Why I never stop learning
How do you define professional success? A corner office, overlooking the city? A hefty wallet, filled to the brim with cash? Or a colourful career, littered with accolades, awards, and increasingly senior titles?
When it comes to professional success, it can seem as though the road ahead has been mapped out already. Get good grades, apply to the right firms, work hard, and climb the ladder. And yet, the road to success isn’t as simple as it might seem. While good grades, a strong CV and a killer work ethic will get you far, they won’t guarantee success. How do I know? Because when it comes to personal success, I had to create my own path, and it was filled with twists and turns.
Today I’m the CEO and founder of Stephenson Law, a multi-award winning legal services firm. At the beginning of my career? I was a single mother clambering for any sense of stability, and simply doing what I could to keep my head above water. I didn’t achieve record-busting grades, I didn’t begin my career in a city firm, and my road to success was far from traditional. Years were spent simply learning how to survive, and while others were pursuing the long established road to success, I was beginning to learn that the ingredients for success were a little more complicated than stand-out A levels.
So, how did a single mother pivot to become the CEO and founder of a law firm?
By focusing on one of the most crucial elements of success: personal development. As a founder, a lawyer, and as an individual, you are always in competition with those around you. The world is filled with degree qualified technical experts at the top of their field, and the reality is, there will always be someone out there who is better than you at what you do.
However, what is unique to you is your ability to manage the highs, cope with the lows, and maintain resilience when the going gets tough.
So, you want to go the distance? Here are three of my life lessons that helped me do just that.
1. A Lifetime Spent Learning
Stephenson Law wasn’t my first business, nor was it my second. Third time lucky, I founded something that stuck. A similar pattern presented in my career. I began in HR, learned the shoe didn’t fit, and trained to become a lawyer. As a lawyer, I bounced from firm to firm, but quickly realised something was amiss. Finally I founded my own law firm, and a decade in the works: found my home.
What I learned from this was that I had a strength that went beyond the traditional path.
I was a seasoned professional in constantly learning, a skill that would see me found multiple companies, overcome countless obstacles, and just this year, would allow me to begin an Executive MBA at the University of Amsterdam. I understood one thing intimately: when it comes to life there is one guarantee: it’s unpredictable.
So, lesson number one: when the learning stops, so do you. So keep at it.
2. Resilience Where it Counts: Embracing Emotional Intelligence
There are a few things that school neglects to teach us: how to do our taxes, how to change a tyre, and how to deal when the going gets tough. And yet, emotional intelligence is the secret to an easier life, and a career. Difficult conversations aren’t just reserved for our personal lives, and unless you’re working in a vacuum, the likelihood is that at some point in your career you will have to deal with people. And with people, comes complexity.
When I began my career I was a single parent, subsisting on patchy sleep, a shoestring budget, and zero personal time. It’s fair to say that when it came to work, I was running on empty. And yet, if I had let this consume me, my ability to cope with the day to day would have been next to impossible. By taking the time to confront my feelings, and own them, I was able to cope. That ability to confront and own feelings extends to the wider professional world.
We’re in the business of dealing with people, which is why it’s paramount we learn the “soft skills” required to go the distance. There is no end to the complications that will arise in a long and colourful career, and knowing how to approach those situations with empathy and patience will see you go far.
So, lesson number two: up your emotional IQ.
3. Set boundaries
One of the hardest words to say is “No”. As a lawyer and as a founder, that word becomes even more difficult to say. We’re in the business of making things happen, and as someone driven to deliver the best, each and every time, it can feel incredibly counterproductive to put on the brakes. And yet, this was something I uniquely learned while juggling motherhood and my career.
While law school taught me the intricacies of the legal world, it was parenthood that taught me to say no. While it’s understandable to want to be everything to everyone, there are few greater priorities than being a parent to your child. I quickly realised that if I did want to “be everything to everyone”, then I was going to have to invest the time into building up the person that I was, for my firm, and for my family. That meant understanding my boundaries, confronting my fears, and learning when to juggle life and work, and when to take some time to refuel. This realisation became a compass of sorts, and gave me the room I needed to grow, and to therefore become a better version of myself. Founder life is renowned for its ability to be demanding, and by knowing my limits, I was able to refuel just in time.
Which takes us to lesson number three: sometimes saying “no” is how we grow.
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