Can you live with the “man in the mirror”?

Are you green and growing or ripe and rotting?

From an early stage of my career, I have always felt it was important to continuously be growing – I thrived on acquiring new skills and being exposed to new ideas. I sought out opportunities that would invariably throw me into the deep end – whether it was roles that would take me out of my comfort zone or seek to work in industries or countries that I had limited previous experience.

Of course, this had led to some failures, but the overall experience of being thrust into the unknown, multiple times across the global has been enthralling and made me the unique person that I am. As the saying goes – ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’.

Operating in a rapidly changing global market, I recognized early-on that, ambiguity and uncertainty, were just real-life conditions that I had to get comfortable with and build an inner strength to cope with them as and when they arose.

I learnt very quickly, how to navigate through unfamiliar territories by asking loads of questions, developing the skill to spot the soft signals of future trends and cultivating a global network of people who I could tap on for advice. I made decisions frequently and most importantly was willing to learn from their consequences – trial and error – seemed like the best way to grow.

A few years ago, after a very challenging lull period in my career and on the backdrop of a faltering economic environment, I was able leverage my global network and land an interesting senior finance role in a major global city*. It was a role that was going to test me from multiple angles – it was an industry that I had never worked in before and in a significantly challenging senior finance role.

It was exactly what I was looking for – growth opportunity in a major global city and challenge my technical abilities.

There was one catch though, I sensed from the outset that the leadership team of the company would adopt a rather aggressive approach towards achieving their desired financial goals – a potential source of conflict. But I wasn’t sure, if this would ever manifest or not.

Having taken up the role, I threw myself into it, there were loads to learn about the sector and the technical elements of the role. I knew it would all be useful knowledge and marketable skills for the future. Within a few short months, I made several major positive impacts and gained more responsibilities.

Never comprise your core principles

However, not long after making achieving those early wins and earning the plaudits, I began to face the kind of managerial behavior and demands that I had feared on the onset – there were conflicting messages, lack of transparency and demands that if followed through could bring my integrity into question. Never at any point, did I comprise my integrity or act inappropriately. On key decisions, I sought on expert legal advice.

My decision-making on key issues over the decades was based on an inner moral compass – an underlying desire to do the right thing. After all, I have only one reputation and it was critical that I never did anything that would risk jeopardizing my integrity.

As avid reader, I was often guided by what I read, one such article was “How will you measure your life?” by Clayton Christensen a leading business professor – it helped articulate and sharpen the way I ran my life professionally and personally. His key underlying message was – it’s much easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time, than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. Christensen argued that one should never make the marginal cost of error, that is, never give to compromising your integrity ‘just this one time’ for you will regret where you end up. It’s easier to stay clean all the time, rather than to make exceptions.

To me, this meant that I needed to live with the consequences of the decisions that I made and be able to look at the ‘man in the mirror’ every morning as I shaved.

So, how did I deal with the tricky situations that were beginning to appear?

First of all, I tapped into my global network for advice on the legal, employment and financial ramifications as I began to identify the key risks. In my role, I was primarily focused on identifying operational and financial risks. I was uncomfortable with management’s approach on addressing matters pertaining to these risks and I was determined to stay true to my professional ethics. I decided then to actively explore other opportunities where I felt would be more in line with my career goals and personal and professional values.

I stepped up my exercise regime, having been active sportsperson, I knew that having endorphins streaming through my blood streams would have a tremendous positive impact. I began meditative thinking and encircled myself with positive thinking people – critically they were not ‘yes’ people, but ‘positive thinking’ allies. All of this helped provide me with better clarity.

I was determined not going to stay in an organization that did not uphold the same values I did. I left shortly thereafter for a better opportunity and joined an exciting growth oriented company. I know how important it was for me was that every day during the tumultuous period to be able to look at myself in the mirror and live with my image. The fact that I was able to secure something better, quickly was largely due to my early job-search start and ability to engage a global network. As one of my advisers’ said ‘good things come to good people!’

My three key takeaways are:

  • Life’s an exciting journey, keep exploring and learning never remain still
  • You hold 99% of the cards of your life – you decide your destiny & create the consequences of your decisions
  • Never comprise on your core principles