Whoa — am I really that old? 😮
It’s been a whole decade since I graduated from university. As I’ve written about in my book, I spent a significant time on the LSE campus feeling like an imposter. I was in constant fear I would fail my degree and be ostracised from my family (that immigrant style of fear-inducing parenting really does wonders). Thankfully, my self-confidence has improved since the late 2000s.
I graduated with a 2.1 in my degree (one mark off a distinction, a fact I will never let go of) and I’ve also gone on to achieve a number of accolades that 22-year-old me would be proud of like being selected in the Financial Times list of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Tech and featuring in magazines I grew up reading like Elle, The Sunday Times Style Magazine and The Stylist.
Here I share what I’ve learned so far in the hope it will help you, too. Share what you’ve learned since graduating in the comments below.
Every business is a people business
This is something my friend Andy Ayim reiterated recently during his talk to the Future Startup Now cohort. Every business is a people business. Ten years ago I was far more stubborn and judgemental than I am now. There were certain people in the workplace I didn’t vibe with and so I made zero effort to get to know them, understand them, or empathise with them. I’ve changed since then. I understand that to succeed in business you need to succeed with people, so I stay open minded and understand that even those folks who I don’t get, may be essential to helping me reach my goals some day.
You — and your priorities — are always changing
When I first graduated university at the height of the financial crisis my only career priority was to secure paid employment. As each year went by and my experience of the workplace grew, so too did my priorities. When I found myself producing conferences for investment bankers in the City making lots of sales commission I suddenly realised financial flexibility wasn’t enough to fulfil me. I wanted to be in a fast-paced environment at the forefront of innovation. That’s what drew me to tech. Three years into my tech journey as an Amazon employee I became obsessed with representation (or lack thereof) and started working towards greater diversity and inclusion.
Who you report into at work really matters
Remember how in school you couldn’t wait to drop certain subjects because you hated the teacher? And by the same rationale loved certain subjects you didn’t expect to because the teacher was amazing? Sadly the same dynamic applies at work. It doesn’t matter how amazing a role and company is if the person who you report into doesn’t have your back. And similarly, an incredibly supportive and engaged manager can turn a mundane role into something electrifying that helps you develop. Whenever you are deciding to take a role, think carefully about who you report into.
Define success in your own terms
I’ve shared this advice before and it never gets old. When I was at university I went through an existential crisis trying to determine my personal motivations for working hard. I had no inner voice, all I could hear were the words my strict father had drilled into me growing up like “to whom much is given, much is expected” and “anything worth doing at all is worth doing well”. But what were all these all-nighters for?
My parents’ idea of a successful career is different to mine. They didn’t have the privilege I do of exploring options and taking risks. They had to focus on providing for a family in a new country far from home. They had to focus on making ends meet. They desperately wanted me to settle into a safe career like being an economist or a lawyer, but something deep inside me knew that wasn’t right. Once I decided that I would define success on my own terms my life changed for the better and I haven’t looked back since.
Support networks are everything, don’t take people for granted
There are people in your life who mean a lot to you — make sure they know that. They may be family or friends, or they may be the person at work you can vent to judgement-free when you’ve had a bad day. Invest in relationships you rely on. Make a solid support network for yourself and nurture it. Reciprocate as much as you can for the people who are kind to you. Be helpful, offer your time, and always be willing to listen. Sometimes folks need simply that more than anything else.
Practice gratitude, grow your resilience
A huge part of my success I owe to people along the way who believed in me, took a chance on me and gave precious time to supporting me. It’s so important to be thankful in an open, direct way to all the folks who have done things to help you. No matter how small the gesture. It’s these people that grow to become trusted mentors, friends, companions, allies and supporters.
I’ve had my fair share of lows, setbacks and failures. As time goes on I’m able to see the positives from even my darkest times. Practising gratitude for all the things that life throws in your way helps build resilience, so you’re better prepared for dealing with uncertainty the next time it comes knocking at your door. This is something I constantly work on and I plan to never stop!
Find your tribe
As someone that’s spent a large part of my post university life operating across various workplaces feeling like an imposter, I can’t stress this enough. It’s one thing to be an ordinary human being full of insecurities and concerns and another to be all that PLUS a minority in your workplace. The more underrepresented you are the more you need to invest in finding your tribe, folks who you can relate to, and who believe in you and support you wholeheartedly. Seek them out wherever you can — online on social media or offline at meet-ups and events. Actively connect with other people you can learn from and lean on.
Ageing has its benefits
In our world — and in the tech industry in particular — we have a bias towards youth. We often want to be “the youngest who…” or make lists like Forbes’ “30 under 30.” The unfortunate consequence of this is a tendency to feel ashamed or forlorn about ageing. I’m happy to say this is not the case for me (yet 😬). I have spent a lot of my career feeling underestimated and frustrated when older folks told me they knew better, as if age meant anything more than being born earlier than someone else. Now that I am a bit older myself I think I am starting to understand what those older folks meant.
It’s not about getting wiser with age so much as having more data points and experiences to reference. History tends to repeat itself, patterns emerge, people are predictable. This means with time — if you’re paying attention — you can start to leverage the past to operate more productively in the present.