After over a decade inside some of Australia’s largest companies (including CommBank, Macquarie Bank and Zurich Financial Services) I recently jumped into self-employment which prompted some nostalgic reflections on my biggest learnings along the way. If I could write this to my fresh faced, straight out of school, 18 year old self this is what I would want her to know…
1. Do things that scare the sh*t out of you
If I think about the opportunities that gave me the greatest boost in my career they were not the ones that were easy or simple… they were the ones that completely took me well and truly outside of my comfort zone. The ones that give you butterflies and cold sweats and have you wishing for an emotional support animal. I remember when I was about 25 I was asked to MC the first day of the largest Financial Adviser conference in Australia, 800 delegates! I was truly terrified, there was a little voice inside that tried to convince me there was no way I would be able to do it. But then, I decided to ignore that voice, I found my big girl pants, spent hours in front of the mirror practicing and the next thing you know I was getting ready for sound check. This was a pivotal moment for me in my career. Not only was it a huge success, I built a strong brand for myself (more on that later) and led me to a role that saw me presenting to Financial advisers at conferences in Australia and all over the world. How often are you pushing yourself further than you feel comfortable with? When was the last time you did something that really scared you? If the answer is no idea, its time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You got this!
‘Great things never came from comfort zones’
2. Say Yes
If you are presented with an opportunity, it might be a new role, new project, new community initiative – say yes! Often I find, particularly women, don’t take the next role or project unless they feel they satisfy 100% of the criteria. Saying yes will mean you learn faster, build influential networks and further opportunities.
When I was 18 working for CBA and studying at Uni there was an email sent around looking for someone to help out with keeping on top of birthdays and team events. Bored answering calls all day (despite my colleagues warning me it would be a tremendous amount of work with no additional pay) I said ‘yes’. Flash forward 6 months and I had met every Executive on my floor, spent time working with them on their team events, making sure they celebrated team milestones and organised our first floor wide ‘International food day’ (did I mention I love food?). The culture of these teams had changed dramatically during this period, productivity had increased and absenteeism reduced. By all measurements, my initial ‘fluffy’ project had remarkable knock-on effects and management took notice. By putting my hand up and going outside my job description I was ‘lucky’ enough to meet a man who offered me my next role.
3. Never burn bridges
It’s fair to say you aren’t going to like every single person you work with. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and sometimes in business this can create friction. Some people think it’s a wonderful idea to let them know how you felt as you ride off into the sunset to your next opportunity… DON’T! Never, ever, ever do this… I have watched so many people ruin future opportunities by thinking this is a good idea. The world is small and you just never know who you will be working with or have mutual connections with. Write it on paper and burn it if you have to, its cathartic… I hear.
4. Lean in and out
I read Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ in one sitting on a flight home from a holiday overseas. I loved it, it appealed so much to me. There is so much to be said for leaning in but there is also a lot to be said for ‘leaning out’. If something doesn’t feel right, if you are not in an organisation that you feel passionately connected to or if you have a leadership team that doesn’t support your progression… get out. In today’s corporate world some leaders literally expect you to be at their beck and call 24/7. I completely didn’t listen to my body when I was under the pump and it led to total and utter burnout. Luckily, I had an amazing boss who supported me to get better, not all bosses are like that. Listen to your body and make sure you are doing those basic things it takes to survive – sleep, eat well and move (I still have to remind myself of this one!).
5. You are a brand
Finally, you are a brand. Your personal brand should be treated like an ongoing, never ending, no deadline, project. How people perceive you has a huge impact on your career progression opportunities. I have seen some amazingly bad things happen to people when they don’t actually consider their brand. Here are some of my top tips (based on years of on-watching): don’t get white girl wasted at ANY work events, ever! Say good morning to people in your company you don’t know, its amazing how many people will be genuinely surprised and then strike up a relationship. Fashion passes, style remains – always dress for the job you want to have. Lastly, make connections outside your company – go to other industry events to build your network. My network is an asset that I regularly call on for guidance, support and insights!