One thing our MD, Veronica Wainstein, has learnt is that it is in vulnerability that you learn to show your strength.
I clearly recall early in my career at Penquin, my then boss, now Business Partner, friend and mentor, Darren Leishman, told me that I am opinionated. My natural default to that statement was to jump onto the defensive because the comment felt negative. In my mind, it meant I was self-important, argumentative and narrow minded – none of the qualities I believed of myself.
Darren clarified and said, “Being opinionated is a good thing! It doesn’t represent arrogance, it means that you aren’t just a sheep and you don’t just accept what’s put in front of you. You listen, understand, form an opinion and voice it.” This is a quality essential in marketing because so much can be subjective when it comes to consumer behaviour and even though mounds and mounds of research gets done annually to better understand what makes people tick, perception will always define an individual’s reality. The other critical part of being opinionated is that it’s the reason you are employed and promoted, it’s the reason your colleagues learn to respect you and most importantly it’s why your clients want to deal with you – bottom line, experts have opinions… strong ones.
The difficulty for me, however, was trying to find the balance between what my opinion was and what I knew.
When we are in our teens and twenties our depth of knowledge is insurmountable… or so we think. We really don’t have any concept of what we don’t know and this kind of unconscious incompetence is what leads to millions in revenue loss because we were too embarrassed to admit that which we don’t know. When we are younger, admitting lack of knowledge feels like weakness.
When we gain more experience, and get a bit older, we start to know what we don’t know and become comfortable being vulnerable and admitting that we are unsure. This conscious incompetence is what really propels us. We learn to ask questions, we learn to recognise our strengths and weaknesses and we quickly learn from our mistakes. Mostly, we become unafraid to expose our lack of knowledge or ability and we completely understand that asking for help is more a sign of strength than a sign of weakness.
Starting your career is nerve wracking. We want to shine, we want to grow, we want to succeed and we want to make the big money. That growth can easily be propelled if you take cognisance of the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know and that from asking comes learning.
Jia Jiang, an entrepreneur, presented a TED talk (with over 3 million views) on an exercise he did in expressing his greatest vulnerability – the fear of rejection – and I really think this encapsulates the sentiment of allowing yourself to be vulnerable and being persistent in that vulnerability so you can learn and grow.
So, don’t be afraid of looking stupid. Only stupid people don’t ask questions.
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