June is my birthday month. This June I met the Queen & Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace, sat at a breakfast table with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Lady Martha Lane-Fox, Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor Boris (all at the same time) and was called into meet with one of the most senior people of the company I currently work at.
I’ve always looked forward to my birthday. For me, it’s the equivalent of a national holiday. Growing up, any friends that forgot (or who didn’t know it by heart) would incur my wrath. To this day I still get annoyed when those close to me miss it by a couple of days.
This year, for about a week before, I forgot my birthdate. I also didn’t make any efforts to celebrate it. I spent the actual day attending meetings (for Stemettes and for work) and launching the Stemettes new mentoring scheme with it’s sponsor Deutsche Bank. When I fixed the date of the event, I knew I would be spending my birthday evening ‘working’. It was a conscious decision. Rather than a conscious decision to forget, forgo or sacrifice my birthday, for me it was a conscious decision to spectacularly celebrate my birthday – as I had already been doing in such fantastic company that month.
You never work a day in your life if you find a job you love.
In life, I’ve always wanted only one thing: to be able to do exactly what I want to, exactly when I want to do it.
For me, ‘working’ that day was the ultimate in realising this goal. I love my job, I love the work we’re currently doing on the Stemettes – I feel so free doing what I enjoy doing that it seemed more than fitting to ‘work’ on my birthday.
I’ve known people to write ’27 things I’ve learnt at 27’ or ’21 things I’d tell my 21-year-old self’. Far from boring you with 25 things, I want to share just five things I’ve learnt so far in life – which have helped me stay close to my one aim.
ONE – Be open. Work Out Loud.
If people don’t know what you’re thinking, don’t have context on what you’re doing and can’t find you and your work, then you won’t get anywhere. Your network and those around you aren’t telepathic. They can guess what you’re thinking, or you could communicate openly and tell them. Half-baked ideas, well thought through ideas, even seeds of ideas in the open attract like-minded people and help. This help refines them, makes them real and can snowball them.
Every week I’m astounded at the emails that land in the Stemettes inbox. The connections being made, the people discovering us – has all come from Working Out Loud. For more on the topic, see my friend John Stepper’s blog.
TWO – Do you. There are no ‘rules’ in life. Seek forgiveness, not permission.
You don’t *have* to do things at a fixed time. There are *always* exceptions, to prove the ‘rules’. If you want to do a GCSE at 10, try it. If you want to quit your job to try an idea, try it. If you can make a full-time job and a side project work, do it. Well meaning people will advise you and perhaps pressure you with the way that things have always been done, or ten dozen rules forbidding you from trying things.
The funny thing is, that by sticking your neck out and ‘doing you’, you’ll learn, you’ll grow and eventually the people that matter will come round to supporting you.
THREE – Embrace failure. Keep Trying. Fail fast & often.
There is no harm in trying. Eric Ries’ Lean Startup methodology is a fantastic way to win at life. Work quickly to build ‘minimum viable products’ which you can test and watch fail. Observe failure and learn from it. Why didn’t the product work this time? What might make it work next time? Iterate and build. You can do your research but you will never know exactly how something will work out. What you can make sure you always know, is that some learning will take place.
I’ve learnt to experiment with EVERYTHING: from hiring decisions, to events, to cooking, to clothing, to purchasing decisions, to …you get the picture. Be an experimenter and look out for failure – so that you can learn.
Mistakes are a learning experience. Successes are an opportunity to do better. Never stop learning. Keep going, keep growing. If you don’t know how to do something and someone asks you to, say yes – then figure out how to do it. (I blogged about this a while ago).
FOUR – There is nothing like social proof.
People listen to & trust people like themselves, more than CEOs, the government etc. In life, social proof will propel you to places you’re unaware of. Having a set of outlets, people and organisations talking about you and referring you to others goes a long way. A little work from cheerleaders is worth a lot of work from you. Spend time building meaningful relationships with people: give more than you get. Be helpful. Be generous. Be genuine. When you network listen out for what you can offer people, rather than what they can offer you. Those worth knowing will do the same and before you know it, a Google Search for you, or your brand will become something to be proud of.
FIVE – Turn everything to an advantage
Problems are challenges. There are occurrences which might look like ‘disadvantages’ which are actually challenges you need to solve. If no-one turns up to an event, use it as a chance to work with your team, or to learn. If you’re young and inexperienced, use that as a license to get creative and try new things. If you’re in a minority, use that as a way to stand out from the crowd. Bad things happen to everybody – it’s what you do next that matters.