Markers of success.

A few months ago, I read an article that really resonated with me. I didn’t get a chance to share it then (since I last posted, I’ve relocated back to the UK from Bulgaria, and just weeks later I gave birth to my second daughter – so there’s been a lot going on!) but it’s crossed my mind several times since that first reading and I’ve finally had a chance to reflect on it and try and articulate why it struck such a chord for me.

The article encourages a more rounded and whole-life view of ambition and success than is probably the norm. It’s a piece that makes several points, so I won’t paraphrase it; instead, take a couple of minutes to read the original post here.

The author talks about ‘the most valuable take away from your career’ and it’s this part that leapt out at me and that has stuck in my mind since first reading. It got me thinking about the true milestones and achievements in my professional life; what I look back on with pride and fondness. I joined this industry as a new graduate in 2007 (in fact, it’s just occurred to me that it might have been a decade ago this very week that I started out at Saffron Interactive). If I look back over those ten years, there are certainly professional achievements that I’m proud of. Particular projects that I was the driving force on, an industry award, changes I helped to bring about, articles written, and so on. These are the things that are included on my CV and my LinkedIn page, and they’re the things that presumably will help me career-wise in the future.

But are they the only (or the most) important things?

If I look back over those same ten years with a slightly different perspective – not thinking primarily about what prospective employers or clients or colleagues might want to hear – a different set of achievements and notable experiences comes into focus. Here are a few examples:

  • In around 2009, I worked on a project with a subject matter expert based in North America. We didn’t meet during the project and we didn’t work together again, but we kept in occasional contact and when he visited London about four years later we managed to meet for breakfast. No work agenda, just putting faces to names and voices and catching up on life since that project we’d worked on together.
  • Likewise, I’ve remained in touch with several former suppliers and partners since leaving my last role to go on maternity leave, and some of them later met my daughter before we moved to Bulgaria. People who I met in a wholly professional context took time out of their day to meet me in a non-professional capacity, which I truly appreciate and don’t take lightly.
  • When I was shortlisted for an award in 2010, a client I’d led several projects for offered to come along and support me in the presentation stage. The award wasn’t related to any of the projects he was involved in; there was no direct gain for him. This show of support for me – and, again, this generosity of time – has really stuck in my memory.
  • Two of the three judges on the panel during that award submission presentation subsequently got in touch with me and offered advice and support. I’m very happy and, yes, proud that seven years later those relationships have not only sustained but evolved into friendships as well as professional connections.

The common thread through these examples is relationships. I put a lot into them. I truly value them and I foster them. I’m really proud that I can cite so many professional relationships that have endured and evolved, and I consider these to be markers of success just as much as the projects, awards and promotions.

I haven’t achieved this by following any strategy or employing particular techniques. I would say that I bring my whole self to work (I hesitated to use that phrase as it’s perhaps jargon-adjacent, shall we say, but I think it’s useful here). I’m authentic. I wear my heart on my sleeve (and I’m not by any means suggesting these are all model traits and behaviours!). I allow my colleagues sight lines into my personal life, in many cases I invite them into it, and I am interested in theirs should they be willing to share similar insights: I love learning more about who people are outside their role. I’m absolutely sure there are people who would raise an eyebrow at this but to me it feels quite natural and appropriate to – on certain occasions, in certain contexts – bridge the gap between my personal and professional lives (by bringing children along to informal meetings, for example). I also try very hard to always be nice. I’ve got a whole other post to write about this, but I truly believe that being nice has contributed hugely to those relationships that have endured beyond projects and jobs, and even through my extended hiatus from professional life.

For two-and-a-half years, I have been largely out of the loop and I can’t claim to have contributed or achieved much professionally of late. But I have been grateful and pleased to still be involved in conferences and events, and I have frequently said how lucky I am to be part of this community that is so supportive, inclusive and welcoming. While I do believe that to be the case, it also strikes me that perhaps it isn’t just luck; perhaps it also has a lot to do with the things I’ve been describing above.

This isn’t in any way intended as a ‘humble brag’ type post. I think it’s important we do celebrate the things we are proud of – whether they are things that we’ve done or things that we are – but that’s not really what this is about. This post is partly in recognition of, and by way of thanks to, those people (of whom there are many) who have accepted the changing nature of my relationship with them and the industry as a whole, and/or who have welcomed me back with open arms whenever I have raised my head above the parapet. It is partly an encouragement to others to consider whether a broader view of what success means in a career might be beneficial, going back to the article that prompted this post in the first place.

It’s also, I hope, a conversation starter. I would genuinely be so interested to know what other people think about this. About the pros and cons of being (or striving to be) nice versus other approaches to professional relationships and persona. About blurring the lines between personal and professional (which is not the same as being unable to separate the two to achieve good work/life balance). About what success and achievement does or should encompass. Please do start a conversation with me – here, on Twitter, in person, wherever!

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