Up, up and away … your career could take off with these handy hints. Photo: Getty Images
Founder and creative director, kikki.K
"If you can dream it, you can do it" - Walt Disney
I think dreaming is the first step to actually achieving. I've always loved the quote "Nothing happens unless first we dream."
Some things might be achievable straight away, others might take a little while to get to, but I think it's so important to dream without limitations. You never know what you might achieve if you set your mind to it. This is something I constantly live by, and something I hope to inspire in other people.
My initial career dream can be summarised in the "3am list" my partner, Paul, encouraged me to write as I restlessly questioned what it was that I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to start my own business, do something that connected me back to Sweden, do something with design, and something I would always love driving to work for on a Monday morning. This list gave me focus and, soon after, the idea for kikki.K was born. It came to me when I tried to set up a home office and struggled to find the gorgeous stationery products I was used to at home in Sweden.
If you're still searching for your passion, I encourage you to spend time figuring it out. Write in your notebook what you are passionate about, what you love, what you don't like, what you would do if money were no object. I think most of us know what we love, it's just sometimes hard to work out the bridge between what you love and your skills. But if you are passionate about what you do, I really believe you can achieve anything.
By no means has my career journey been smooth sailing. There have been so many challenges and so many new experiences from day one. I had no prior business knowledge, and English was my second language - and that was just the start. One of the key things I learnt, though, is to be excited about change and challenges. With a supportive team around you and guidance from wonderful, like-minded mentors, you can welcome and foster change, learn from your mistakes and focus on your vision, no matter how big the hurdles may be.
I had, and still have, a crystal-clear vision, and an enormous amount of passion for my dream. I believe this is so important for anyone who wants to succeed in their career, or to simply make the most of their life.
Founder and managing director, The Heat Group
"Be in love with your life, every minute of it" – Jack Kerouac
I've been fortunate to have a successful life so far. However, those who know me also know that it has been peppered with many hurdles and painful experiences. My key philosophy has always been to use every experience, good or bad, as a character-building opportunity, and to focus on using these experiences to make myself a better person.
One example of turning a negative life experience into a positive one was my cancer diagnosis in 2008. While I know that the experience is different for everyone, for me it was very important that instead of letting it get me down, I made a pact with myself that I would focus on all the good things about having cancer.
Strange concept, perhaps, but the list wasn't actually that hard to put together. I saved a significant amount of money on hairdressers and leg-waxing appointments, because for six months I didn't have any hair! I could get ready very quickly in the morning because all I had to do with my hair was throw on a wig.
I reflected on the love and care of my friends and family and this in turn reinforced my love of life. I also used my cancer to raise awareness and funds for the Breast Cancer Network so there was a positive outcome for the community.
It is amazing how powerful your mind is if you apply yourself – you can deal with any circumstances the way you want to. Cancer also brought something very important to my attention – that there was absolutely nothing I wanted to change about my life. Many people who are diagnosed decide to change the way they live – some decide to work less, spend more time with family, travel, etc – but I realised that I was very happy. This was something great to focus on as well.
Of course, you don't need to wait for a cancer diagnosis to ask yourself, "Am I happy with my life?" I would encourage anyone to reflect and ask themselves, "If I only had one more year to live, what would I change?" And strive to change those things until your answer is "absolutely nothing".
I should add that in my case I work incredibly hard – many would say too hard! However, this is exactly how I want it – I love working and would not change it for the world.
The second point I'd like to make is to stress the importance of knowing what you want, and planning for it. If, for example, you are 20, conceptualise your life when you are 30. Do you picture yourself as married, with children? Working full-time or part-time? Travelling? Working long hours and having a career? Or having a less demanding role and spending time training for a marathon?
The choices you make about your education and career need to be planned in the context of your whole life, not just your career goals. In my case, I wanted to be a general manager before I was 30. This was not about being a GM, but about having the flexibility and income to be able to have children and keep working, so I needed to be able to afford a nanny and that meant I needed to have a senior role.
Women often feel almost obliged to make choices that end up as a compromise for them – this is not right or necessary. I want to say this to you: don't allow anyone to influence you to compromise on your dreams. You can do anything you want if you know what that is and put plans in place to get there.
CEO, McDonald's Australia
"Some people succeed because they are destined, but most because they are determined" – Henry van Dyke
As someone who – some might say – bucked the trend on my career path, I often have discussions with my wonderful 13-year-old daughter, who is quite risk-averse. I try to encourage her to be less afraid of making mistakes, and she and I often laugh together about how I'm trying to get her into trouble, but that's not what's happening. I'm attempting to develop within her a confidence in her own opinions and beliefs. After all, any time you do something it's better than doing nothing.
