Six Lessons for my younger self

Oct 10, 2020 | Hanadi Khalife, Senior Director, Middle East, Africa and India operations

One of my favorite question to be asked lately is: what advice you would give to your younger self. For starters, I think it is really important to periodically reflect back on my career with a critical eye; one which, thanks to some 25 years of experience, has become equipped with the knowledge acquired from the countless challenges I have faced and conquered. 

Even though I genuinely believe that I have been blessed with an enriching career which stemmed from working in different countries with different type of organizations, the lessons learned in each and every position I held and from the colleagues and bosses that I worked with can only truly be harnessed in retrospect. 

When reviewing such experiences in reverse, I find an abundance of learnings that, in many ways, guide my thinking and approach to work and life today. Here are six pieces of advice that I would give to my younger self:

1. LOVE WHAT YOU DO

Perhaps one of the most notable of these lessons would have to be that working towards a purpose is what keeps you motivated to continuously learn, grow, and consequently succeed. When you feel a sense of purpose, setting goals and putting plans to achieve them becomes an enjoyable process in which your courage, resilience, and focus are ignited.

2. BEWARE OF OVERCONFIDENCE BIAS

I stumbled upon the concept of “overconfidence bias” a few years back. I remember smiling when I first read the term 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 am anti-stagnation and in constant pursuit of learning, development, upskilling, and reskilling.

Overconfidence bias is an inherent tendency to overestimate your skills, abilities, and intellect. Put simply, it means that the subjective confidence of your assumptions about yourself are far greater than the objective reality. It is a very dangerous type of bias which can hinder your decision-making abilities, efforts, and overall performance. The best way to overcome this pattern is by asking yourself more questions. Equally important, if not more important, is to develop the habit of listening to the actual answers. Often times, we hear what we want to hear. A common indicator is when the person you are conversing with says, “this is not what I meant”. Once you master the ability to listen, your mind will be open and be ready to learn by being receptive to new information.

3. CHOOSE AN ORGANIZATION THAT MIRRORS YOUR VALUES

Organization before job title. That’s probably my number one advice to myself. Make sure you work for a company which operates under values, culture, and purpose that align with yours. The size of the company does not matter, it can be a small family business, a large multinational, or an NGO. Look for an environment that fosters development and growth, and leaders who lead by example.  

I have been fortunate to have spent ten years of my career at IMA where I saw the organization grow and its culture of “members and employees first” flourish and define its purpose.  

More than any other time in history, social responsibility and sustainability should be the driving force of any organization. It is about the wellbeing of all stakeholders, not only shareholders.  As a young professional, I invite you to contribute to the sustainability of your societies and your planet.

4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO SPEAK FIRST

There is great power in speaking first. This might seem like a contradiction to the overconfidence bias, but, I assure you it is not; and actually being able to tell the difference is an awakening on its own. What I’m referring to is at the execution level where it is imperative that you make sure your voice is heard. 

Granted, at the early stage of your career, you might be afraid to make mistakes, but don’t be. When you look back at your career, it is what you did not do that you regret the most and not the mistakes you actually made. Have the confidence to express your opinions and views, but also have humility to listen to feedback.

5. DEVELOP AND MAINTAIN A GROWTH MINDSET

This mindset is particularly important and will see you start to define your mistakes as learnings – not “failures”. Accepting your mistakes and learning from them is key to your growth and success, and God knows you will be making quite a few of them, be it in your career or personal life. 

Acknowledging that both your intellect and personality are not fixed but a work in progress will determine your ability to learn and grow. Surely, the infamous 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 these debates, I believe we all have the capacity to learn and for our brains to develop, thanks to the latter’s neuroplastic nature. No doubt we each have different personalities and aptitude levels; however,  experience, training, and personal effort are what will define your journey towards success.  

We you start your professional career, make sure you have a sponsor within your organization who believes in your abilities, is prepared to coach you to refine your skills, mentor you to develop your goals, and guide you thru the process.

6. IDEAS CAN COME FROM EVERYWHERE

Finally, with the implication of the digital revolution and most recently COVID-19, the workplace is undergoing rapid changes that impact the business environment, and tremendously at that. So, whilst juniors and seasoned professionals will have an entirely different view on the daily running of business, each is weaving their way through this new normal and stands to contribute in shaping its future, in their own way. Be prepared to entertain ideas no matter the position and title of the person suggesting them for innovation can come from anywhere, even the janitor in the building.

Truth be told, the future will always be uncertain but it is also a future which bears the promise of limitless potential, if, you remain open and ready to welcome it with all that it brings!