What I’ve learned interviewing 50 women about how they do the work they find meaningful.
Yesterday I was invited to speak at the launch event for Toronto’s Young Women in Business chapter. The theme for the event was ‘Getting in on the Ground Floor: Networking for New Grads’. They asked me to prepare a talk based on the insights and experience I’ve gleaned from interviewing people through Ways We Work.
I take something away from every single interview and seeing as we’ve done over 100, distilling everything into one talk would be a bit insane. Since the event was geared towards women and young professionals I chose to focus on three major lessons that have come from the women I’ve interviewed. Women who are just crushing it in their respective fields.
Here are the three lessons I focused the talk around:
Just do you.
On first glance, this might seem a bit vague but before you start any endeavour, career search or side project, you need to figure out what you care about.
This is also the biggest theme that I saw reoccurring in multiple interviews.
You need to be really honest with yourself about two things:
- What do you care about?
- What do you NOT care about at all?
Because if you don’t answer those two questions in the context of what you’re doing, the world will definitely decide for you.
“Do you in the way that you want to do it. Don’t blindly follow other models of success. I didn’t have a clear sense of what my vision was for my life, my business, and my impact on the world and I was easily swayed by other people.” — Nicole Belanger
Knowing what you really care about and who you are helps you avoid things like comparing yourself to others and comparing your work to others work. You’ll read a great Medium post (ahem), listen to a talk (this is getting meta), or hear someone’s success story and think “great, I’ll just follow what they did and I’ll be successful and happy.”
“I think self-awareness is the key to success in life. No matter how talented you are, if you don’t take the time to think, “is this actually what I want to be doing? Am I happy? Is this work going to help me develop as an artist or bring me the kind of clients that I’m interested in?” You have to be asking yourself those questions.” — Jessica Hische
Before you start running off in other people’s directions, make sure you look at what that version of success truly involves and if that aligns with what you want for yourself.
Example: On the surface we’d all like to be successful startup founders. Making loads of money, being seen as a leader, getting all the press. But, do you want to work 80+ hours a week for the next few years? Do you want to spend most of your time convincing others and investors that you and your business are worth their time and money? Do you want to deal with constant rejection?
Knowing what you want and what you care about, helps you ignore everything else that doesn’t take you toward your goals.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the trends or your perception of what you’re supposed to be doing in your role. When you produce work that isn’t an accurate reflection of yourself and your values, it just comes out unauthentic, weak and awkward.” — Chantal Jandard
How: Ask yourself what your short term goals are, is it to buy a house? Is it to collaborate with other amazing professionals? Is it to work as part of a great team and be able to buy yourself new clothes when you want? The small details of what makes you feel successful and happy are so important.
Once you know what you want, find it or create it.
This part sucks, because it’s uncomfortable and you’re going to get a lot of no’s or worse: no response at all. But using the passion that you have for what you really want and a little bit of tenacity will help you push through it.
The one thing that almost everyone I’ve interviewed has is common, is that they have some type of side project that involves them connecting with likeminded people.
It’s so easy to get caught up in how much the job search process sucks. It’s absolutely terrible and someone should definitely do something about it, but that’s a post for another time. For the most part you should ignore things like the years of experience and the title on a job post. You might think, “Oh well I mean I don’t really consider myself a “UX Designer”.”
“After what felt like months of feeling lost I realized that I didn’t want to work with either of my degrees. I wrote down on a piece of paper: Food, Travel & Design. Then I started crying because I thought “well what does that mean?! What kind of a job is that? Food, travel, design — well done Marie — that’s what you came up with after two degrees?” I guess I realized in that moment that there wasn’t a job title out there that I wanted, and I had to create my own.”
Titles are weird, for everyone and most of the time they don’t mean anything.
What you should be focused on is your skills. Don’t worry if it feels like your skills are completely unrelated to one another. What do you enjoy doing? Go find other people who are like you. Go to meetups, join Slack communities, reach out to people you want to learn from. Create your own events, make your own publication, find ways to use the skills you have to connect to other likeminded people. It is absolutely 100% who you know.
“Yeah, I definitely feel very lucky but in hindsight I can see how there were certain things I did that helped this opportunity land on my plate. When I came to New York I really put myself out into the tech scene and I now realize that by doing that, you help sow the seeds for your name to get thrown into interesting conversations. I mean when I moved to New York I literally knew 2 people in the city. I joined charity: water and met great people there and also spoke at some conferences and meetups and gradually expanded the folks who were fun to “talk shop” with. It was through those actions that I got put in touch with the campaign so I’m a big fan of connecting with folks in your community, you never know what could come of it.” — Deepa Subramaniam
Know how you work and don’t ignore what you need to do your best work.
One thing that everyone has in common, no matter what stage of their career they’re at or what industry they’re in is that: we are all human beings. We have physical and mental needs. When you ignore those, you prevent yourself from doing your best work.
“I do think my most productive days follow a similar pattern. I try and do something outside or get some kind of exercise in the morning. That gives me energy for the rest of the day and makes me feel like I’ve done something for myself. If I end up working really late, I feel okay about it because I took some time first thing to do something that was just going to make me feel good.
Another thing I try and do is make time for projects that require a lot of creativity or thought in the first couple hours of the day. I’ve even gone so far as to arbitrarily block out the first two hours of the day, even if I don’t have anything I know I need to work on there. It prevents stuff from getting scheduled in that time.” — Grace Garey
Yes there are going to be times when you need to pull all nighters, there might be days that you skip lunch because of a deadline. But don’t let it become your normal.
The most successful people by far, have learned what kind of structure or lack of structure they need and have built their days and their routines around that.
“As far as staying on top of my own schedule there’s sort of a discipline to it. For me to do my best work and my most creative work, I know that when I get up to around 7 meetings a day, my brain starts to fall apart a little bit. If I don’t have an hour or two mixed throughout my day where I can just reflect, or goof off, get a coffee or do email, I start being less productive. It’s about knowing yourself and trying to honor what’s going to make you a creative person.” — Tiffani Jones Brown
You can try really hard to force yourself into a routine and a way of working but it’s not sustainable if it doesn’t work for you. Be kind to yourself and understand what you need.
Do you get a lot of anxiety in the early afternoon? Make a point of going for a quick walk and taking a few deep breaths after lunch.
As much as I think we’d all like to be able to, you can’t ignore what your body and your mind needs.
1. Find out what matters to you and ignore everything else.
2. Find opportunities to do that thing, and if you can’t find them, create them yourself.
3. Learn what you need to do your best work and build a structure around that.
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