Author: Ottokar Rosenberger Source: Marketing Week
Dear younger self,
Somebody asked me to write you this letter, to give you some advice along the way of your early career. I think you are doing great – I mean, you navigated teenage angst, survived the out-of-date educational system and managed your parents’ loving but sometimes amateurish attempts at raising you pretty well.
Now you are here: you’ve got your first job, your first colleagues, still lots of friends, probably wondering what’s to come your way. If you are not wondering, then you wouldn’t read on.
And by the way, even 20 years on, I am still wondering, so don’t think that experienced people know. We don’t know, but our judgement has had more practice.
So in addition to all the things you already do, and do very well, here are some thoughts on what might make the difference for your own life and career. Remember, the race is long and it’s only against yourself. So whilst competing hard every day, don’t compare yourself to other people too much, as it only makes you unhappy. There’s always someone ahead of you and someone behind you. Be gracious to both.
Without further ado, here are my top three tips to you.
1. Find your purpose in life
The toughest question of all to answer is: why are you here, what is your purpose in life? When running through our busy lives we often forget the fundamentals, which is so easy to do as our diaries are always full. I encourage you to take a step back and find some answers sooner. It took being faced with a personal crisis to get round to asking myself this question, and I wish I had done it sooner.
This is also a searching question, where answers will be defined, refined and changed over time. I suggest you write it down; elaborate on what cathedral you are building, who are you trying to be and what makes you tick.
Often, reflecting upon your early life experiences and understanding how they impact who you are and what you are going to do going forward is a helpful exercise. If you find the courage, share your thoughts with your closest allies; they can help you reflect and refine what you are thinking.
2. Feedback, feedback, feedback
This brings me nicely to point number two on the list, which is feedback. It is the breakfast, lunch, and dinner of champions. It is so often forgotten, pushed away, solicited once a year, and not taken seriously.
Go out of your way to ask people around you for feedback. Not just your boss, ask your peers, your clients, your team, your direct reports. Consistently, continuously, frequently. After meetings, projects, campaigns, in one-on-ones – there is always an opportunity to ask for and receive it.
The majority of experienced people I know would love to be mentors, so it is sometimes as simple as asking them.
I wish I had done less second-guessing and more direct questioning of my performance, but you need to be open to hearing less comfortable things. Never, ever become defensive. Always say thank you. The other person is spending some time thinking about you and that’s a gift worth receiving. This is the key to continuous improvement, which in turn is your key to a great and fulfilling career.
In one of my first jobs I received feedback that my communication skills lacked clarity. I hated it, I got defensive and I wanted to blame everything else but my own ability. How could I not be a great communicator?
Well, it turned out it was the correct feedback and once I heard it again, this time from someone new, I did take it seriously. I immediately took steps to improve, which meant I managed to become more self-aware, and noticeably better at communicating.
In this context, having a mentor is a great way to stay alert and have a sounding board. The majority of experienced people I know would love to be mentors, so it is sometimes as simple as asking them, and if they can’t do it, they will know someone who can.
Hopefully they will tell you number three on my list.