For many successful women, their careers are journeys that don’t always turn out the way they planned — often in a good way. If success and learning are your goals, it’s your job to leverage what you learn at each stage of your journey. Here’s my best advice on how to do that:
1. Your journey is your story. Know it and own it. I couldn’t have planned my career journey even if I had tried in high school or university, but I’m thrilled with what I have accomplished and learned along the way. Identify how each of your experiences shaped the woman you are now and practice telling that story. Be proud of it, as every step of the way has led you to become the person you are today.
2. Surround yourself with dynamic, high-achieving individuals. Listen to their stories and ask one of them to be your mentor. Young women just stepping into the workforce are fortunate to have mentors waiting for them. Extend yourself to potential mentors and you might just be surprised at how much they have to offer.
3. Step into the spotlight. If you’re currently pursuing an education or itching to step into the spotlight at work, look for opportunities to write or speak to groups. Take initiative, assume a leadership role, and make a name for yourself through your contribution. I’ll explore this point further in my next blog post.
Every step of my journey has shaped my story
On my eighth wedding anniversary this past June, I stood in front of a group of 150 exceptional women and delivered a speech. I’d been invited to headline the Young Women of Influence Evening Series in Toronto to share my thoughts on how more women can step into the spotlight as the experts they truly are.
In preparing to deliver my speech, I thought about my own unconventional career journey and how it led to where I am today. I also thought that speaking to a group of eager and talented women was not something I ever imagined I would do when I started my career.
As a creative thinker with a degree in French language and literature from Western University, my first job after graduating was as a negotiator in the collections department at Petro Canada. This job was the absolute worst fit for me. I hated every moment with a passion. But in retrospect, I couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Eager to escape from this job any way I could, I jumped at the opportunity to become a nanny in Paris. Within five business days, I found myself in the magical City of Light and surrounded by people excelling in their fields: fashion designers, artists, art historians, authors, ambassadors and business executives. Making only $100 per week, and with virtually no money at all, I had never been happier or more fulfilled in my life. For me, it was an awakening of sorts.
A taste of entrepreneurship in the U.S.
I moved on to my next adventure in Washington, DC, where I made even less money to work at a startup. As an unpaid summer intern, I started up the operations for a cutting-edge newspaper. I hired staff across the U.S., who distributed the paper to travellers about to board overnight trans-Atlantic flights. We pulled stories for the paper from the newswire at 3 p.m. that day instead of the night before, the only paper at the time to offer the most recent news to U.S. readers.
This was my first taste of entrepreneurship. And I loved it.
My next job was my first foray into PR at the Canadian Embassy, also in Washington. I was exposed to the some of the greatest business and political minds in the world: former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, feminist activist Gloria Steinem, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and AIDS activist and actress Elizabeth Taylor among many others.
I quickly realized is that I didn’t need to be “degreed” to interact with these people. Experts love talking about what they do. I quickly learned the art of asking in-depth questions to get people talking. I listened carefully and learned from their stories.
Back to business school and back to my roots in PR
Back in Canada, and after working for a few PR agencies, I decided it was time for an MBA. After all my travels during my 20s, my parents’ collective sigh of relief was practically palpable. In my spare time at the Ivey Business School, I served as the president of the Entrepreneurs Club and started up a global speakers series called Leader Lab, featuring world-renowned speakers like Fast Company co-founder Allan Webber and Boston Philharmonic conductor Ben Zander. What a thrill it was to be building again!
With my MBA in hand, I landed a job as a strategy consultant at Deloitte. But given my passion and talent for communications, I was continually seconded to develop and launch national and global communications strategies. Apparently everyone I worked with at the firm, except for me, recognized that my true expertise was in communications. It took me three years to figure that out.
As a result, I left the corporate world a decade ago to become a freelance PR consultant, which I did very successfully until I started Broad Reach when I was pregnant with my first child Dylan, who is now six. I structured the company so that I could be close to home, and in doing so, created a unique business model in the PR industry. I describe in the Ivey Business Journal as lifestyle-driven virtual teams.
Know that while each step in your career may not feel significant in the moment, you are building the story of who you are and what you offer the world. Listen to your gut and go after the career opportunities that challenge and excite you. If you do, you may just find yourself sharing your unique story in the spotlight, just like me.
What part of your unconventional career path are you most proud of? What do you look for in a business mentor?
Andrea will continue writing about Women of Influence. Stay tuned for her next post: 7 ways to step into the spotlight
A leader in the Canadian public relations industry, Andrea Lekushoff has more than two decades of experience as a communications strategist and trusted advisor for some of the world’s most respected brands. Email Andrea