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You Are The Sum Of Your Experiences

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It doesn't matter where you are in your career; emerging, leader, executive; we all are a sum of our experiences. It's what you do with those experiences and learning that sets you apart.

Have you ever taken the time to think about all of your work relationships from the past and the present? Yes, even the not-so-good ones? Every relationship in your past helped develop who you are today. Remember all of your relationships fondly and be thankful for the experience you have because it's those unique experiences that makes you, you!

When I look back at my career and my work experience, I realize that it spans more than 40 years. It started with my first job working as a summer day camp counselor at the Y, then my first "real" job at McDonalds. I remember my first position in my new career, and the workplaces, departments, positions, people and experiences I have had since. Each of those experiences were like building blocks; helping to solidify the foundation of who I am today.

The thousands of people I have met. The number of colleagues and bosses I have had. The number of people I could thank for helping me form who I am today. Yes, even the relationships I didn't appreciate at the time or frankly didn't like. Those experiences are part of me.

You've seen the questions: "What would you tell your 16-year-old self?" or "What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?" I've thought about that and what choices I might make differently if I had to do it all over again. But the truth is, you can't do it all over again and that every step and mis-step, every debate and argument and disagreement, and every milestone, reward or position contributed to your success.

I've often said, "It doesn't matter what I could have done differently, because every step, every decision, every experience got me to this moment, now." For all of the steps, decisions and experiences, I'm thankful.

Here are just three examples of probably hundreds that I could cite where I feel the experience helped me, develop me!

The Gentle Giant
I remember the owner of the McDonald's where I worked as a teenager. Mr. Drake was a wonderful man -- a former CFL football player who bought a McDonald's franchise. He taught me teamwork, respect for others and kindness. He was always kind -- even when he was tough. Mind you, he was a formidable physical presence with a resounding voice so when he spoke you listened. Working for him was almost 40 years ago and I still remember him with fondness. I heard he died many years ago, but I wish I could thank him today.

The Challenger
I remember a boss I had years ago. We didn't always see eye-to-eye and sometimes we had difficult conflicts. I found it hard to relate to him and give him what he wanted - on many levels - and there was conflict. I'm sure he found it difficult to deal with me too. I wasn't, in hindsight, the easiest employee to get along with at times. It was early enough in my career, and I was young enough, where I thought I knew more than I actually did and I wanted to prove my value and I made mistakes and missteps. It was also a time where I couldn't understand why my boss was where he was and why I was where I was.

Today I think about that experience with fondness. I learned about giving people a chance, listening better, and that managing up is about giving your manager what he or she needs to be a success and that it's not all about me. I also learned more about the flip side of being a manager and what I never wanted to do or be which I put in place when I managed a team of my own many years later.

The Mentor
She is the woman who saw more in me than I saw in myself. She took a chance on me many times over the years, challenged me and called me to task -- and I never wanted to let her down. I still have an enormous amount of respect for her. She was the person I aspired to be and looked to as my mentor. She was the person that I learned from the most. She was also the one person my entire career that could tell me what I needed to hear -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- even when I didn't want it, or wasn't willing to hear it.

She should know that her feedback was welcomed and I actually appreciated the learning. Sure, maybe not when I initially heard the feedback, but I always knew it came from a place of good. Even today, I feel that she is there for me whenever I need a boost or some feedback. It is good to have someone like her on my side -- and I believe she sees me there for her too.

There are hundreds more relationships that I could cite and learning that I could share.

  • There are the more difficult ones where I had conflict and challenges or didn't really like someone. From those individuals I learned about what not to do, how to better relate to people, and respect people as individuals.
  • The dozens of managers that I have reported to over the years: each of them giving me learning, opportunity and experience.
  • Then there are the colleagues that I remember fondly, those that I wish I had treated a little differently and those that I should have gotten to know better, but didn't.

I am proud of where I am today and who I have become. I am the result of all of my experiences -- the good, the bad, and the not so good. And, I wouldn't go back and change a thing.

So, to those that I have worked with, worked for, and known throughout that almost 40 years of workplace experience, thank you. You are part of my whole.

Now it's your turn to reflect. Can you look back and see the experiences that helped form who you are today?

Judy Mann is a consultant | advisor with Judy Mann Communications. She offers internal and external communications and PR services, as well as specialized group and individual sessions and workshops on increasing interpersonal communications effectiveness, relationship building, public speaking and presentation style and delivery. Follow Judy on Twitter:

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