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6 Things I Would Tell My Millennial Self

An interview with Heather Tulk

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We are living in a Millennial world…

Gone are the days of the “certain” job or obvious career path – and Millennials know it. Changing jobs, industries and career paths throughout our lifetime is a reality that many Millennials have not only accepted, but are thriving in as part of their professional development. Change can be exciting and help us develop our careers.

Heather Tulk, Chief Customer Officer of MTS

Now, perhaps more than ever, we draw distinctions between the generations that came before us. Gen X and Gen Y are making room for Millennials who are trying to figure out their place in a world that looks and feels dramatically different than the world where their parents grew up.

We sat down with Heather Tulk, the Chief Customer Officer of MTS, to hear her thoughts on the changing landscape that Millennials are facing. Here are the lessons learned that Heather would go back and tell her Millennial self if she were in her shoes.

1. Don’t look for “defining moments”

When we’re young, we search for hidden meaning in everything we do. We look for “defining moments” that we expect will dramatically alter the state of our life from that moment onward. Graduating university, getting our first job, getting our first promotion, meeting our long-term loves…often we’re taught to view these moments as ones which define us.

Major things happen in our careers and lives, and we crave the satisfaction of saying, ‘This is now who I am.” The downside of this is that it can be tempting to also take setbacks as single defining moments, or to feel cast adrift when these ‘defining elements’ change. 

Instead of searching for those defining moments, simply try to be present. Enjoy what happens along the way, decide how you’re going to act right then and there in the moment, and do your best to reflect and learn from the outcome instead of worrying that you missed out or made a mistake. And when things go wrong, learn from them. Regret is a useless emotion, and ruminating on past failures, slip-ups and mistakes is a waste of time and energy. Many moments happen that are part of your personal fabric and the sum of all those experiences, not just any single moment or event, will define you.

2. Focus on learning, not being ‘a leader’

I wish when I was younger that I’d realized it isn’t the roles and titles that make you a leader – it’s what you do every day.

Many young people aspire to move into leadership roles in their lives – whether that’s opening a small business of your own, moving into a management position at your corporate job or taking charge within your community. To develop the skills that will help you be a good leader, focus on the smaller details and absorb as much as you can with every experience you encounter instead of worrying how that moment will help get you to an ultimate leadership goal.

One of the great pieces of advice I received over the years was that every generation teaches the generation after them, but also learns from that next generation. And likewise, every generation learns from the one before it and teaches the one before it. So no matter what you’re doing or who you’re working with, remember that you’re both a teacher and a learner in each interaction.

3. Learn to be self-aware

I think that anything can be accomplished. That can make it the hard for people around me as I can sometimes seem relentless. Any skill can sometimes become a liability.

Being self-aware allows me to reflect upon my leadership and how I can adapt along the way. Take time for this self-reflection and adapt when needed.

If you aren’t able to stare down your own faults, then your faults will hold you back. You need to be open to understanding when the things that have made you successful in the past may be standing in your way now.

4. Find a career that inspires you

One of the greatest gifts I had was a job that I disliked. Right out of my undergrad I was working in a role where I had to follow a prescribed set of rules and felt I could not influence them – this just wasn’t for me. My desire was to be part of setting the strategy of a business, and I wanted to find work where I could use my skills to make a difference in my community and where I could help people.

Instead of staying in that job, I decided to go back to school and get my MBA – setting my sights on finding a position where I could have influence in the strategy. This was a key learning for me. You need to understand how you uniquely add value and be relentless about operating in a role that meets your unique contributions and capabilities.

I hear people talk about Millennials now and how they’re a challenging generation – how they demand a lot and want to be in roles that they feel passionate about… and I say, why not? Why shouldn’t they enjoy what they’re doing?

So when you’re in a career slump, ask yourself these three things:

1. Do I have the confidence that I can do this job well?

2. Do I think the work is important?

3. Do I enjoy doing it?

If you say ‘no’ to any of those questions, then it won’t work for you. You have between 25-35 years of your life working, so why waste your time doing something you don’t like or you feel is not having an impact?

