles in Finance, Strategic Planning, Retail, North America and Global Sales. For the last 12 years of my Nike career, I held the role of North America, then Global Strategic Account Business Director for Nike’s largest customer, Foot Locker, Inc., servicing the account across the US, Europe, and Australia. In that role I learned the importance of customer relationship management and what it meant to be part of an “extra effort” team that was focused on mutual growth, respect, and leadership excellence. At Nike, I was fortunate to meet leaders that encouraged us to be inquisitive, listen and learn, be a sponge, and to be proactive in engaging with teams across the company to understand the way the organization functions as a whole. To not only work in the business, but to acquire enough knowledge and understanding to work on the business, and to impart positive and impactful leadership practices and principles always.

In 2019, after leaving Nike and moving to Dallas, Texas, to be closer to family, Diane Paddison, 4word Founder and Executive Director, approached me about an opportunity to expand my current Board position to take on the role of COO with 4word. I continue to be blessed to serve 4word in this capacity and find tremendous joy and inspiration experiencing women in the workplace elevating other women in all aspects of life! We are encouraged by each of you as we hear your stories of connection, leadership, bold decision-making, friendship and fellowship.

At each of your previous jobs, when did you know that it was time to start transitioning out?

That is a great question, particularly in the case where the transition is not required due to life changes or changes that are out of your control. At one time or another, most of us have most likely felt the calling to step outside our comfort zone, to reach toward something that moves us in a significant way. It’s the optional moves—the ones that launch us into a new career, a new calling, a new industry, or to a new level we never thought possible—that require the “extra effort” decisions. When facing a move like that, I would diligently call out to God, wear out my knees out in prayer, and seek advice from my most trusted advisors and mentors. But at the end of the day, the decision was ultimately up to me (and God) to take the leap of faith!

A mentor once told me that a significant outcome of your current role should be to prepare you for your next role. They said that it was important to consider all of the hard work that got you to where you are now, and to make sure that you are maximizing all you can learn and accomplish so you are ready for your next role! I love those words of wisdom because it also speaks to the importance of why God has you where you are today!

What were some fears or reservations you had during those moments of transition? 

When I look back upon my career, the roles that caused the greatest anxiety were ultimately the ones that resulted in the greatest growth! They were a direct result of God stretching me beyond what I thought I was capable of, yet through Him was possible. Ephesians 3:20 says “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”. As Christians God gives us power to keep going, to be confident, to know that he is at work perfecting us!

My first role at Nike was a stretch, a GIANT stretch. I was young, in a new industry that I knew nothing about, leading a finance team of a business ten times the size of my prior role, and I was the only female on a senior leadership team of seasoned VP’s and Sr. Director’s, managing people that I was convinced the day I was arrived thought, “Who hired her?” Fear and reservation are kind words for the anxiety I felt in those early days, but God showed up. He showed up in leaders who became mentors, and co-workers, and family, and scriptures that kept me grounded in knowing that “through God, all things are possible.” That role catapulted me into an incredible career of leadership at Nike. I am grateful in these days to anticipate these same feelings in young women in the workforce and to provide words of encouragement as they move throughout their career with confidence.

What did you learn from each “next step” you’ve taken?

During each stage of my career, I gained more confidence and more understanding that change is inevitable, is constant, is about taking a calculated risk, is a big responsibility, takes practice and is GOOD! You meet new people, gain new perspectives, widen your aperture of knowledge and wisdom, and contribute and lead at a deeper and broader level. There is a great business fable called Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson that talks about how we react to change! For most of my career I’ve also reflected on an adaptation of that book by my first manager at Nike called 10 Thoughts on Change.

What advice would you give to someone about to take a big “next step” in their career?

In Craig Groechel’s sermon, “The Good Work,” he tells the story of Nehemiah, who had a deep passion to rebuild Jerusalem after being destroyed by the Babylonians. Nehemiah was an ordinary servant to the king, a cupbearer having no credentials, but he had a passion to take a next step—a BIG next step—that was ordained by God!

If you have a passion to take a next step, my advice is to do what Nehemiah did:

  1. Seek God faithfully! Nothing is too big for Him! He can do immeasurably more than we can imagine.
  2. Define your vision (or next step) with clarity! It will allow others to guide, direct, assist and influence you quickly and efficiently.
  3. Make plans carefully. Do the research. Ask questions. Research the company and the culture. Over prepare. Preparation can mean the difference between winning and losing.
  4. Move forward passionately!

In his book, My Personal Best, John Wooden, the greatest coach in the history of college basketball, says, “Each day of the journey is precious. We must strive to make it a masterpiece.”

Don’t be afraid of change. Draw heavily on your faith, friends, mentors, and your network, and at the end of the day, GO and enjoy the journey and the ride!

Pam Johnson brings a twenty-four-year career at Nike, Inc. to 4word, most recently serving as Global Strategic Account Business Director on the Foot Locker, Inc. sales team. Her strong finance, strategic planning, and operational leadership with best in class global sales experience will be a tremendous benefit to our organization. Prior to Nike, Pam held various Financial Management positions with Mentor Graphics, US Bank, and United Technologies.