Using Milestones to Learn about Your Business and Yourself
By Rebecca Broad
Already, leaf tips are starting to rust. The beginning of autumn is a fitting time of year to both toast to what has been achieved so far, and to look ahead. For me, September reflections are more realistic than the glitzy flamboyance of New Years’.
This month marks a number of important personal milestones, the confluence of which has encouraged a fair amount of contemplation. Do you ask these questions of your business and yourself?
What have I achieved?
“Every time I reach a major milestone in my career, I expect it to make more of a difference than it does,”
said the athlete Cate Campbell. I massively identify with her: exactly a week ago, I submitted my final Bachelor of Science coursework. A few days before that, I’d sat my last ever exam. Friends and family messaged asking what I felt like, having finally finished a degree which I’ve studied for five years. The truth? Not much. I needed to get straight on to the next thing that needed actioning. There was this to do, and that to catch up on, and– hang on.
That’s a major milestone in my life, never mind my career! I have just COMPLETED. A. DEGREE. Alongside balancing multiple jobs, and jury duty, and volunteering, and running my own business, and having some semblance of social life, and campaigning for disabled students like myself to be treated more fairly. That deserves a bit of a celebration!
As much as writing a paragraph like that absolutely kills me (come on, I’m English, I’m taught to flatten recognition with a wry smile and nonchalant shrug), if we don’t recognise our achievements, how are they supposed to feel like achievements? If we rush on to something else, are we really doing justice to all the hard work we put in to reach that milestone?
Think about going to ‘big’ school for the first time. Those Year Eights looked terrifyingly grown up. Now we look at the adults arriving in Exeter for Fresher’s Week and marvel at how ridiculously young they seem. What I’m saying is that things can look smaller in hindsight. But before the experience completely disappears from your rearview mirror, appreciate it.
I’m not saying you have to sit around basking in your glory and allow all staff to take a 3-week sabbatical just because Q1’s results look promising. Perhaps thank each team member face-to-face or suggest you all go out for lunch? Whatever will help everyone realise that their hard work is acknowledged. Use appreciation to propel you forwards.
Do I need to change direction?
Not every milestone marks the end of a period. True milestones are way-markers, informing the adventurer of how far they are along the path. Perhaps you’re halfway through a fixed-term role, or maybe your team has spent the first part of a grant. It’s worth taking a step back and assessing whether you’re hitting targets.
Remember that, what looks like success to one business, looks like failure to another. It all depends on the organisation and its chosen outputs. For example, I’ve previously had a client who had essentially finished their work for the year if they landed a single contract, which would have been a catastrophic outcome for the client which needed thousands of sales just to break even.
Basically: whatever success looks like, are you getting closer to it? We all know how painful it is to watch someone getting something totally wrong but determinedly sticking their head in the sand. Sure, it’s uncomfortable to recognise when a situation isn’t looking too rosy. But it’s better to do so now, than at the end of a project which totally belly flopped. Check your compass, confirm you’re headed in the right direction, then proceed with a spring in your step.
What can I learn from that?
Not every experience is perfect. Some achievements are bittersweet or were reached – like my degree – after many twists and turns in the path. I apologise in advance for how disgustingly sugary the next sentence is, but it’s true so I’ve got to say it: what genuinely matters is how we grow from the journey.
When an experience seems overwhelmingly negative, try writing out ways in which you learned from the experience. Dire time at an outdoorsy team building day that you’ve been organising for months? You’ve learned that your old North Face jacket is no longer waterproof; that a sharebox of chicken McNuggets all to yourself is the perfect comfort food; and to never again ask Alex about the time they won a game of Fortnite. This acquired wisdom will, somehow, improve your life.
Learnings are even easier to take from positive milestones. For example, this is my sixth article for this magazine. I’ve been writing here for half a year, and learned how to use my own voice; how to elevate others; and that the Grow Exeter team are even bigger tea and coffee fans than I am!
Where next for me?
Having reflected on what’s been achieved, key takeaways to learn from and so on: what’s next for you or your business? How can the target be defined? What is the first step towards that?
Personally, I’m currently sizing up my first ever September not in education of some kind. Instead, this academic year will see me pushing my freelance business full-time after four years part-time. I know what success would look like for me, I know the timescales I have to work within, and have a plan to follow if I don’t achieve that vision. Perhaps it’ll all change mid-way through and I’ll have to be flexible, but at least I have a working vision of what’s on the horizon.
I don’t think September will ever entirely cease to evoke memories of sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, new teachers, and fresh beginnings with an autumnal tang. But just because there’s no teacher’s register to answer to doesn’t mean we can’t hold ourselves accountable for reflecting and learning in order to achieve our very best.