I was recently invited to speak before a group of young students on their first day at University. In preparation for the talk, I looked back on my own life and career and asked myself what I would tell my younger self if I could.
First. Don’t be afraid of failure. I’ve failed several times. In those moments it was, of course, an awful feeling, but in hindsight I learned truly important lessons. What you have to do is get up immediately and learn from your mistakes. This is of course something that everybody in the start-up scene is talking about now. But in traditional companies, it still isn’t part of the culture.
Second. During your studies, you’ll learn a great deal about your own resilience and how much pressure you can handle. Be aware that you will have stressful situations throughout your life, no matter what your career is. Coping with critical situations is vital, and you need to have a certain resilience to do so. I had to communicate the difficult decision to close offices with employees which were close to me. This was extremely stressful but the right thing to do to save the future of the whole.
Third. Try out different things to find out what you really like. You may think you hate mathematics – like I did when I came from school. But strangely enough, I really liked analytics and statistics at University. If you only focus on areas where you already excel, you’ll miss out on discovering other interesting topics that might help you later on.
Fourth. Think of the knowledge gained during your studies as something to put into a treasure chest. You never know when you might need the things that your professor tells you are important. You’ll find out later what they’re good for. When I had to learn cost accounting as part of my studies, I was really confused. When I had a corporate financial position later on, and the sums from the account didn’t match the results from cost accounting – and these different sums translated into two very different forecasts about the financial situation – I was very glad that I’d learned cost accounting during my studies.
Fifth. Be and think internationally. The world is growing closer together; companies are becoming more and more global and diverse. So, go and get to know other languages and other countries. In Lagos, Nigeria which was my first international assignment, I had to improvise a lot as things are not regulated in the way we know from Germany. Coming back this helped me to stay creative and question some regulations.
Sixth. Listen. It is important to understand where others are coming from and why they hold certain opinions. This will allow you to argue better, and to know and learn from other viewpoints. I always tried to connect with workers’ councils early on as it is important to find common solutions. They have a better view of the employees’ situations which is key as you cannot transform a business against the will of your employees.