The average person will spend 13 years and two months of their life at work, according to one analysis from HuffPost Australia. That’s a huge chunk of our lives. And when you factor in not only the time but the emotional investment that goes into our careers, it’s no surprise that our professional accomplishments can often rank amongst the things in life we’re proudest of.
Below, we heard from seven senior leaders about their biggest career accomplishments, as well as what other professionals can learn from them.
1. “I survived a nationally televised humiliation — and my business grew because of it.”
“After four tumultuous years of building my startup with the wrong partners, lots of bad decisions and some major rookie mistakes, I was determined to find a way to take my business to the next level,” Lori Cheek, founder and CEO of dating site Cheekd.com, recalled. “And what better way than to apply to ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’?”
Cheek’s business made it onto the show — and was skewered by the hosts. One even recommended she shoot her business “like a rabid dog.” Cheek chose not to take that advice, and it paid off. Within 48 hours of the segment airing, she’d received nearly 50 emails from interested investors, and today the company has raised five times the amount she originally sought on the show.
“I’m thankful I didn’t take the Sharks’ advice to quit and move on,” she said.
2. “I learned how to implement better boundaries for myself.”
“The biggest accomplishment I’ve ever made throughout my career is a change in my mindset,” Simon Elkjær, Chief Marketing Officer at avXperten, said. “When I first started out, I gave my work my all — so much so that I lost track of my personal life and my relationships with others.”
Through a “series of trial and errors,” Elkjær said he was able to cultivate a routine that works for him and helps him achieve balance while going after realistic goals.
“This accomplishment has not only made me a better business leader, but a better person as well,” he added.
3. “I reversed industry turnover trends at my company.”
“One of my biggest accomplishments is not having any direct staff turnover for the past 10 months, as turnover in my field is fairly common,” Maica Mueller, a Senior ABA Program Supervisor at Family Insight, said.
By modeling empathy and understanding as a supervisor, Mueller believes she’s been able to address the biggest reasons for turnover, including burnout.
“There are a lot of policies that I cannot change myself; however, I have found that if you have sympathy for others, staff are more likely to reach out to you to come up with solutions rather than bottling it up and resenting the job later,” she said.
4. “I failed multiple times before finding a way forward — and am proud of those failures.”
“Looking back at everything I have done, I can really say that failing my startups was by far the best lesson to get forward,” Benjamin Talin, today the founder of MoreThanDigital.info, said. “The pain was hard, the financial impact immense but the learnings were just outstandingly valuable to me.”
Now when telling others about his career, speaking of these failures comes with a special pride.
“I kind of take pride in having tried but also failed with these projects,” he said. “Now I have way more insights, I do things differently and still I am learning every day. I guess the biggest accomplishment in this sense is to get up every time, no matter how bad the situation is, no matter if people tell you that it will never work — just get up and get going.”
5. “I didn’t let the pandemic derail my business plans.”
“We’d been working on the agency since around December 2019, but our service offering was only ready to go to market in February 2020,” Nathan Thompson, CMO of iakoe, said.
The odds of launching a business at the start of the pandemic, in short, didn’t look good. But to give up on all the work they’d put in didn’t seem an option.
“At the time, it seemed pretty crazy to say the least, with everything going on around us,” he said. “But we persevered and found ourselves in an incredible position to finish off the year at full client capacity.”
6. “As a founder, I didn’t compromise my company’s culture.”
“One thing I’m really proud of is the company culture I have established over the years,” Malte Scholz, CEO and Co-Founder of Airfocus, said. “My goal was to have a consistent set of values that wouldn’t change, regardless of external factors.”
Despite several moments of temptation to “take the easier path in challenging situations” and “bend some of our core principles,” Scholz says they’ve ultimately stuck to their guns: “The first couple of years were the hardest, but we eventually established a very strong system that couldn’t be disrupted no matter what. Most importantly, I managed to transfer these values to my employees so that I’m not the only one insisting on certain principles.”
7. “After immigrating to the U.S. at 17, I reached the C-Suite.”
“The accomplishment I am the proudest of is demonstrating that the American dream is still alive,” Elaine Montilla said. “As an immigrant representing the LatinX and the LGBTQ+ communities who came to the U.S. at the age of 17, speaking no English and having no connections, I am incredibly proud to have become CIO at a university in New York, running the IT department and leading a team of 60+ at the young age of 42.”
Not only that, but on top of her C-Suite responsibilities, Montilla has made a point of paying her successes forward.
“In the middle of COVID, I founded my first company 5xminority, a company and social media brand dedicated to empowering women and minorities, especially in tech, with a mission to demonstrate how businesses can be powerful platforms for social change,” she said.
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