Ask for help! You will appreciate it

Date 06.11.2020.

I once read a research article titled “Strive for Excellence, not perfection“. Perfection brings pressure, whereas Excellence is a habit we build for ourselves. In the pursuit of Excellence, we embark on a lifelong journey to become a better version of ourselves. It requires awareness and continuous improvement, becoming sort of a learning sponge. The idea guided me to construct a way to live my life with less stress and more passion.

I love learning. So much, that I have been in University for 10 years. I’m also an impatient learner. Sometimes I wish I was in the Matrix and could upload a new skill into my brain fast. Typically, because I need it fast.

I’m a start-up founder with a 100% technical background. Before being a start-up founder, I was leading operations at an innovation Lab. And before that I was doing my PhD. Pretty much my entire career I have been exposed to fast, innovative environments where learning and constant improvement is necessary to survive.

I also tend to think of me as a super human – “I can do anything”. As much as that is good because it constantly pushes my limits, it’s a trap because it can lead to my ego impacting my personal and professional growth. Which is the opposite of what I really want.

In a short period of time, I went from a being a full-time academic researcher, to a super creative role working with cutting-edge tech (5G, Robots, VR..), to be leading product development, go to market strategies, customer engagement, investor relationships for the company I co-founded with other three people…. At some point in that trajectory, I understood that my technical capabilities where not enough to pull this one off – I realized I needed all the help I could get, and absorb as much knowledge as I could from the people surrounding me.

Moving from seeking perfection to embracing excellence has been key to unlocking my professional development. It removed all the pressure of wanting to become a “Super human” and replaced it with the humble approach of constantly seeking for sources of knowledge that helped me fill those gaps. It ultimately gave me the confidence that with the right people by your side, you can achieve anything.

Learning is not only about acquiring new skill, reading about a certain topic or going deep into a new discipline. That image of “I can do anything” can be very detrimental for our own personal growth if we don’t stop and think about our own approach to certain situations we’re confronted with. Seeking help is much more than delegating work – is trusting that you can improve in many different angles. But, how do we exactly do this? It only takes a little bit of looking around and dedication.

A way to share and see yourself through your interactions with others – trust your team:

I like to think of my team as my most valuable asset. The people you chose to work with contribute in a large way to your professional and personal growth. Whenever I made a big change on my career, is because I met people that inspired me, and I wanted to absorb as much as I could from them. I tend to choose my team even before I get to focus on the actual job (i.e., my day-to-day activities). Because of the importance I place to continuous learning in my life, I must be surrounded by people that challenge me and make me move out of my comfort zone. Observe the people you work with, go to them when you need help and trust that collective thinking is always better and solo-handling with half the skills but a large ego.

Some learnings I took with me have helped me grow and become who I am today. My PhD supervisor set the foundations for my continuous pursue of excellence; the team at King’s College London (together with the nice Ericsson family 😉 ) taught me to embrace challenging and seemingly impossible situations, you can be surprised of how much a motivated team can deliver; my co-founding team has taught me patience, learning how to read information between the lines and always pay close attention to the details.

Surround yourself with great inspiring people – create a high value network:

Apart from those who we work with, there are tons of people we interact with in a sort of regular way. In my case these are other start-up founders, mentors I have had in the past, friends… I always search for mentors that inspire me in many different ways – and these people can come from different backgrounds than mine. I try to keep myself close to who I admire, regular catch-up coffees with no agenda but just a friendly conversation. Fill your time with people that inspire you, and you’ll find yourself constantly learning from them.

Get to know what to improve – use any opportunity to get feedback:

Working in academic research prepared me to be constantly assessed by what I do wrong, rather than right. When you submit an article for peer-review, the reviewers are in a constant search of reasons not to accept your article. That’s not too different from investors, customers, future employers: they’re trying to find the flaw in your product/company/you, a reason not to invest/buy/hire. Although that sounds quite awful, its not! If done right and with the view of driving improvement, then it helps you to identify weaknesses in your work, or in yourself. Then you can work on them. But be careful, sometimes too much feedback can be daunting. You must never forget what your purpose and long-term goals are – but that’s a topic for another article on itself 🙂

The solo learning – still valid!

Although getting advice and help from people that are close to you is valid and useful, ultimately learning new skills sometimes require deep-diving into it. I have been extremely lucky to have had access to courses, workshops and trainings where I learnt from the best on each field. In my case, Accelerator Programs for the company, University workshops, books, online courses – and a huge number of webinars happening in the tech community keep me busy with learning in my spare time.

Never stop striving for excellence, upgrading your knowledge and giving back to the community. Knowledge grows when it’s shared.

Author Maria Lema

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