I recently had the pleasure of giving the commencement speech at Modul University in Vienna. In my remarks I shared three principles, which have either knowingly or unknowingly forged my career and life. I hope they resonate with both recent graduates entering the workforce, and any professional looking to invest in both their professional and personal happiness.
1. Give luck a chance:
There is no such thing as a career ladder. A career, even more so in the 21st century, is more of a zig-zag than straight line. And let me tell you something: This is a good thing, it´s something that should not scare you but, on the contrary, inspire you.
I am sure you are filled with all kinds of feelings—excitement and joy, but maybe also a kind of anxiety. Maybe you are uncertain about the many decisions you can and will need to make in the future; maybe you are afraid of making mistakes or taking the wrong track. Don´t be. You have a world of opportunities in front of you—that’s actually something marvelous and motivational.
You need luck, sure, but you also need to be bold enough to seize the opportunities life brings your way. Nobody understood this better than the French father of microbiology, Louis Pasteur, who said: Le hazard ne favorise que les ésprits prepares. “Luck favors only the prepared mind.”
2. Work hard:
My son Robert is a 22-year-old jazz-musician. Years ago he asked me: Saskia, Wie wird man Chef? “How does one become a boss?” And I said, usually, it starts with doing great work and doing it for a long time.
This may sound trivial, obvious and, perhaps, not very inspiring. But, I assure you, it is a prerequisite to succeed in business. Luck and confidence are important, but without dedication to your craft it usually does not work.
Take responsibility for what you do. Worry less about where you will be in five years, instead, ask yourself how well you do your current job and how well you contribute to the success of the organization you work for.
The concept of agility, which is currently all the rage in business literature, means to get things done (“better done than perfect”), to think in terms of solutions not challenges, and to be results driven.
Contrary to popular advice, don’t worry about your leadership skills in the beginning. In the beginning your job is to be led, to work in a team, to contribute, and to grow. There is a great African saying, “Grass will not grow quicker if you pull on it.”
I worked very hard for many years, and it felt right. I had success, money, pleased clients, and a collaborative environment among colleagues and bosses. It was an intensive time, a time when I contributed substantially to the success of our business and, in doing so, led me to partner and eventually CEO of the agency, leading its transformation to Ketchum.
I worked hard, but I also searched the challenges; the difficult and important projects and clients. I was confident and eager to learn and grow, which meant that I sometimes worked Sundays and evenings. It did not matter since I loved what I did, it was my life, and the job really made my heart sing the same way it does today—luckily I work fewer hours now.
3. Be generous and positive:
The third principle is about the energy that you give and take. In the Beatles´ famous last album, Abbey Road, the very last phrase goes, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” To me, this is simply a more poetic way of saying, Wie man in den Wald ruft. “We reap what we sow.”
In any of the jobs I held, I wanted to be more of a radiator, rather than drainer. Common sense, and all sorts of studies and research, tells us that generosity makes for a happy life—just as gratitude does. Sheryl Sandberg said that every evening she writes down three moments throughout each day that she is grateful for. I like that idea. I believe that focusing on the positives makes you a stronger and more attractive person. Focusing on all the things that apparently went wrong, or what you could have done better, has an adverse affect.
When I took over the agency, few believed that I would succeed in making the big changes needed to ensure future success. Talent left; clients left. What did I do? I hired new people, many of which were very young—and today, six years later, that very same group of people have become the pillars of who we are today, the most creative communications consultancy in Austria.
What helped me succeed was my husband, my then two-year-old daughter and an attitude that, in the end, it would all be good and that nothing in business can ever be important enough to really drag me down. I often had to force myself to stay optimistic and positive, cheerful and friendly, and it helped! It became a habit, which again enabled me to move on, turn on… and fight on!
So, those are the three learnings from my life that I hope resonate with you: Give luck a chance. Work hard. Be generous and positive.
Candidly ask yourself this question, in almost any kind of situation, and it might just lead you to your personal answer on what it means to lead a happy and successful life: Are you a Creator, or are you a Consumer?
Do you fill the precious time you have with meaning and joy, or do you live somebody else´s life? Are you contributing and growing, or are you watching the world go by on Facebook and Instagram? Do you live your own dreams, or are you the audience for someone else’s?
You can guess what my advice is: Be a Creator, not a Consumer. Do something meaningful with all of the gifts and talents you have—make yours a good life for yourself, but also for those around you and possibly for the world when and where you can influence it. Be happy and grateful. And never forget to hug and kiss your loved ones whenever time allows!