I have recently been honored into the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Georgia Chapter Forty Under 40. This accomplishment is incredibly humbling because of the esteemed leaders that were honored in the inaugural list in 2019, and the caliber of honorees on the list this year. I work in influencer marketing which doesn’t live exclusively in a singular category of advertising, marketing, or for that matter, PR, and for this reason I am all the more proud to receive this recognition.
I still have a great deal of growing to do as a professional, manager, and person, but I do have some advice I’d like to share. These takeaways below are some of the ways I was able to advance my career.
1. There may not be a cure for imposter syndrome, but it can serve a purpose.
Even as I find myself closer to forty than twenty, imposter syndrome is something that still plagues me. I work at a small agency and sometimes when I walk into a room of my peers who have MBA’s, work at bigger agencies or larger corporations, I can still feel like I’m playing dress-up in my mom’s heels and blazer. But the truth is, the shoes fit.
I hold my own in those rooms over and over again, and have determined that maybe this feeling of being an underdog is useful. It drives me to be more prepared and to never underestimate who I’m sitting across from. Perhaps the goal is to never feel like you’ve “made it,” to harness that nervous energy and let it drive you forward. Be a novice — once you’ve mastered something it’s a sign that you’re ready to learn something new.
2. Don’t let pride get in the way of opportunity.
Early in my career, I busted my ass in a coordinator role — long hours, weekends, leadership training, and extra projects. I was rewarded with the offer of a promotion; however, they were only going to pay me a measly $500 extra a year. I was furious. I wanted more money, I knew I had earned it and I knew what the job would require. To put some salve on my wounds, I said I needed an extra $1,500 a year at a minimum. It was not a huge sum of money, but either way they would not budge.
Armored with my pride, I didn’t take the promotion. Having no other upward mobility available, I felt I had to resign with nothing but my coordinator title and no new prospects. In hindsight, I should have said thank you, taken that director of marketing title and then started looking for a company that would compensate me fairly. Don’t get caught up in decisions based on emotions and pride when they don’t serve your future goals, make strategic decisions that consider your long-term goals.
3. If you’ve been lucky enough to have a seat at the table, make yourself heard.
If you don’t contribute in meetings you are doing yourself a huge disservice. These are the moments when you can show everyone how vital you can be to the company. If you are sitting in a meeting and listening to people say all the things you were thinking of saying — OPEN YOUR MOUTH. No one can read your mind and no one can infer that you have good ideas. Every meeting you attend is an opportunity to show your stuff. Leadership wants people who make a difference in meetings, otherwise you’re no different than an empty chair.
4. Take on projects outside of your job description.
The best way to never get promoted or to get a raise is to do exactly what your job description says. Ask to sit in on projects that interest you or that put you in a room with people you think you can learn from (then see #3). Make connections with people outside of your department or role. Be interested in what other people at your company do. Ask them about their work and what their challenges are. This is how you start to solve big problems and understand the big picture to effect real change. If you can start solving those problems — kid, you will move mountains.
5. Feedback is important — analyze it, keep what serves you, then let the rest go.
You must approach feedback like a scientist — treat is as a hypothesis. You must look at your behavior critically, examine any evidence provided, and set up experiments in which you approach these specific areas of concern with new strategies and see what happens. If you find changing your approach improves your work or work relationships, then great. If you find the feedback isn’t helpful or feels insulting — remember, just because someone provides feedback, doesn’t mean they will always provide constructive feedback or phrase it well.
For example, as a manager I receive anonymous feedback from the team. I received feedback during one of these surveys from an employee who said I was condescending. Despite other good reviews, this piece of feedback was devastating — I wrestled with needing to change the way I did everything. I obsessed over how I said things and felt myself trying to be smaller, keeping ideas to myself in order to not seem like a “know it all”, spending meetings trying to pin-point who said it and why they didn’t like me.
In the end, I realized focusing on what felt like a personal slight, wasn’t serving me or the company. I needed to let go of the insult and look at it for what it was — a poorly worded suggestion that I should solicit solutions from others more often. That underlying piece of feedback was true. (I am still working on this. I love to solve problems — it’s compulsory.) Don’t take feedback personally, it won’t serve you.
I am still learning everyday. At times I even have to re-learn the lessons, as knowing what you should do and what you actually do are very different — but in the end one thing is true. You are responsible for advancing your career. It will almost never be handed to you. So, be bold, be calculated, and as some unknown genius once said, “fake it, till you make it”.