We’ve all been dealing with the challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and the current social, economic, political, and environmental climate. I also became a new mom to twins a few months before the pandemic started. All these factors have caused me to reevaluate my values and priorities. As I reflect on my career so far, especially during the past two years, there are several lessons I’ve learned that stand out to me.
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
I’ve been a rule follower my entire life. I was a straight-A student and always did exactly what my teachers and professors told me to do. When I entered the workforce, I assumed that those in leadership positions had all the answers. As I’ve gained more experience, I’ve learned the value in asking questions and participating in respectful and constructive debate. I’ve never been disappointed with myself for asking a question or challenging the status quo, but I’ve been disappointed with myself when I didn’t listen to my instincts and use my voice to express my true opinions.
Trusting your instincts also means knowing when it’s time to move on from your role or an organization, for example, perhaps you aren’t feeling challenged anymore and you don’t see potential for growth. Or maybe a new opportunity has come up and, even though it may be scary to leave the comfort of your current job, you know it could be good experience to further your career.
In the first eight years of my career, I had four different jobs prior to joining IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants). I don’t regret changing jobs so frequently because I was able to gain more experience in a variety of areas. Each time I changed jobs, it was because I listened to my instincts and knew it was time to move on. I was fortunate to find IMA because not only do I enjoy the work that I do and find myself challenged on a daily basis, but IMA’s core values align with mine, so I feel invested in the organization and inspired by my work every day.
WORKING HARD DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN WORKING LATE
Anyone who has worked with me knows that I had the reputation of being the first person in the office and the last to leave. I love working. I always have. I love being a part of a team and getting things done and being successful at what I do. And I still do, but having children completely altered my world. As a mother of young children, I don’t have the time to work 10- or 12-hour days, nor do I want to. Since my kids are little and go to bed early, I only get a couple of hours per day with them during the workweek. Those hours are so precious to me, and I soak up all the time I can with them during the weekend. Missing out on holidays, birthdays, celebrations, and time spent with family and friends during the pandemic taught me that time is our most valuable asset. There are days when we’ll need to put in extra hours to meet a deadline at work, but we need to make sure we’re doing our best to balance work and life day to day.
I’ve learned the importance of delegation, not only for me, but for my team as well. By delegating and trusting my team to take on more, I can help them grow within their roles by allowing them to work more independently. Prioritization is also key. Over the past two years, there have been times when I’ve had conversations with my boss about everything on my plate, and she has helped me to figure out what I should tackle first and what could get put on hold. In the past, I’d have been hesitant to ask for this type of advice because I’d have thought that it made me seem like I couldn’t handle my job. Now, having taken on a leadership role myself, I encourage my team to do the same. If they’re feeling overwhelmed or overloaded with work, then I want them to come to me for help, as it demonstrates confidence and teamwork skills.
PRIORITIZE YOUR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
Before I had my kids, I’d go to the gym before work at 6 a.m. almost every day. Then I had children, and the pandemic happened, and I found myself not exercising regularly. It was challenging having two babies at home while working, and I told myself that I didn’t have the time to work out.
Eventually, I hit that pandemic wall like many of us did. I wasn’t feeling like myself. A New York Times article best explained how I was feeling: “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.” I knew I had to do something to feel inspired again, so I signed up for some online workout programs and started exercising during my lunch breaks for about 30 minutes a day. Even on my busiest days, I still try to make this a priority. When I feel stronger physically, I feel stronger mentally and can be a better employee, leader, and parent. When I exercise during my lunch break, I’m more productive in the afternoon because I’m energized and refreshed.
I’m glad that the importance of mental health is becoming a mainstream conversation; for example, this year, tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open and gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from several events during the Tokyo Olympics due to mental health issues. I’m an advocate for therapy/counseling, journaling, or whatever tools or support services make you feel your best (or at least better). The pandemic has elevated a lot of mental health issues to top of mind, and we need to be compassionate toward our colleagues. The isolation and fear that many experienced during the pandemic were difficult, and now as we’re entering a period of more “normalcy,” people are struggling to enter into society again, with many feeling emotions ranging from anxiety and listlessness to depression and anger. I feel fortunate that IMA understands the importance of mental health and demonstrates this by giving all employees access to an online therapy service called BetterHelp. Even after the pandemic ends, we need to have continued empathy toward our colleagues and create workplace cultures that foster support and compassion, especially for those who are struggling.
UNDERSTAND THAT IT ISN’T ALL ABOUT YOU
I’m a perfectionist by nature and have always had this innate desire to be the best at whatever it is I’m doing. Over time, I’ve learned to let these feelings go. Some of my happiest moments at work are when my team members succeed. I know I’m most successful when they shine. I also realize that I’ve gotten to where I am because others have supported me. For example, early on during my time at IMA, I was given the opportunity to present at a Global Board of Directors meeting. Looking back, I realize I was one of the most junior team members on our team, and my boss could have easily given the presentation herself, but she trusted me and gave me a great opportunity that not only boosted my confidence but also gave me more exposure within the organization. She also allowed me to travel to Amsterdam and Dubai to attend global marketing planning meetings. I have always worked hard, but I must acknowledge that I may not have the role I have today if I wasn’t given the gift of opportunity. I try to do the same for my team members now. I want to raise them up, give them confidence, and provide them with opportunities that help them to grow professionally and progress in their careers.
These lessons feel really important to me personally and are relevant for many people in our current challenging environment. While the pandemic has accelerated a lot of changes, I hope it’s also given us a chance to reevaluate our priorities, opened us up to greater empathy and compassion, and led to greater degrees of mutual support and teamwork within our organizations.