Five lessons I learned about having it all

Michelle Hutchison’s story demonstrates how to rise above the haters and seize opportunities, promotions and networking wins to build an excellent career.

Michelle HutchisonI was at the top of my game. It was early last year when I was sitting on a plane, heading to our LA office with my boss, Fred Schebesta, after launching finder.com in the USA.

My second child was four months old when I returned from maternity leave to a new role as global head of communications at finder. I was attending a business luncheon where I would meet Arianna Huffington, the founder of one of the top news sites in the world, Huffington Post, and Forbes‘ 70th most powerful woman in the world.

I had it all. But it was lonely at the top. After being promoted, my purpose changed. I knew the objective of my role but my career identity shifted. I was also faced with motherly guilt and judgement.

I had haters.

People were judging me for leaving my newborn at home to go on a business trip, and for going back to work after just four months on maternity leave.

As Taylor Swift sings it, “haters gonna hate”.

But is it their fault when it’s so unusual to be a mother and work full time? In 2011 only 25% of mothers worked full time, increasing to just 27% in 2013, according to the ABS.

Regardless who’s fault it is, it’s what you do about these haters and the choices you make that will determine whether you will have it all and be happy. Here are five lessons I have learnt while trying to have it all.

 

1. Jump at opportunities, even if you’re not ready!

My first full time job was at Property Australia magazine as associate editor. When my editor resigned, I jumped at the chance to fill the role. It was here that I understood the PR machine: how a members-only magazine was designed to promote the organisation, Property Council of Australia.

An opportunity soon arose for a PR Manager role at a commercial real estate company. I got the job with no clue what I was doing – and hated it! But if I hadn’t taken this step, gained some experience and learnt from my mistakes, I would never have landed at finder.

 

2. Promotions don’t happen unless you make them

I had no idea where I’d end up when I first started in PR. I had a friend who was the Australian head of communications at a big corporation and thought, ‘wouldn’t that be cool?’ I wanted a similar role but had no idea how I could get there. But with the support of my husband to keep climbing that ladder, I was encouraged to push forward and up.

I mapped out my own career plan. This included a three-year goal of what role I wanted next and when, how much I would earn, how many people I would lead and what we’d be doing. I also had a five-year and ten-year plan, with more and bigger responsibilities.

Your career plan doesn’t have to pan out exactly how you write it down. Be open to new opportunities and passions you find along the way, but always remain conscious of the direction you want to head in.

 

3. Do right now what you want to do next, then go get paid to do it

If you want to do more, show that you can do it by doing it now. Get your job done and then work on side projects. Go that extra mile.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, she recalls a meeting when a marketing issue was unsolved. Someone on the team spent the weekend researching a plan to solve it, presented the idea the following Monday and was quickly promoted to head of marketing (also, great ideas clearly help!).

Don’t wait for your boss to hand a promotion over to you. Set a plan each year for the extra goals or projects you want to achieve and use this list to negotiate your role and responsibilities in your next annual review. Do them well and show your boss, and you’ll be more likely to get paid to do it.

 

4. Grow your skills

No one tells you how hard it is to manage people, and no-one can truly prepare you for the unique situations that you will face in a leadership role. It’s certainly the toughest challenge I’ve faced in my career.

I’ve had to work on emotional intelligence, time management, training, processes and more.

Find out what your company offers and how they can help with professional development. For instance, we have a budget to spend on professional development, so I’m always on the lookout for courses and conferences I can attend.

There are also free resources you should use. If you want to learn about SEO there are amazing blogs on Moz, and LinkedIn has loads of online video courses free for premium users.

 

5. Network

When I joined Finder, I was lucky to have my immediate career path mapped out. I was to build the Australian PR team then help build similar teams in new countries we launch in. What I didn’t realise was the isolation that would come with the change.

It was tough moving from a big team to no direct team at all, while recruiting and building media relationships from the other side of the world. At the same time, I was being judged for having a young family and working full time. It looked like I had it all: a great career, family – everything. I was at the top, yet I felt ashamed about it, and there was no one I could speak to, either.

At the time, I didn’t realise that I was struggling with career identity and was in the process of discovering my new purpose. This is more common than you’d think. ‘International Executive Panel: What Makes You Thrive?’, a study by Egon Zehnder of 1,275 senior executives found that just 37% felt supported during their career transition. A survey by Harvard Business Review found that half of CEOs feel lonely and isolated in their roles.

On top of this, women are faced with cultural bias in the workplace, not helped by the fact that there’s only one female CEO to every nine male CEOs in the top 300 companies in Australia.

I didn’t need to go through that transition phase alone if I’d found communities and groups, more networking opportunities and more mentors to support me. Networking is not only a way to help you make connections to hit your goals, but also to build a support network.

Can’t find a niche group to connect with? Build one. There was nothing out there that specifically fitted with me in a global role, so I founded a global PR group on Facebook that caters for this gap in our community.

I hope that my story can inspire you to take that leap of faith, believe in yourself and push yourself to that next level. You’ll be surprised with what you can achieve.

As for all those who were judging me when I returned to work, I did what any PR pro would do: I wrote an open letter to all the haters! I realised that if I was a man or if my husband was leaving for a business trip, no one would blink an eye. Why should it be different for women? We need to stop feeling guilty and know that we can have it all and be happy, too.

 

Michelle Hutchison is global head of communications at personal finance comparison website finder.com.au , she based this article on her presentation at the Liquid Learning Women in Leadership and PR Summit, in July 2017.

 

 

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