Two words to make a great career: be brave.

Two words to make a great career: be brave.

We have just hit a time of year when a huge portion of the UK live through a haze of excitement, nerves and confusion. For 16-18 year-olds, it’s getting towards exam time, a phase when young people have to think about what they want from their career. Whether they want to move into the workplace at 16 or go to college or university. This is equally true of final year uni students who will submit final pieces of coursework, sit exams and finalise dissertations.

For many, it’s a joyous time, the culmination of years of hard work and learning. Most will have career aspirations that suddenly start to feel very much within reach. That can be scary but my advice to anyone at this stage in his or her life is to embrace it – be brave and determined and I honestly believe you can make anything happen for yourself.

If I’m looking for evidence of that, I look in a mirror. I am lucky enough to be able to say my career is in a pretty good place – I’m happy and running a great business with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met.  But that hasn’t always been the case.

I’m the first to admit I was sometimes a bit of a disappointment in younger years – to myself and to others.  Whether that was academically, in sports, art, my love life… you name it and for a while, I wasn’t in great shape.

But eventually, I made a decision to draw a line in the sand and try to make a success of my life.  I am not somebody who necessarily finds success easy to come by.  I know, looking back, that any successes I have had have always come from

  1. Being my best self
  2. Allowing myself the freedom to fail without fear.

I am my most inspired when people dial-up qualities that are not always obvious. We often categorise people by their most defining characteristic and we do the same to ourselves. Maybe it’s a naturally analytical person who does an incredible job developing a plan, for example. Suddenly, they are the go-to for all such work and they rarely get an opportunity, or push themselves, to do much else. Our instinct, whether we are that individual or we are their boss, is to pigeonhole.

That is a mistake. Sure, embrace our obvious strengths but also take opportunities to test ourselves and develop skills away from what we know.

This leads me to the second point which is understanding that failing is not a bad thing. Sometimes, it can be the making of a person. I am absolutely of the belief that fear of failure is always worse than failure itself. It can be so limiting.

In my industry, succumbing to the fear of failure can turn a ground-breaking campaign into an also-ran. I look at some of the work we’ve delivered over the last year and I can pinpoint precise moments where fear could have weakened that work. When I speak to my kids, their friends or any young people, the most valuable advice I can give them is not to be scared of failing, because when we remove fear that is where the magic happens.

Bravery leads to brilliance 

I was recently asked to speak at Carshalton Boys Sports College, an academy school that educates boys aged 11–19 years old. It was organised as part of the brilliant Speakers for Schools programme that sees a huge network of senior business figures give talks to schools across the country.

When I was thinking through what I wanted to say, I kept coming back to: “be brave”. It’s the simplest way I could think of to encourage, embolden and motivate the students listening.

When I think back to how I felt at their age, I would have benefitted from hearing that.

The pigeonholing I talk of above happens at school and university age too and being brave enough to smash through that takes determination. Even the decision of whether or not to go to university takes guts. MediaCom is made up of a mix of people who were fearless enough to drive themselves to success, whether that was via further education or not. There are a few tricks to bravery though and I shared the ones I have used, and still use, with the pupils at Carshalton Boys Sports College:

  1. Be clear about what is important to you – if you have a huge passion for something, consider a career in it. If that’s not an option, find other ways to get involved in areas you care about. From volunteering to being a trustee for a charity, there are ways to surround yourself with the things and people you care about. All it takes is a bit of self-motivation and effort
  2. Take responsibility for asking for feedback – in any industry, and no matter what level you are, you have to accept open and honest feedback from people if you’re going to be the best you can be. It can be scary – whether you’re taking the feedback or you’re a grad giving feedback to the CEO. But constructive improvements have to be welcomed and encouraged
  3. Be honest with yourself – if your career isn’t progressing as you’d hoped, ask yourself why. Don’t filter that with “who can I blame?” Be truly honest with yourself and be brave in accepting that sometimes, the only thing holding us back is ourselves. Perhaps you need to put yourself forward more, or maybe you actually need a career shift or a total change. The point is that only you really know the answer but it takes bravery to accept to it
  4. Listen before speaking – being a good listener isn’t often associated with “bravery” but in reality, it’s very easy to shout the loudest, yet it’s far more difficult to quietly and calmly listen to the views of others, absorb that, replay it and use that insight. Celebrate differences in personality and approach by listening to people who differ from you and learning from them
  5. Find a mentor or sponsor – this is a practical one but it’s something I believe can help anyone from any background in any career. They should ideally be someone you don’t work directly with, someone who is impartial enough to give you honest guidance and insight. Being brave and free from fear is easier if you have someone, or a few people, standing behind you with the experience to help

Ultimately, bravery is something we are all born with. These are some simple tips, reminders and practices which I find helps unlock that in people. If we commit to being the best we can be, we can achieve everything we set out to achieve.

“It’s not a science.” – A perfectionists most hated phrase.
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