Last week we had an end of year reflection session in the office. Each member of the team presented three things to everyone: the most memorable of the event of the year, the hardest moment of the year and a lesson they had learnt that will change the way they do something in 2017… The occasion created a great level of cohesion within the team and provided us the founders with great insight.
The experience also made me think about not just one, but multiple things that I have experienced in 2016, not to mention all the lessons I will take with me into next year and the longer term future. In this blog I will share my top 5 lessons from my year for both work, but also on a more personal level.
Lesson 1. It starts in your head
Earlier this year this quote hit me like a freight train… There I was, running on the treadmill in the early hours of a Monday morning, listening to an Audible lecture series on neuropsychology and the professor proclaimed:
Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
I paused the treadmill, flagged that sentence and stood there for a minute staring out the window… I started to think about my character, what was important in my life and how it came to be that way. I thought about my (slight addiction) to the gym each morning, my hatred of being wrong, my drive for contributing to social and environmental change and also myself as a parent.
Lesson 2. There is nothing more freeing than being yourself
Ok, so the first two lessons may be coming across like a little bit of a trip to the shrink, but I am not going to apologise for that. I have grown to understand that before we as humans can change anything in the outside world, we must first understand the internal world of ourselves. So the second lesson that I have learnt or rather “learnt to embrace” this year is not being afraid to be myself, not a fake version of who I want someone to think I am. The “take me or leave me kind of lesson.”
One great example this year was the shame I have possessed for many years about my age and how that interacts with my role as a co-Founder. When I started Tadaweb at 22, I wouldn’t tell a soul how old I was, in fear that they would judge my competence. I can’t count the number of times people thought I was at least 30 (man, I need to invest in anti-wrinkle cream) but I preferred it that way. The thing was, I was already feeling hugely intimated being a woman, let a lone a young, foreign one at that.
It has taken nearly 5 years to actually embrace the fact that I am younger than most, in fact I am nearly the youngest on my team. 2016 taught me that being young is actually something to be proud of, not ashamed. But it didn’t stop there. I have had a crazy life, I have traveled the world at a young age, done some crazy things and always pushed myself to try crazy challenges, like weight lifting or boxing, which has made me quite “a-typical” to the outside. When people ask me questions about myself or my work, I have learnt to answer honestly (most of the time anyway). For example, now when people ask me how I met my husband who comes from a country located directly on the other side of the world to where I am from, I tell them - “completely drunk in a night club on the other side of the world…” If they chose to judge me, they are most welcome, but if they do it just means they aren’t the type of company I wish to keep. I am unique, I am a little crazy and I am learning to be more honest about who I am, and you know what? It feels amazing and I have made some of the best friends, and business connections in my career, they actually respect my honest so much more than anything fake. Try it - I dare you!
Lesson 3. Diversity Rocks
Ok, ok, I will leave the stuff on a year of internal self discovery for another day and return to some more work related lessons. Number one of this front is definitely based on the importance of diversity, to go as far to say as diversity is critical. You can gather by the fact the Tadaweb team is made up of over 10 cultures…
Sure, I had read the tech greats explain the importance of diversity, I had personally spoken with the Chief Diversity Officer at Facebook, but it was not until this year when I truly saw it work in the real world that I believed just how important it is. I have blogged about it before, so I am not going to write a novel on this point, but the thing is, by having multiple different traditions, ways of working, languages, beliefs, strategies and approaches all under one roof has improved not only our team, but our product, culture and customer acquisition like never before. Why? The different approaches from the team members brings a completely fresh and reflective way of doing things. It opens the eyes of many and makes them question the current system, reflect on the efficiency of their own strategy and improve if necessary. For example, some people express their ideas more vocally than others, some test far longer, some are more keen on innovating - this melting pot of technique and strategy is gold for building a well-rounded, growing company… not to mention the annual culture day that let’s all of the team try different dishes from all around the globe! Above all I am super grateful to learn from everyone and gain insight that I would never normally be able to get - like the concept of Hugge from Denmark, the regional dishes from the Lorraine, the traditions of the South of Italy at so on.
Lesson 4. The key way to drive social change is through education
This year more than ever before, I have been fortunate to work with kids and young adults on a number of occasions, from entrepreneurship lectures, to school programs and educational tech events. I have witnessed first hand the importance of educating the next generation and empowering them to understand that they are the future, and their potential to create change is unprecedented.
My goal in all this work was to help direct the powerful minds of the next generation for social good and technological advancement. However, I was faced with a number of obstacles. One of which is etched into my memory… I was with a group of teenage girls in a classroom setting, I asked them what they wanted to do later and if they wanted to get into tech. Unfortunately, their replies were less than supportive of the idea. The young women explained that tech wasn’t cool for girls, it wasn’t girlie and it would mean they would end up working with a bunch of (smelly, geeky) guys…
I thought best about how to reply to them. If I am honest… I could sympathise a little with their points, but I was determined to drive change. So I said “ok, let’s do a test, can everyone take out their smart phones?” They pulled them out hesitantly and I proceeded to get them to explain to me their favourite apps. One said Instagram, another Candy Crush and another mentioned Snapchat. I used their points to leverage the the idea that these applications are in fact technology, and above all, the largest groups of users of these apps are women and girls! I explained that they were actually in an amazing position to make the cooler, to innovate on them. After a half hour or so of brainstorming that started to really understand just how much they use and rely on technology each day, and in fact, it was kinda cool. By shifting their view on what “technology” actually meant, they finished the workshop with a new appreciation for tech, with one even going as far to say it was “really really cool.” That was a great day and taught me a lot of about the power of contextually relevant education.
Lesson 5. First Stop. Then Reflect. Finally Act.
Ok… So I said that I would leave the “internal self discovery” lessons alone, but I could resist just one last one to finish off because it is so important…
I won’t deny it. Sometimes injustice, frustrating situations and general negative events (like losing at office ping pong, ask my team) can get me extremely frustrated. There are times when I see red and react far too quickly. However, this year I grown to understand that importance of just stopping, walking away for a few minutes and then returning with a clear head.
I have broken this idea down into multiple practical steps to help me achieve this. Like if I get a really aggressive email, I still go ahead and write back an emotionally filled raging email, but I don’t send it, not straight away at least. I leave it in my drafts, go away for a bit then sit back down and often end up toning it down (significantly). I even impressed myself earlier this year while in a meeting here in Lux. Without naming names, a high level manager from a large bank was present in the same meeting as myself. At one point in the discussion, he turned to me and said “and you honey, what do you think?” At that very moment time froze, I was in a state of shock - did he really just call me “honey” I try and ask myself? What was I? His 8 year old daughter? Next minute a wave of rage overtook me, everything within me was screaming to say “honey, I am not a f*cken honey.” Then suddenly, a rational voice entered my mind and told me to take a chill pill, it explained that I needed to be clever about this because over reacting in defence would not serve my objectives…
I sat, looked at him directly and said “sure sugar plum, I think we need to do this because…” Everyone, well, almost everyone (the guy went as red as an over-ripe tomato) burst into laugher and I earned a new level of respect, no one would call me honey again, not at least in that meeting. Through stopping, “chilaxing” and reflecting on the best approach I shifted myself from the defence to the offence in just strategic one sentence.
So there we have them, five of my take aways from yet another crazy year! 2016 has been a big year of personal growth, company growth and an attempt to find the golden mean. I have my goals set for next year, I am extremely driven and excited! On this note - peace out 2016 and me and the whole Tadaweb team, we want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!