I will never forget the summer of 2008, when I started my traineeship in a mid-size software company. As a trainee, my tasks were to support the sales department. So far so good, but the first thing which struck me was that the department was 99% male.
There was just one notable exception – the head of sales was female. This was, without a doubt, the first time I had been confronted by such gender inequality in the workplace, yet I was heartened to see one woman had at least made it to the top.
Her name was Ana and luckily for me, she took me under her wing and supported me greatly during my time there. I greatly admired her for her self-confidence, which she maintained on a daily basis without ever slipping into arrogance and how she maintained her unique personality and leadership style rather than try and be “one of the guys”. But something I didn’t understand was why on earth she didn’t hire more women? One day I summoned up the courage to ask.
Ana said she would love to see more women in her department, but the company just didn’t get any applications and the ones who did apply “didn’t stay around for long”.
I was struck by a sense of injustice as I didn’t see any reason why a woman wouldn’t be able to sell just as well as man. After a brief pause, I said to her that I would like to change that and Ana, ever the philosophical thinker, responded with the (now) much-heard phrase: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Flash forward twelve years and after numerous sacrifices, hours of hard work and uncountable internal political challenges to overcome, I have just been awarded “The Special Sales Achievement prize” – one of the highest honors at the company I work for.
The award means a lot to me because I feel that for the first time in my life, I’m finally representing the change that I had set out to achieve all those years ago.
It also serves as an important reminder for others in my organization that playing big doesn’t mean playing safe and that being true to yourself (as my mentor was all those years ago) and conducting yourself ethically does eventually get noticed.
There is no sugarcoating it – I don’t come from a wealthy background or a big city, or have connections to open doors for me. I’ve had to fight hard for everything I have achieved in life. I was born and grew up in a small country where dreaming big was often laughed at rather than be admired.
However, I always knew that no matter what others said, I wanted to test my boundaries and grow as a person in other ways. I wanted a meaningful career, to make waves in the world of business and fulfil my potential in as many ways as I could.
Today, I would say I am still on my mission and trying to be the change I want to see in life.
The experience of moving on my own from my small country (two million inhabitants) to the economic powerhouse of Germany in order to pursue my dreams has taught me that even when things don’t always go as planned, you still need to believe in yourself.
And, as trite as it might sound – never give up. I am now trying to help others, particularly women, by sharing my story as well as passing on tips and tricks that have helped me to be successful.
One of my favorite quotes is from Sheryl Sandberg “we cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change”.
With this in mind, I try very hard to acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses and improve on the latter by reading books and participating in forums/organizations that address issues affecting women.
At the beginning of my career I suffered from a lack of self-confidence and far too often, instead of raising my hand and speaking, I remained quiet.
Numerous books and the participatiion in different business forums has helped me reflect on my own life and identify the challenges I needed to overcome to unleash my own potential.
However, let me be clear: there is still plenty of my own potential that I have to unleash and the process is ongoing.
Many people think they will reach a point in life, like the summit of a mountain top, where there won’t be any more inner voices/obstacles/challenges holding you back.
And there won’t be anything anymore to unleash. Well, if you ask me, if such a place does exist, it is called heaven and is not on this earth!
So, unleashing your own potential is an ongoing process with an aim to enable you not only to be successful in your career but also live a meaningful and happy life. And under this section (Unleash your Potential) I am going to write about different topics.
But one thing I can guarantee you about this section (unleash your Potential) is that it is going to be a fun way of exploring and overcoming your own inner obstacles that keep you from living your life to the fullest.
So, strap yourself in and get ready for the ride.