Thursday, 26 September 2019
For our latest instalment of the It’s About Time blog series, Sue Carter of Sue Carter Consulting Ltd reflects on what she wishes she knew then…
When you enter the world of work, it’s hard to imagine yourself five or ten years down the track, and it’s even harder to comprehend what you might learn. It amazes me when I realise that I have been working for more than 20 years (I still feel about 22 years old), but here I am, in my mid-40s, with a few career pivots under my belt, looking forward to the next decade of gainful employment (I hope!). And when I think about the future, I can’t help but reflect on the lessons I’ve learned, and how I wish I’d had them in my cabinet of tricks from the beginning. So what would I tell my younger self?
At times during my career I have thought I should be a different type of person – braver, stricter, more ballsy (to use a technical term). But now I realise that I have only excelled when I have been allowed to really be me. I will still alter the way I approach people depending on the environment or the company, but largely, I stick to my personality. If you’re someone who likes to laugh out loud – do it at work too. If you happen to be someone who cries, then so be it. A fabulous former boss of mine once told me, after I received a promotion and was worried that I wasn’t as ‘ballsy’ as my predecessor: “Don’t worry about how he did it… you will do it differently, and that will work just as well, or better. So stay true to who you are, and do things your way.” Good advice that has stuck with me.
It’s ok to not be ok at something
This may not feel particularly inspiring, but I wish I had told myself this much earlier on. Unless you are one of life’s lucky and rare people, there will be things that you don’t excel at. And that’s ok. Learn what you’re good at, make yourself even better at it, and don’t get hung up on the areas of work that other people may do better. It takes a variety of people and talents to make a business work, so celebrate your talents and accept your weaknesses. I spent years comparing myself to others, and while it’s important to have goals and inspiration, be careful you don’t end up thinking that you are not good enough. You are great at your job, but you can’t be great at everyone else’s. You deserve to be here.
Ask questions, and learn from your colleagues
And that brings me neatly to the next point. Never be afraid to ask a question. Ask questions as much and as often as you can. This shows a willingness to learn, and I also believe it shows honesty and integrity. So take the opportunity to learn from those senior to you and those junior to you. And in the same way, share your experiences and knowledge with other people. Help others fly, and they will lift you up as well.
Use your voice
It’s strange to think that I was a journalist for many years, specialising in communication, yet I sometimes found it hard to find my own voice. Perhaps I thought my opinion didn’t count, or that it was too controversial or too boring. But I now really believe it’s important to have a view, and to have an opinion if people ask for it. It shows you to be thoughtful, even if others don’t agree with you. And in the same way, be prepared to make decisions. There is rarely a wrong decision, just a harder one. So, as long as you take advice and then reason with your voice, your knowledge and perhaps even your gut, be confident in your decision making.
Make your own luck
I firmly believe in making your own luck by building relationships. It takes time and effort to nurture and sustain these relationships, but you will always get back what you put in. And this doesn’t mean just catching up with people when you need their help. It means finding time to get to know people. I have spent the last ten years building a strong professional network, both here and abroad, but I wish I had started ten years before. It’s not just about supporting my professional development - I have also made some fantastic friends along the way, and have found I can help others. So start to build your own as soon as you can. If you are respectful, supportive and friendly, it will come back your way without a doubt.
And, well, go for it. But be prepared for the knocks
If an opportunity comes your way, go for it. I can think of a number of times when I’ve been too scared to take a leap, and regretted it later. But there are many more times when I’ve taken a leap far outside of my comfort zone, and even when it’s been tough, I’ve never regretted it. At least I can say I tried and, in most cases, gave it a red-hot go! It can be hard to divert from a well-trodden path, but take a chance - you never know, you might surprise yourself.
Keep a level head, and ask for help
If you do take a chance, or make a decision that doesn’t work out, or if things just don’t go your way, try to keep perspective. I wish I hadn’t taken my failures and mistakes to heart quite so much. I look back now and wish I could have told myself that problems wouldn’t seem so bad a week later, and certainly not months and years later. And even more crucially, I wish I had asked for help sooner. I wish I had sought support and shown I was vulnerable, even in leadership positions, rather than thinking I could fix everything myself. Your colleagues, your managers, and your friends all want to support and help you. It’s not showing a weakness, it’s about doing a better job by letting others help you through.
And finally, try to have fun
And that brings me to my last point. It’s said, ‘if you don’t laugh you’ll cry,’ so why not go for the former? I think I always knew this, but I wish I’d known early on that it’s ok, if not vital, to enjoy yourself and have fun at work. Even if the day-to-day isn’t particularly amusing (whose is?) try to find people to work with who lift you up and who make you happy. Your jobs will come and go, but with any luck, those people and the good times will stay with you.
The It’s About Time series of blogs and articles is designed to inspire, inform and educate through the stories of women (and men) who are finding their own routes to professional and personal success. It is put together by Gemma Collins, NatWest Cymru’s business growth enabler for Cardiff. It’s About Time is an initiative developed by NatWest Cymru in conjunction with Darwin Gray Solicitors, the University of South Wales (USW), Bizmums, and the Federation of Small Businesses. Research carried out by USW showed that women in business mentioned ‘time’ as a major factor in their lives – whether literally never having enough of it, or finding the right time to launch a business, and the right time to grow a business.