“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living” – Nelson Mandela
They say that experience is your best teacher and with age, comes wisdom. Whilst I am certainly not confessing to being full of wisdom (or old!), it was with great delight that I was recently asked to take part in a breakfast mentoring session for a group of teen girls by sharing some of my own career journey.
Watching and listening to these girls share their stories, their hopes and ambitions, struggles and concerns for the future was both insightful and reassuring.
Insightful, because in many ways it was interesting to reflect on how my own career had unfolded which is so very different to what I thought I would originally do (and a hundred times better than I could have ever imagined); and reassuring least of all that our future is in very safe hands when we have young women who are prepared to be so open, curious and considered about what they want to achieve and contribute to the world around them. In short they were expressing a deep desire to step up and stand out by becoming the best possible versions of themselves.
As each of them shared their story about what they thought they would do, it was interesting to note what they felt they needed to overcome in order to achieve their ambitions:
- Lack of confidence and self-belief to actually pursue what they wanted
- Fear of making the wrong decisions that would hold them back or prevent them from achieving success (choosing the wrong subjects at school which could prevent them from going to university; choosing the wrong course etc)
- Not finding their voice – being disempowered, ignored or shut down
For many of us these challenges have not been limited to just our teen years. Navigating today’s workforce and committing to ‘stepping up’ in our careers requires us to constantly make brave and courageous decisions in order to grow, remain relevant and achieve the fulfilment we all crave. It also requires us to find our voice and confidence in the way we use it.
Creating long-term career success and fulfilment requires resilience. Rarely is it a straight linear path. There are hard lessons learned and there are ‘lucky breaks’ along the way. In a world that is characterised by constant change and uncertainty, it will be our ability to feel comfortable and move with the changing times that will help us achieve personal and professional success.
As those of us who had come to share our stories spoke, it was interesting to note some of the similarities between us despite our different career paths:
- We are all doing very different things today to what we trained for and/ or commenced our careers in
- We are all working in a career and business that we loved
- We have all grabbed onto opportunities in moments where we felt completely unprepared or ready for them – and seen them become a defining part of where we are today
- We have all learnt to live with the decisions we’ve made – good, bad and indifferent – and used them to propel us forward and not stagnate
Our careers today require us to be nimble, responsive and adaptable. Anticipating opportunity and navigating change are all essential skills for developing the resilience required to build purpose, diversity and success. Without it we not only risk our own career but also the performance and abilities or our teams by failing to see the opportunities that lie in front of us.
So what were our key pieces of advice for encouraging these young girls to step up and stand out in their careers?
- Find a career that YOU love and not what others think you will be good at: Nothing is more empowering than feeling aligned to your core purpose, talents and capabilities. It literally becomes your energy source.
- Dream BIG: Set goals that challenge you, inspire you and frighten you just a little. Achieving them makes anything seem possible.
- Be constantly curious: Ask questions and lots of them. Seeking to broaden your understanding and knowledge of people, of roles and environments around you will open up new opportunities and insights.
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable: Pushing the boundaries of our circle of comfort more often than not brings new knowledge, new networks, new opportunities and lessons that stay with us long after the experience has ended.
- Prepare for Change: Understand that your career choices are likely to change. Rather than thinking that it is something that you get ‘right or wrong’ be prepared to navigate several careers in your lifetime and consider each one a building block for the next one.
- Invest in you: Find opportunities to build your confidence and self-belief in what it is that you do and why.
- Surround yourself with people who lift you higher: Stay away from the energy stealers and don’t be frightened to let people go. Surround yourself with people that champion your efforts, challenge your thinking, allow you to make mistakes free of judgement and help you to celebrate your milestones.
- Own your decisions every step of the way: Owning them will give you the confidence to run with them and change them along the way as and when required.
I would love to hear what other advice you believe is critical for building the confidence to step up and stand out in your career.
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