Let me start this off by blurting it out, I met John Donovan, yeah you know, John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications. It was a typical day for me at the Dallas office, making calls and strategizing my day. I had been working for 5 hours and was getting hungry, normally my co-workers and I would get an early lunch to beat traffic. So there I was, getting my lunch, picking between a salad or a juicy and delicious gyro (picked the gyro...obviously). I sat down in the cafeteria with my co-workers, talking about our plans for the weekend, the usual venting sessions that most of you probably have with your co-workers.
Suddenly, there was a man that came up and politely asked us if he could sit with us. Now, I wasn't one to say no, so I responded: "yes, of course." I finally got a clear look at him, and he introduced himself as John Donovan, I couldn't believe it. He asked us how our days were going in, which we all responded in the most generic way possible, "good." At this point, I was convincing myself it wasn't him; why would the CEO come sit with us? In my mind, there was no way that could be him and was justifying it based on the fact that AT&T has over 273,000 employees, maybe just maybe this man had the same name as the CEO. By the way, that would be amazing if you had the same name as the CEO, I can see a lot of perks from that you know? Okay back to it, I asked the question all of us were thinking, "so what do you do here?". He responded, "I'm the CEO of AT&T."
Well right, when he said that I thought to myself "why the heck did I just ask that" and "hold it together, Andrea, ask good questions." At first, it was silent; none of us ever imagined that the CEO of a Fortune 9 company would sit with us. The curious side of me was full of questions, I asked him for advice, the books he reads, how he starts his day, why he loves his career, the shift AT&T has made with recent partnerships and acquisitions. I also asked him a couple of marketing questions (no surprise there). Let me tell you one thing; he is as humble as they come. He was open to giving us pointers and telling us his perspectives about life. I learned a lot of things from that 40-minute conversation, and I want to share 3 valuable lessons I got from it which include (1) creating your own value, (2) be authentic and (3) you are who you associate yourself with.
1. You create your own value
For the people that are just starting out their careers (just like me), it is hard knowing the value you hold so early into our careers. This world is built on competition and speaking for myself; I didn't graduate from an Ivy League school. One thing John Donovan pointed out is that it doesn't matter where you graduated from, but what you do throughout your career. As we grow in our careers, we need to make ourselves more valuable. How do we do that? By experiencing different aspects of life. The best way to do this is by reading about different topics, not only books about your respective position in a company but about topics that challenge a way of thinking. The more knowledge you gain about the world, the more you differentiate yourself from the people you work with which entails being more successful in your career. Travel, experience different cultures that make you more aware of the disparities in countries. Question everything and challenge ideas. Don't just read or hear something and take it for what it is. Mostly in this day and age, the only way to become more valuable is by putting in the extra work and doing things no one else is doing. For us, millennials, that can be reading since we all like traveling (or at least posting pictures of ourselves traveling). How many people do you think make the excuse that they have no time to read? Trust me; if the CEO of AT&T can find time to read, we definitely can too. Off-topic but I recommend watching Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates. Much of what I saw in the Netlfix series was similar to what I heard from John Donovan.
2. Be authentic
Meeting someone authentic is hard to find nowadays. Mostly in the business world, everyone has an agenda which makes it hard to truly get to know someone. John Donovan pointed out that if you aren't your authentic self, you are wasting your time. You are putting so much energy trying to act a certain way that you start forgetting who you are. And that puts you at a disadvantage, you see, when you are putting your energy into something that isn't you, everything you do is merely the minimum of your capabilities. Your beliefs, values, passions, and perspectives make you who you are. In this instance, he was also pointing out the fact that people tend to settle early on in their careers. And that could be because they are afraid of the unknown and the risk of taking the time needed to find something they are passionate about (life is too short for this). Starting out our careers, we need to find a job that is authentic to us, and that might be frightening, but it is essential to be successful in your career. He is right, honestly, when he said that I thought he knew I didn't like my job (obviously he didn't know that, but everything he was saying was speaking to my soul). Relating it to my life, I didn't continue my career with AT&T in the sales program. I took his advice and realized I wasn't being authentic to myself. When I pictured my ideal job, I imagined working with a variety of brands and using the skills I have to build a solution out of a problem and objective. I didn't want to settle; I wanted to challenge myself in something I was genuinely passionate about, which is why I decided to leave. Off-topic again but for all the women reading this, I would check out the book The Most Powerful Woman In The Room Is You by Lydia Fenet. She also points out the importance of authenticity in the business world and how to sell yourself being you.
3. You are who you associate yourself with
We have probably all heard this before, but if the CEO of AT&T says it to you, it must actually be true and is based on experience. It is hard to evaluate your friends, we have probably all been there before, but it is something we need to do. I have learned this with past friendships and relationships. I think once you form a connection with someone, it is more difficult to realize that the person might be putting you at a disadvantage. One thing I will note is that everyone needs to know their worth and what they deserve. Never settle for a friendship/relationship just because of the mere fact you don't want to lose them. Put yourself first, and if you need to drop someone, do it! Anyways, back to what John Donovan said, in a business, you will be working with a diverse group of people who might not have the best mindset about the job. The ones who whine and always talk negatively about their job/co-workers are definitely people you should stray away from (don't do it). We all carry our own brand, which means that from the beginning, we need to build a strong foundation for our careers. Associating yourself with the wrong crowd will not only negatively affect your performance and overall mindset of your job, but it can also look bad to your managers. Always look for the people who get to work early and most importantly, love what they are doing.
The conversation I had with him was life-changing, to say the least. Not only because I was able to get advice and obtain some of his wisdom, but also because it showed me what great leadership is all about. Not many CEOs would be humble enough to take time out of their busy day to sit with young employees who are just starting their careers. Thank you, John Donovan! Well, I hope this was a decent read for everyone and thanks for making it this far! :)