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Before she joined Google in 2014 to work as head of the company's secretive wearables division, Ivy Ross worked at companies as varied as the toy giant Mattel and the clothing conglomerate Gap Inc.
And before that, Ross was a jewelry designer whose work was placed in the permanent collections of some of the world's foremost museums.
It was her unorthodox path, though, that has taught her fundamental truths about setting your career path, she told new graduates in a commencement address at the Fashion Institute of Technology on Thursday. We spoke with her about her speech's main points after she gave it.
Ross explained that her résumé may look eclectic, but the thread running through it is that each job she took allowed her to be true to her identity as a creator and to simultaneously offer and extract value.
Before taking a new job, she asked herself two questions: "What am I going to learn?" and "Are they going to use me for what I do best?"
These two questions allow anyone to avoid what Ross considers to be the traps of five-year plans, which she believes are especially troublesome for 20-somethings beginning their careers.
After she achieved an unexpected level of success with her jewelry in her 20s, she realized that the joy that comes with your ego's satisfaction is fleeting and that "there isn't an end game," she said. "It's about the journey, and once you understand that, then it's about creating that journey."
Five years ago, Ross said, she never could have predicted that she would be heading up the secret Project Aura at Google, but her two questions have allowed her to be both flexible and true to herself.
"I think the ideal career path idea will not get you to the right place," she said. "The idea of tapping into who you are, the essence, will."