“Sometimes, you need to not plan your future down to the smallest detail.”
This is not the tip most people expect to hear. But perhaps it’s the one we need to hear most right now.
In a world where career paths are determined as early as ninth grade and every block of your day scheduled, leaving a little room for possibility can do wonders.
Take it from Lora Miller, a Product Manager for Cummins’ On Highway division for Asia Pacific, whose secret to success in life (and her career) has been staying open to possibilities.
This adaptability – the ability to roll with life’s punches and take advantage of all available opportunities – is perhaps the most underrated skill in people’s arsenals.
Here’s what you can learn from Lora.
Don’t be afraid to change career paths.
Long before she became a Product Manager in one of Cummins’ top divisions, Lora started from the lower ranks.
“I originally started as a Secretary for the sales team over at Cummins Perth. I did that for several years, but I would help the Melbourne IT team with any hardware updates that were needed there.”
Seeing how well she worked with their teams, she decided to switch departments and pursue a different path.
“I built a relationship with the IT team, and when a desktop support role came up, I applied and got it. They relocated me across to Melbourne, and I worked with the helpdesk. From there, I managed the helpdesk and then moved on to doing data center/server support.”
But Lora didn’t stop there.
“After several years, I moved into a business IT role and became a Project Manager and did so for about 15 years.”
And after more than a decade, she made another move.
“An opportunity then came up for a secondment role in our ‘On Highway’ team to do Strategy and Planning, which was a marketing-based role. Once my 12-month secondment was over, I was able to join the team full-time as an Account Manager, which I did for about 18 months before moving into Product Management as my current full-time role.”
Now, 27 years since she started working at Cummins, Lora continues to grow and take on larger responsibilities for the company.
Her biggest lesson?
“Try not to pigeonhole your talents and skills. Lots of roles require transferrable skill sets.”
Ask for help and support.
We can often be so determined to achieve something or get somewhere by ourselves that we forget to ask for help.
But the right support can take you further and get you there faster. Lora considers herself lucky to have found such a supportive company in Cummins, which has always backed her personal and professional endeavors.
“I have been fortunate in being able to participate in a lot of training and personal development without any hesitation from Cummins.”
Whether it’s allowing Lora to allocate time to earn a postgraduate degree or assisting her relocation to another state, Cummins has always helped Lora in her journey.
She also feels grateful that Cummins has been proactive in improving gender diversity not only in the company but in the general automotive industry.
“Our team is growing with more participation of women. When I started, the only women were myself and my intern. But there are now six women in our team. There also seems to be more representation at industry advocacy groups.”
With flexible working arrangements, an inclusive and anti-discriminatory culture, and established career development programs, Cummins is leading the way for women working in the automotive industry.
Lora also had mentors and colleagues who provided valuable guidance at key moments in her life.
Whether it was acclimating to a new product division she knew little about or facing a life-changing medical diagnosis that completely changed her life, Lora always had people she could count on.
“My younger self would have her mind blown if she saw what I do now, and she probably wouldn’t believe me. Fortunately, I can say to her that I have had a great support system who believed in me to get to where I am today.”
Continue to learn and expand your skill set.
Whether you’re changing career paths or pursuing your current career arc, it pays to continue expanding your knowledge and skills.
For Lora, learning new things is second nature.
Despite entering a technical product division with limited knowledge, she made every effort to learn everything she could about her areas of responsibility and delivered.
“Not having the technical background to support our product is perhaps the most challenging part of my job. There’s a very steep learning curve.”
“As I had zero technical background in our product nor any experience using it, I signed myself up to get my Heavy Rigid Truck license (which I got), with complete support from the team and my manager. My next challenge is to get my Heavy Combination and master the art of the double clutch so I can drive a manual truck. My endgame is to be able to field-test trucks. I also want to pass my manual license to prove myself.”
Throughout various points in her career, Lora also made sure to continue learning. This drove her to earn a postgraduate degree in Project Management, become a certified Green Belt in the Six Sigma method, and be a Luma-certified practitioner in Human Centered Design.
Not to mention she’s a member of a dragon boat paddling team and likes to sew quilts in her free time.
As Lora has shown, if your life or career takes you in new or unexpected directions, make sure you also learn new things there.
Roll with life’s punches.
Perhaps the biggest change in Lora’s life, however, was personal.
In 2021, Lora was diagnosed with cancer. And like it would do to anyone, it took the wind out of her sails. But it made her realize a valuable lesson.
“Sometimes you need to not plan your future down to the smallest detail – there’s always something that can either lift you into something spectacular or test you with a massive challenge like a cancer diagnosis.”
Since then, Lora has kept her head high and stayed determined to not let it derail her life.
One of Lora’s closest friends and mentors (who recently faced his own medical ordeal and passed away last year) told her:
“The first thing he told me was that if I was having a bad day or wanted to yell at someone, I could blame the chemo and get away with it. But seriously, he made me focus on my health first, as this battle was going to be much harder than I could have experienced.”
She credits her family and team for keeping her resilient.
“I have such tremendous support from my team. Even to this day, when I still have medical appointments and some lingering side effects, they completely get it.”
Given how well she’s taken every change and challenge in life, we won’t be surprised to see Lora smiling and learning new things wherever it takes her.