Ambition is not an uncommon topic in business media, but nobody seems to tell young people about the anxiety that lives alongside it. Earning career advancement isn’t just hard work – it’s existentially terrifying.
Growth and development have been on my mind lately. Both my sales manager and myself were finalists in the 2016 Magazine Media Awards recently – we didn’t win, but I was thrilled to receive a ‘Highly commended’ for the Best Editor Trade & Industry category. I’ve also joined the latest round of the Cultivate Mentoring Lab, which has seen me matched up with a wonderful mentor from the marketing industry.
These things aren’t particularly scary in themselves, but of course, every opportunity for growth or success comes with an equal and opposite window for failure. By putting myself in a position to receive feedback, I’ve had to consider the possibility that I won’t like what I hear.
Conquering the fear of failure has been one of the biggest lessons of my early career. I’ve learned that it’s possible to coast through life on talent for a certain amount of time, but most of us will eventually have to make peace with the likelihood that one day, we may let ourselves down.
NZ Retail’s ‘Great mistakes I’ve made’ column is intended to deliver this understanding to readers using real-world examples. Paper Plus’ Sam Shosanya expressed it perfectly after describing a significant FMCG failure:
“No-one ended up dead. As long as you learn from it, and you’re not in the business of repeating those errors, it ends up okay in the end.”
The topic of fear in the context of development and careers came up again early in September when I met with Kim Goodhart of Real TV. She and business partner Reuben Pillsbury make videos which help improve staff engagement at companies like Mitre 10 and Noel Leeming, resulting in a better customer experience and increased sales.
Among the changes Real TV works on is encouraging staff to develop more empathy for the customer; communicate effectively with challenging people; and share ideas openly with the team. The thing is, Goodhart says, this kind of customer services conversion requires a massive behavioural shift – customers will see through mere cosmetic changes. In this context, career growth means changing the way you move through the world. That’s scary stuff.
No matter what your role or industry, growing your capabilities is about deliberately altering yourself, and personal change doesn’t come naturally to anyone. Redefining the way you think about yourself is a disorienting process, and even when your new behaviours and identifying traits are objectively better, there can be a significant time lag before they really feel like they belong to you.
So, that leaves those seeking career advancement with two very scary responsibilities: attempting difficult feats in the external world, knowing that you might fail; and attempting the personal change that will make these feats possible, knowing that it will be deeply uncomfortable.
I’d like to tell other young professionals that working hard is only part of the career advancement picture - keeping that personal change rolling and coping with the anxiety it causes is also key. The conversations I’ve been having lately with senior industry figures have really highlighted that it’s okay to feel however you feel, as long as you look after yourself and keep pushing onwards. Is growth scary? Yes. Is it worth it? Of course it is.
And as for those awards, next year will be our year.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 746 October / November 2016