Success–what works for me

-Adapted from a presentation I gave at an askNancy.ca women’s networking event. I was asked what some of my own “Secrets to Success” are, and how I’ve gotten ahead in life and my career.
Many of us know that hard work and sacrifice are some of the keys to success.  If asked, we could probably name a few more.  But all too often it’s the “little things” that help pave the long, cobbled road to success, that we forget.
Don’t underestimate the way you dress, how you write an e-mail, the way you speak, and your attitude towards those smaller,  even menial tasks, as small steps to making a great impression.
Success
ru tired of not knowing WTF is up in msgs?  hrd 2 decifer thoz emails? 
As we struggle to get more done, faster, and with less, it’s all too easy to dash off a quick note to someone sans capitilization, without spell-checking, and with the ubiquitous smiley face.  This is not professional.  If you want to be taken seriously, write like you did back in school; properly punctuated, spelled correctly, and in full sentences that make no mistake about your meaning. Doing otherwise may make you seem rushed, unfocused and minus attention to detail. I’m not saying pull out your CP Stylebook, but put it this way:  you’ll never be faulted for perfect e-mail-writing skills.  You could be for sloppiness.
“Like, I thought I’d be anchoring the 6pm news by now.”
If your job came with a fully-written job description, Congratulations!  Most of us don’t get so much clarity.  While you’re likely clear on the basics of what your job entails, make sure you don’t draw any lines that may put you at a disadvantage.  Case in point; We had a 20-something intern  in our newsroom who was there to ‘learn the ropes”.  Our newsroom manager– whose job also consists of taking viewer phone calls and sifting out story ideas–was sick, so we were all swamped and had to pitch in answering the phone.  As it continued to ring off the hook with most of us already on a line, I asked the intern to please pick up the phone.  She looked at me and gave me a huge eye-roll, and mumbled “I’m pretty sure I’m not here to be a receptionist” before reluctantly picking up.
She made a classic misstep… elevating herself above what she thought was a meaningless task, when in fact story sifting is a huge way we get new and enterprise news stories.  And this girl was hoping to be a reporter.
Bottom line; don’t assume something is beneath you.. especially when you’re learning a new job, company or career. 
Her debut flip-flopped
We had just hired someone to run an aspect of our newsroom.  A newly created position, the job was evolving with the employee.  As she stepped into our first news meeting and flopped into a chair, her sweatshirt-grey yoga pants and flip-flips said it all.  This was a job, not a career.  It was something keeping her from the sofa at home, not a position that she could use to work herself into a promotion.
You may think no one cares what you wear, but it makes a huge impact.  The above mentioned outfit says you’d rather be lounging, not “I’m here to make this new job kick-ass!”  Similarly, if your toddler spilled juice on you and you just can never be bothered to change, or mop it up, it says you don’t care about how you present yourself.
Yes & No
Successful women know to say yes to new challenges and opportunities.  Volunteer to learn new things–especially things you think are impossible to learn.  In my line of work, TV is an extremely complicated technology.  I’ve tried to learn as much about the technical side as I can.  It benefits me in that I can carry on a discussion or contribute to troubleshooting with an engineer or technician and really get a sense of why something’s not working, then help make suggestions in how to fix it.  In one case my new-found technical knowledge allowed me to save a live national broadcast because I found a way to hook up the news anchor to the control room using a blackberry instead of relying on the crashing technology on board the remote satellite truck.
So maybe you don’t need to know that much.  But can you fix your own e-mail when things go wrong?  Can you pull your own computer out from the blue screen of death?  There are easy things you can learn or have your IT expert show you so that next time you can save yourself… or maybe even others in your office. Your value increases exponentially with each new skill you learn.
“No.  Well I mean I could, but it’s just that I have to go to the doctor and pick up a back rest for my lower spine, I well… ok yes.  Yes I can. I guess”
Knowing when to say yes to is important.  But knowing HOW to say “no” is equally important.  Have you ever been asked to work overtime and tried to say no, then felt so bad about why you were saying no that you relented and ended up working?  Don’t offer excuses .  If you can’t do something, say no, plainly and firmly.  You don’t need a reason, an excuse, or a story.  Just a firm, “No, sorry, I’ve made other plans,”  with a follow up, “No, I really can’t change them” if required is all you need.  I’ve heard so many women launch into a full story about why they can’t do something, and it only undermines them.  People at work don’t need to know your life story.  Just say no and get on with it.
Be on PAR
No matter what you do; if you work in an office, a lab, or if you’re at home with your kids, you’ll be successful at what you do if you remember to be Polite, Appropriate, and Respectful. In any situation if you don’t know how to act or react, remember those three things  You can never go wrong. I got this advice from a mentor and it’s served me well.
Keep Calm and, Well, You Know…
One other thing has served me personally very well:  be the voice of calm in the storm. There’s rarely ever a reason to freak out, swear, raise your voice, or panic. Always keep your tone, even, calm and measured.  Being the calm, reasonable, thoughtful person in the midst of chaos calms others with a ripple effect, and says that you’ve got things under control.
Lastly, in the middle of  a frenzied day, each time the phone rings, take two deep breaths before you pick it up.  The oxygen will help you think clearer. The relaxed voice you answer the phone with will say you can handle anything.
-Erin is a TV producer & task master, writer, silversmith, and former newsroom manager and reporter/anchor in Canada.
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