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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How I Turned Vulnerability Into Career Success

Yesterday, I met with a woman from an investment firm who runs communications for a portfolio that includes companies such as ASOS, Facebook, and Nasty Gal.

As the PR director, companies come to her for advice on media relations. The #1 question she receives from them, though is, “Which PR firm should we hire?” Accordingly, she’s been putting in the time to connect with firms and come up with some firsthand recommendations.

In other words, this was more or less a casual interview to see if my business would be the type of outfit she could feel confident recommending to the 100+ household names and upcoming startups her company holds a stake in. No biggie.

About an hour in, she asked an interesting question: Did I, as a 25-year-old who's only been doing this for three years, feel vulnerable or insecure about being so young and only having limited experience in the field?

Now, the answer any sane person in this “sales opportunity” would give is, “No. I’m extremely confident about my team and its capabilities! You can trust your companies in my hands!” followed by a pinky promise. But it made me think.

I truly love my job. I like to think I’m good at it. But at the end of the day, I know only being alive for 25 years has not afforded me the luxury of time to be the most experienced in my field. I haven’t worked with a company through to an IPO yet, or held court for a brand through a time of major crisis. There’s vulnerability there, especially when we’re up for consideration against leaders twice our age with teams twice our size. That’s a reality, and it’s not going to change any time soon (unless time magically stops for everyone except me, much like any recent Rachel McAdams movie).

So yes, I definitely feel vulnerable. Some days more than others. But it’s knowing that I don’t know everything that causes me to live by these four rules:

  • Hire people more experienced and smarter than I am
  • Be clear and upfront about anticipated results and capabilities
  • Charge based upon the value I can confidently deliver
  • Work tirelessly
  • Those are the same four rules that end up defining the quality of my personal output and, in turn, contribute to the character of our company. I’m not so experienced that I can rest easy on my laurels and seniority. The past three years have provided an amazing learning curve and a wide array of industry initiatives to get knee deep in and really own, but even still, I compensate for my lack of time in the trenches by crossing every t, saying yes at every sensible opportunity, and knowing when to assign tasks outside my reach to those better equipped. I know I have to work twice as hard, hire twice as sharply, and be twice as thorough to cement our place in this space.

    I am not “hungry” for work (there’s no shortage of demand for PR representation right now), but I am hungry to constantly prove to myself that I am not letting anyone down—that I am putting client money to its best possible use and simultaneously providing the best listening ear and delegating hand for my team that I am able. Vulnerability has led to me to iterating for new approaches, setting clear objectives and expectations upfront, incorporating the ideas and backgrounds of my team, and a myriad of other activities that have made this company stronger. It’s the soft, malleable parts of my vulnerability that congealed the work foundation I’ve built upon.

    So, to answer her question, am I vulnerable? Yes. Does that mean I’ll strive to do better business because of it? Yes to that, too.

    Had I ignored my lack of experience in the field and pretended that I was invincible, I probably wouldn't have made it very far. So, consider this: Rather than ignore the things that might make you a weaker candidate, identify those points of vulnerability so you can turn them into places of strength. Working to address what might be problem areas head-on prevents them from actually ever becoming "problems areas" down the line. Use vulnerability to build your foundation.

    Photo of people at work courtesy of Shutterstock.