Inspired by YouTube’s #dearme series launched on International Women’s Day, I decided to write some advice to my professional younger self on what to do and what not to do as I navigate through my career.
Mentors: Get some. Nothing needs to be overly formalised through some mentor programme, or carefully orchestrated over monthly coffees, but find people who inspire you, people who you can learn from watching and people who are generous enough to give you access, their availability and, if you need it, advice. I have adopted numerous mentors throughout my career – all of whom, whether they know it or not, have shaped and crafted who I am today. I am appreciative of their generosity and think the best way to acknowledge what they have given me is not to pay them back, but instead to pay it forward, and mentor others as they navigate through the early stages of their careers.
Say yes: Some of my mentors were very senior – office and practice heads, regional presidents ... people who were well, well above my “pay grade” and I didn't have much reason to spend time with in the normal construct of the day job. The reason that I had so much access to them was because early on I learned to say YES. YES to a new business pitch, YES to helping on an upcoming agency marketing event, YES to attending an industry networking event. Did that mean that I worked longer hours? YES, sometimes. Did that add more stress to my working day? YES, often. But the pay off – opportunities to stretch myself, to work with new people and exposure to new ways of thinking – was invaluable. If I could go back in time, would I repeat this approach? YES, definitely.
Sometimes learn to say no: Honestly, I'm still working on this, but I wish someone would have given me this advice earlier. Say yes to opportunities that will stretch and advance you, and say yes to acknowledge someone who has said yes to you when you needed it. But occasionally yesses at best overwhelm you or at worst stop you from doing the core job which you are expected to deliver – on time and with excellence. So say yes, but choicefully and intentionally. It’s a fine line and challenging to negotiate, but learning to say no gracefully and definitively is a valuable skill to cultivate.
If you want something, ask for it: Figuring this one out kind of blew my mind, and I wish I had realised it earlier. After all, if you don't articulate what you want, it’s a lot harder for someone to give it to you. To be clear, if you are asking for something know why you deserve it and what it takes to get there, but have the vision to know where you want to go – whether it’s in a client relationship or your own professional career path – and have the audacity to ask for it.
You don‘t need to grow up and be boring: This was something I was really worried about. I figured that progressing professionally inevitably meant becoming more muted – giving up my personality and falling in line, no more self-deprecatory commentary or occasionally talking like a valley girl. It turns out this isn't true at all. I have found that most people value a distinct perspective and someone who has the confidence to be themselves in a professional setting. However, if you want to be yourself, and yourself just might be a little OTT, you need to make sure you can back it up – prove that you are highly capable and competent even if you occasionally end a correspondence with an emoji.
Be prepared: Whenever we are about to go out I always ask my husband, “Are you ready?” to which he always replies “I was born ready“. Honestly, I don’t buy that – no one was born ready and everyone needs to prepare. For every interaction, even for informal meetings and calls – have an agenda – you don’t need to share it, but know what you want to get out of the meeting and what you want to address. Similarly, prepare before you meet someone – Google them, check out their LinkedIn profile – find out where they come from and what you might have in common. Think about what their agenda might be. Also, be prepared for every presentation – you are never “seasoned” enough that you don’t need to prepare and practice. I have spent many a late night or an early morning – pacing and practicing what I’m going to say and I intend to keep preparing, practicing and yes, pacing well into the future.
So #dearme, have fun, work hard, be bold, make mistakes, pick yourself up and keep going – and sorry for the blatant cliché, but the journey is as important as the destination.
Avra Lorrimer, director at PR agency H+K Strategies
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