And even if you do well in your position but you don’t enjoy it, you likely won’t get promoted when stacked up against a colleague who loves what they are doing. People can tell when you enjoy what you’re doing, and it builds their confidence in your future capability.

5. Focus on diversity and accountability in the workplace

I believe that the best teams are the ones that are balanced and diverse. Being the only woman in a team with all men or being on a team of all women have been equally bad experiences.   Any team where people are crafted with one perspective, whether it be gender, functional skill or life experience background is a team that lacks creativity and seldom gets to the best outcome.

Teams with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints challenge each other, see problems and opportunities from more angles, and hold each other accountable for better results. These are all elements that ensure more success for the entire team. 

It is critically important to seek out different viewpoints and find a way to work with people who challenge your assumptions. 

6. Don’t worry so much about “work/life balance”

I fundamentally don’t believe in the concept of “work/life balance.” Work is a huge part of your life, and viewing it as separate from everything else puts your work at odds with the rest of your life.

I live by the personal mantra to ‘keep your head where your feet are,’ meaning that I focus on the people and tasks that are around me in the moment. With that mantra, I am able to be present in my job when I’m at the office, and be there for my family and friends when I’m at home. There will always be some overlap, but try to keep your head where your feet are! Being mindful and focused are two indisputable keys to success.

Instead of seeing it as a work/life balance, I view the different areas of my life as puzzle pieces – pieces for work, family, friends, hobbies and everything else. I choose how big any given piece of the puzzle is, and I choose how they fit together. If your goal is to end up in a role like mine, your ‘work puzzle piece’ will likely be a bigger piece than some others. But it is completely up to you what your picture looks – and how you size your pieces and fit them together.

The trap is when you compare your “puzzle” to everyone else’s. You see people get promotions, buy sports cars, run marathons… and we can feel like failures because we don’t have all those things. But the truth is you can’t be the sum total of everything you see that everyone else has. You can only have the combination of things that makes your life right for you. At the end of the day, it is an individual journey and you should build the full picture that is right for you. And be proud of it.

Bonus: Dream bigger than you imagine

I never had a goal to be an ‘executive’ or a senior leader. My goal has always been simply to make a difference – to make my company, community and the people around me better.

It was this passion that helped me when building many technologies that are now part of the fabric of our lives: from the Internet to e-commerce, and from fibre-to-the home to wireless communications. I actually tell my kids that I was part of building the Internet – and they laugh, but it’s true. This was an incredible experience, but it taught me a lot more than what was just on the surface.

Many times in my career I have faced resistance from people who didn’t share the vision of how great these technologies could be. In many cases I had to be tenacious and relentless in securing the support to build out these services; yet in hindsight even I had no idea how big these technologies were going to be.

Be open to how great an idea can be, and if you feel passionate about it then dream really big. Push for it, even if others don’t share your vision. And if you think that something is really great, know it can likely be even greater. 

Heather Tulk was the Chief Customer Officer responsible for all aspects of customer strategy, marketing, sales, business transformation and customer care operations for MTS.

A shorter excerpt version of this piece, called “3 Things I Would Tell My Millennial Self,” appeared in the Athena Leadership changeleaders conference workbook on November 2, 2016. Athena Leadership changeleaders “is for the development of Manitoba Millennial Women & Men and those within the community who recognize the value of supporting millennial leaders.”

Arrow image by Horia Varlan.

Alyson Shane

Alyson Shane is a writer and business owner from Winnipeg, Manitoba who has been publishing content online for 16+ years. She runs Starling Social, an agency which develops digital marketing strategies that combine social media, paid advertising and content strategy to keep businesses growing and engaged with their customers. Outside the office, Alyson is a passionate urbanist who loves gardening, riding her bike and thinking about the public spaces that bring us together. She can be reached on social media at @alysonshane.

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