One of my favorite questions that I’ve been asked lately is: “What advice would you give to your younger self?” For starters, I think it’s really important to periodically reflect back on my career with a critical eye. I’m equipped with knowledge acquired from the 20-plus years of countless professional challenges that I’ve faced and conquered.
I’ve been blessed with an enriching career that stemmed from working in different countries with various types of organizations, and the lessons learned in every position I held and from the colleagues and bosses with whom I worked are best harnessed in retrospect. After reviewing such experiences, here are six pieces of career-development advice that I wish I could’ve given to my younger self:
1. LOVE WHAT YOU DO
One of the most notable of these career lessons is that working toward a purpose is what kept me motivated to continuously learn, grow, and consequently succeed. Feeling a sense of purpose, setting goals, making plans, and working to achieve them became an enjoyable process in which my courage, resilience, and focus were ignited.
At IMA’s Dubai, U.A.E., office, the most rewarding part of my job is knowing that the extended collective effort of my team is going toward empowering accounting and finance professionals and students. It’s an honor for me to contribute to the growth journey of young minds by not only showing them the way to upscale their career but also teaching them how it’s done. Not many people can say that their work has purpose beyond organizational profits and financial or market-share goals, but I honestly can.
2. BEWARE OF OVERCONFIDENCE BIAS
I remember smiling when I first read the term “overconfidence bias,” as it instantly took me back to the day I graduated from university thinking I knew all there was to know about the business world. Fast-forward to today when, more than ever, I avoid stagnation at all costs and I’m in constant pursuit of learning, development, upskilling, and reskilling.
Overconfidence bias is an inherent tendency to overestimate your skills, abilities, and intellect.Put simply, the subjective confidence of our assumptions one has about oneself and others doesn’t necessarily match objective reality. It’s a very dangerous type of bias, which can hinder decision-making abilities, professional efforts, and overall performance.
The best way to overcome this pattern is by asking questions. Equally—if not more—important is to develop the habit of listening to the answers and keeping an open mind. Often, people hear what they want to hear. A common indicator is when the person you’re conversing with says, “That isn’t what I meant.” Once you master the ability to listen with an open mind, you’ll be ready to learn by being receptive to new information and different perspectives.
3. CHOOSE AN ORGANIZATION THAT MIRRORS YOUR VALUES
When looking to make a career move, value organizational culture and fit before job title. Make sure you work for a company that operates based on values, an ethical culture, and purpose that align with yours. The size of the company doesn’t matter—it can be a small family business, a large multinational corporation, or a not-for-profit nongovernmental organization.
Look for a professional environment that fosters career development and skills growth, with ethical leaders who lead by example. I’ve been fortunate to have spent 10 years of my career at IMA, where I’ve seen the organization grow and its culture of “members and employees first” flourish and define our purpose.
More than any other time in history, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability should be the driving forces that guide the direction of all organizations. It’s about the well-being of all stakeholders, not only shareholders. Seek to work for—and with—professionals who prioritize CSR and encourage you to contribute to the sustainability of your society and our planet.
4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO SPEAK FIRST
There’s great power in speaking first. This might seem like a contradiction to the overconfidence-bias tip, but I assure you that it isn’t, and actually being able to tell the difference is an awakening on its own. At the execution level, it’s imperative that you make sure your voice is heard.
Granted, in the early stages of your career, you might be afraid to make mistakes or put your foot in your mouth, but don’t be. When you look back at your career, it’s what you didn’t do that you’re likely to regret the most, not the mistakes you made. Have the confidence to take a chance and express your opinions, but also have humility to listen to feedback, even when it’s negative.
5. DEVELOP AND MAINTAIN A GROWTH MIND-SET
A growth mind-set, which involves defining your mistakes as lessons learned rather than as failures, is particularly important for professionals of all stripes. Accepting your mistakes and learning from them is key to your professional growth and success, and chances are you’ll be making quite a few of them, be it in your career or personal life.
Acknowledging that both your intellect and personality aren’t fixed but rather works in progress will boost your ability to learn, adapt, and grow. Surely, the contentious debate around whether people are born with different levels of capabilities and intellect—nature vs. nurture or genes vs. environment—has been going on for centuries. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, we all have the capacity to learn and for our minds to develop, thanks to the brain’s neuroplastic nature. No doubt we each have different personalities and aptitude levels, but experience, training, and personal effort are what will define your journey toward success.
One way of ensuring that you receive the support you need is by making sure that you have a sponsor or mentor within your organization who believes in your abilities and is prepared to coach you to refine your skills, develop your goals, and guide you through the career-development process.
6. IDEAS CAN COME FROM ANYONE
Finally, with the implications of the digital revolution and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, the workplace is undergoing rapid changes that impact the business environment tremendously. So, while juniors and seasoned professionals may have an entirely different view on the daily running of business operations, they’re weaving their way through this new normal in an effort to contribute to shaping their organization’s future in their own way. Be prepared to entertain ideas no matter the position and title of the person suggesting them because innovation can come from anyone.
The future will always be uncertain, but it’s essential to believe in limitless potential and remain open-minded and ready to welcome opportunities for growth despite uncertainty and challenges.