The best advice I ever got came in the form of a question. Steve Sullivan, who was my boss, and the SVP of Communications at Liberty Mutual, asked,
“Nicole, what is your personal definition of success?”
The question stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t know the answer.
I had been asked many times (usually during an interview or by a career counselor) “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” but no one had ever turned the tables and really asked me to define success for myself. When asked where I wanted to be in 5 or 10 or even 20 years, I always thought in terms of the career ladder: the next job I wanted and the job after that. I thought in terms of a path that was already set. But when you turn the question around- and you allow yourself to think beyond that framework and it changes the vantage point entirely. And let’s be honest, that can be a little bit scary.
There’s a good reason we like the beaten path, (or even better, a paved road!) We can travel faster on that road and usually, we can see what’s ahead: what job, what salary, what perks. This path works for a lot of people--and there is nothing wrong with that. But, in my case, I was cruising down that road and wasn’t really paying attention. The fact I couldn’t answer Steve’s question meant it was time to stop and think about where I was going.
I was reminded of this story when I listened to Barbara Lynch tell her story at the WLF last week. Her best advice was to follow her own vision. That didn’t mean that she should abandon her team, but her mentor emphasized the same core principle: it is your personal vision that will carry you. If you don’t know what that is, you can’t protect it. If Barbara Lynch had followed an established path, we might never know her name. Her lack of education and training could have defined her. But she didn’t allow those external ‘rules’ to limit her progress; and because she was able to articulate her vision, she was able to pursue it.
In contrast, to Ms. Lynch, I had a master’s degree by the time I was 28, but for all that education, I was too dumb to think for myself when it came to my career. I took the first good offer I got and never questioned. I was enticed by the opportunities: the salary, the travel, the perks. When I finally stopped to think about it, I realized my vision of success included teaching, something I had left behind because it wasn’t included in any of my job descriptions. It really is amazing- when you know what your focus is, you can more readily see opportunities. Three months after that conversation with Steve, I had a teaching appointment at Boston University.
So where does this leave you? What’s your personal vision? How do you define success? I’d love to hear your stories.
Nicole Ames, Co-founded Twist IMC in 2010 and works with leading companies to create integrated marketing and social media strategies. Nicole is also an adjunct professor at Boston University where she teaches Marketing and Social Media. You can follow Nicole on twitter @twistimc or check out her website: www.twistimc.com