Having a lack of confidence tends to lead to a lack of action. This is an important consideration for women entering business, because I think the real difference between men and women in the workplace is that young men have great belief in their own opinion while young women don't.
In order to have greater faith in your own opinions you mustn't be too afraid of failing, or of the consequences of being wrong. Men in the workplace are happier to be wrong, and that means they constantly learn valuable lessons about how to be right.
Of course we all have doubts about ourselves. But you can learn to look at the facts and come up with a decision and, most importantly, to be responsible for that decision. Ask yourself, "What's the worst that can happen?" Usually it's not much. If you make the right decision and take action then you'll have learnt something and earned respect. If you were wrong and you took action, you'll possibly learn an even more valuable lesson. There is very little success without failure.
One of my biggest and most controversial decisions was to leave university, where I was studying economics/law, to work full-time at McDonald's, where I had worked part-time since I was 14 years and nine months old. Many doubted my decision, but I have a love of learning and I felt I was learning more and gaining more relevant skills at McDonald's, and at various courses the company was sending me on, than I was at university.
I remember telling my father and I expected him to kick back a little, to disagree and try to talk me out of it. But he listened to my reasoning, agreed that I had weighed up all of the options and offered his full support. He had worked hard to develop within me a great self-belief. This decision was a result of that.Since then I have had moments in my career when I knew I wasn't doing what my managers wanted me to do. In some cases I made some adjustments and toned things down a little. In some cases I did not. But I never crossed the line into doing something I didn't believe in.
You must always be willing to moderate your behaviour but at the same time, you must always know where that line is. You gain this knowledge through experience, and if you always do what you truly believe in, then even if you shake things up a little you will end up having greater credibility.
Leaving university and believing in my ability to make good decisions certainly worked for me. There may have been small challenges along the way, but on the positive side it has offered me wonderful career success as well as the confidence to ensure life is as much about family as it is about work. And I hope that my example will help to teach my daughter that risk as a result of self-belief isn't such a terrible thing.
Managing director, Universal McCann Melbourne
"Use your smile to change the world. Don't let this world change your smile" – unknown
My mother didn't know she was having identical twins until I was born, when my sister was eagerly chasing my arrival. The year was 1970 and the era was second-wave feminism. Not only was I born into a time of championing women's cultural equality but, more potently, I was born with a constant companion with whom I would enter a lifetime of healthy competition.
We were two little girls, the smallest in every class, but we were constantly aware of how we ranked. Not compared with everyone else, but against each other. In sport, one would win the cross-country, the other would come second. In school representation, one would be captain, the other prefect. We don't remember our other competitors, only how each other had done – a heady mix of care and contest.
This omnipresent rivalry and the decade into which I was born (protesting to the world "you are woman, roar away!"), took its time dripping into my psyche. The result? Both being a twin and the era of my early education meant that I was relentlessly competing against one particular female – and a whole generation of men. And boy, am I glad about that.
So now, 43 years later, what impact did that have? I'm wonderfully content, restlessly ambitious and extremely happy, even though I don't fit the "happy" mould: I am unmarried, yet have a cherished partner and loving circle of friends and family; I am childless by choice, but surrounded by a bounty of beautiful kids; I have a fairly fractured sense of home, having lived in five cities and four countries in the past decade alone.
I work in media and I love it. I am outnumbered by men at a senior level, but I don't call it out or wonder why more women aren't there. Instead, my colleagues and I are professionals who take a lot of pride in what we do. We've all had a similar history; again, ignoring gender, we believe in what we do and we like to be great at it.
To you, reading this, man or woman, here's my main thought: don't get too attached to gender comparison. Instead, become a specialist observer of brilliance.
There are certain behaviours I live by that I've picked up from careful observation of brilliant people:
1) Be calm. Start by removing emotion when making a decision, and then reintroduce it (we are, after all, human). Oscillate those thoughts and you'll be a caring and effective manager. My favourite saying is, "Be hard on the issue, kind on the person."
2) Competition is healthy and "the game" should be played in great spirit. Respecting those around you by appreciating their perspective couldn't be more useful.
3) Be driven by how great you can be; know what you want and say so; make your calls about business, not feelings; and be obsessed with what you can deliver.
4) Don't be too serious ... all the time.
Those are my four. You'll find your own. Do this by watching those around you, particularly those who are successful and happy. If there is someone who is awesome, follow them closely. Man or woman, they will be conscious of beating their competition, but at the same time generous, considered, and usually very much in charge of themselves.
Edited extract from 500 Words of Wisdom by Sarah Liu, $30. See littlegirlbigdream.com for stockists.