Career Connection

If the shoe fits ...

Use these three lessons to create your brand, develop your unique professional identity and navigate your career journey.

My career journey has been a wonderfully long and winding road through incredible roles in a wide range of industries. I’ve audited, investigated and led large global teams of people whose services kept businesses running, including IT, finance, human resources, marketing, procurement and more. I’ve been lucky enough to work with leaders and teams that have inspired me to learn crucial career lessons along the way. As I think about those lessons, I’ve distilled them down to my top three.

But before I share those lessons, I’ll give you a sense of where my journey started. I got my degree in accounting and landed a plum position in one of the big public accounting firms. It was a dream job. As vice president of my school’s accounting society, a staff auditor in a big firm was the quintessential position that I’d been working towards throughout my academic career. However, I was a bit of a rebel growing up, and I have a deep-rooted curiosity about everything. So, the one thing that I didn’t bargain for was a requirement to conform.

As I navigated those early years, the messages that constantly flashed before me were clear: conformity was the key to success. Keep your head down, don’t rock the boat. I struggled to find my way through the sea of neutral-colored skirt suits and pantyhose. One of my best coping mechanisms was to wear the craziest socks that I could find with my sneakers for my long commute, before switching to painful pumps as I walked in the door to work.

Aside from the constraining attire, what I remember most about that time in my career was the constant feeling that being unique or different — right down to the way you did your work or the questions you asked — came with a penalty. The expectation seemed to be that I should be just like everybody else. But if I believed that, then it was hard to give my best.

Thankfully, those days are gone, and organizations around the world are beginning to recognize the tremendous value in diversity of thought and contribution. Disruption is happening all around us in every industry, and the winning organizations recognize that conformity stifles bold new thinking and shuts down any attempt to drive change.

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