Recently I was at an event where we were comparing the number of jobs we’d had and companies we’d worked for since leaving University. Mine came out much higher than everyone else (19 jobs at 10 companies) and it made me realise how unusual my career is.
But what I also realised was that starting has actually become my forte. Starting somewhere new, getting to grips with things quickly, asking the ‘dumb’ questions and being able to build connections is just what I do. It’s been at the heart of my biggest successes – turning divisions from loss to profit, developing new benchmarks for customer-led innovation, delivering change initiatives and creating new visions, roadmaps and strategies.
It’s also been the cause of my biggest flops. I ended up with 2 degrees (Marketing and Psychology) and I got so frustrated trying to find a marketing role, I worked as a receptionist for 8 months. I made a couple of rather poor job choices both in Melbourne and during my early London years to see if my skills were transferable (yes, but culture not so much). When I first left corporate life, I invested a lot of money in a potential direction that never paid dividends.
It’s not that I didn’t know what I wanted. After all I’m one of those unusual people that built a long and successful career out of exactly what I studied. I was just curious. I enjoy exploration and learning, I want to see if the same set of rules can be applied somewhere else or whether I might need to look through a different lens. And I want to see the results of my efforts – theory is all very well but I want to apply it, see it at work and making the impact. This year, I started over again by officially hanging up my shingle as a business coach working with start-ups and small-to-medium businesses.
Here are 4 ways that my habit of starting over prepared me for being a successful entrepreneur.
I learnt to trust myself
Not having all of the answers is uncomfortable. But I’ve been the newbie so often that I’ve become much less overwhelmed by it. And while I’m very comfortable with saying I don’t know, I’m also good at thinking about what might happen and developing tools and strategies to prepare. Obviously you can’t prepare for every eventuality but being open to a range of scenarios can position you far better mentally for whatever happens – even when that is a curve ball. You’ll have broadened your horizons, given yourself more space to play and begin to trust that each time, you will find a way.
And in learning to trust myself, I became known as a discerning and credible voice.
I learnt how to connect quickly
I’ve had several contract roles since I moved to London and the one thing about contract roles is that you are brought in to deliver a result fast! So you need to get the lay of the land quickly: finding your allies, understanding who the key decision-makers and stakeholders are. You also need to get to grips with the naysayers and why they are ‘nay-ing’. You learn to listen, connect and join the dots. And you need to find your sounding boards and your champions, the people who can help you produce the result.
In fact, I didn’t just learn this skill – I became known for it.
I bounced back when things didn’t go to plan
Early in my career I worked with a small team to launch a young businesswomen’s network. One of the team was a couple of years younger than me and I remember being absolutely agog at the military precision with which she had mapped out what roles she’d have in what industries by when. Part of me hugely admired this. The other part wondered what she would do when things didn’t go to plan. That’s happened quite a bit over my career: In one job I was promoted 3 times in the 4 years I was there. I’ve faced redundancy 3 times. And when I couldn’t find work when I first came to London, I contracted.
Sometimes stuff happens. Sometimes there are great outcomes, sometimes not so great. I learnt that what matters is you get up, learn something and get back on the horse.
I learnt humility
Probably the most powerful thing starting over taught me is humility.
Two and a half years ago I joined the Board of Trustees at a secondary academy in London, thinking that my broader business and strategic skills would be of benefit to the school. And while they have been, I had no idea what it would be like to work with people who were not in business. Education is filled with people who prepare our young people for life, who have an extraordinary array of knowledge and skills to do this, and who do this under increasingly difficult circumstances. That’s the lens through which they experience life. And I had to learn how to shape my long-range strategy and marketing experience for their lens, not expect them to see it through mine.
It’s made me a better listener, a better negotiator, a better speaker and a better coach.
My definition of success is transforming people’s ability to achieve business success by sharing my skills, insights and experience. But it was in starting over again and again and again that I harnessed the trust, connection, resilience and humility that lie at the heart of my work as a business coach and entrepreneur.