Connected Women Career Series

Advice For My Younger Self: Relationships Matter

Have you ever been on a panel where they ask you the advice you would give your younger self? It is a recurring question and a good one at that. A lot of career women who are now in leadership roles did not have the luxury of seeing female role models in senior management and executive roles when they were entering the workforce themselves. Today’s world is different: such questions are being asked and there are role models out there doing it all. An inspirational video circulating on social media showed Oprah Winfrey who answered this question with the following advice: “Relax. Be patient. Life has such beautiful experiences in store for you.” Although I am not Oprah and never will be, I share this feeling. Today’s article is my own attempt at answering this question.

Patience is a virtue. One that we often overlook or underestimate at a younger age. We are in a rush to prove ourselves worthy, capable or simply ‘enough’. We hurry to make money and to make a name for ourselves.

Sometimes as we are on this rat race to success, we go lightly over something that is incredibly important – especially to reach the highest levels of the career ladder – and that something is called a relationship.

Professional relationships are crucial because nothing happens without people.

Where there are people there are relationships, whether you acknowledge them or not. Trying to get the most out of the first few interactions to the point of damaging or even ending the professional relationship is not a winning strategy, it is a short-sighted approach. Want to power charge your career? Invest in your professional relationships! Read on and find out how.

Give first and give generously

Just because you do not have more money or power than the person you are trying to approach, does not mean you have nothing to give. If you are alive and part of the human family, you have something to give – be it time, attention, your unique perspective, a connection or anything else. Come with a proposal, a gift, or offer of help – not a demand or a request. The former is how professional relationships blossom, the latter makes them die prematurely. We often talk about respect being earned, but so is a relationship. It takes initial effort and continuous upkeep through both giving and receiving.

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”

~ James Keller

Support one another in important times

We are all in our own comfortable bubble – experiencing our lives and our careers from our own perspective, in our specific work environment with our own personal and professional goals. So my areas of interest, events of importance to me, topics that matter to me or moments that are deeply significant to me will be different from the experience and priorities of others.

If you value a professional relationship share the other person or company’s moments of glory, milestones and show up when you are invited. We know this from weddings and burials, for professional relationships it should be no different. Show up when it matters most to those professional contacts around you. Timing is important and the world does not revolve around you – just your experience of it.

Respect the relationship over all else

Honor the trust you are given.

So you have someone’s contact number. You communicate on WhatsApp and see their great profile picture. You took a picture of someone and want to use it in social media. Use your judgement and if you are not sure, check with the person first. It is not okay to take someone’s WhatsApp profile picture and use it in your next Tweet or in your LinkedIn post… check first. Don’t use someone’s head shot without checking if it is alright. It takes a little more time, but can save you a lot of trouble.

Trust takes time to win, but is easily broken. Do not take such matters lightly. For in the end such small needs come and go, but relationships – if valued and respected – can last for a lifetime.

“So, my dear younger self, don’t rush. Take your time to build strong, lasting relationships, as nothing happens without people and you sure want things to happen, don’t you?!”

Lucy Schalkwijk speaks and writes about the topics of leadership development, empowerment and diversity, networking and skills development. She is the Founder and Chair of the Career Women’s Network of Kigali and a Senior Manager in the field of TVET/ Skills development.

Want to join a tribe of successful women who have your back? Contact the Career Women’s Network Kigali: info@careerwomensnetwork-kigali.com and +250783719431


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