When you’re going for the good stuff in life, give yourself an advantage by competing only against yourself.
Figuratively this means don’t compare yourself to others. That’s a fool’s errand. Compare yourself only to how you’re getting better every day. How you’re learning and growing. What you’re contributing to the world.
Literally this means to look for situations where you really are competing only against yourself.
Here’s an example.
After four years in aerospace corp comms, I was ready for the next step. The entertainment world caught my eye. But I had no idea how to make that move.
In an unrelated development, I called an IABC acquaintance to get the new phone number of mutual contact.
Jeff Torkelson happened to be the SVP of corporate communications at DIRECTV, an offshoot of an aerospace company that launched an all-digital, national TV service. As the original disrupter to cable, it was growing fast.
As we talked it dawned on me that he was asking more about my work than a casual social conversation would usually entail. Then he said he’d been looking, unsuccessfully, for a new communications manager. Would I be interested in exploring it?
One thing led to another, and a few weeks later I joined DIRECTV. (And here’s where I tell you the opinions expressed in this blog are mine.)
The lesson? Your network is important. Invest in meeting new people in person and in social media. Keep in touch. Help people out. Introduce them to each other. Pass along job leads.
The other lesson? The power of not trying too hard. Check out A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying.
While I wasn’t managing people (yet), I was responsible for employee communications and executive presentations, both internal and external.
But after a week on the job, I realized I’d made a big mistake.
While the people were friendly and the TV service was exciting, the environment was like a start up. People running around with their hair on fire. Long days that stretched into long nights. Some people never seemed to go home.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t been warned. “It’s really busy here,” Jeff said during our interview. “Do you think you can handle it?”
His words came back to haunt me during those first few crazy days. But I wasn’t about to quit after a week. I decided to stick it out for a year. Then I could move on to a better fit.
But something magical happened. I discovered I could thrive in that crazy environment. That it actually energized me. That I felt alive with the possibilities about what the future could become.
I got the green light to hire my first team member. And then my second.
And I figured out how to make it all work. The real secret was a lot of early mornings when I found quiet time for heavy thinking work – whether it was comms planning or speech writing.
When I started at the company in 1999, we had 5 million customers in the U.S., 1,200 employees and two locations.
Fast forward to 2015. We have 39 million customers in the U.S. and Latin America, close to 30,000 employees and well over 150 locations.
The lesson? Join a company that’s growing, with leaders who inspire you and values that move you.
And become comfortable not only with navigating change but with leading it.
During my tenure so far we’ve had four corporate owners and six CEOs. My comms team has grown to 44 people in nine states. (And the picture above was taken at DIRECTV in 2011 for a USC Annenberg alumni promotion.)
The consistent theme in working and growing at DIRECTV is that we entertain the future. We’re in the business of transforming TV.
In my last post I shared my zeal to establish myself early on with a number of industry awards. I also said how we’re measured as communicators has changed over time.
While some of it has to do with becoming a senior-level communicator, most of it has to do with our rapidly changing world.
Awards focus on what you did in the past.
But in the present it’s about how well you’re contributing to the company strategy. How you shape your corporate reputation to attract more and better customers, employees and shareholders. And how you give back to the communities where you do business.
And more than ever, it’s focusing on the future. How do you make products and services that people will love? How do you create a workplace where you can attract great people? And how do you consistently generate growth to attract investors?
And that gets back to why I launched this blog. Which will be the subjects of many future posts.