What I learned in 2020

What I Learned in 2020 - Rowena Morais

Like you, I learned a lot about myself in 2020. All the pain, heartache and disappointment also brought about discovery, innovation and gratitude. Joy in the little things, in what I have, in a happy progression of my journey, in things as they are.  

Highlighting my top three, I share these discoveries in the hope that you may glean hope, a different approach and push forward in the direction of your dreams.

#1 If you cannot find it, create what you look for
In 2017, I began Thrive, a women-only group that I created in order to connect those who were starting out professionally (and needing support) with the more established women (who could mentor, support and provide a sounding board). 

Now in its fourth year, Thrive focuses on helping women develop their profile, network and body of work. I  created what I was hoping and looking for. Having not discovered any group, association or platform that came close, I finally (in frustration) decided to create what I needed.

I was scared, of course.

What would that require of me?
Where would this lead?
How would it be received?

How could I guarantee the same level of fun and fellowship at a time when literally everyone was screaming Zoom fatigue?


But those fears were drowned out by the internal chatter of excitement. The idea that I could build something unique and powerful, uncluttered with other agendas. It would be fun, entertaining and a brief respite.

What started in Kuala Lumpur as monthly face to face meetups in 2017 promising a unique blend of learning and camaraderie got thwarted slightly (with my move to Canberra in 2019) and then more severely (with the COVID-19 pandemic).

I was unsure how to move ahead.

I knew I had to continue but to do this digitally was difficult. How could I guarantee the same level of fun and fellowship at a time when literally everyone was screaming Zoom fatigue?

And then, I made a decision to commit to the digital format and well, the rest is history. Looking back at the nine sessions that ran in 2020, I am frankly shocked at how many I did given all the upheaval around me. But perhaps it was precisely for this reason, that these sessions came together so well with topics like developing a hacker mindset, building strong brand visibility and courage as a skill. 2021 will start with our 21st meetup.

Lesson: Creating what you look for solves your need. Full stop. But then, there is every possibility that others may have a need you address as well.  So, be brave and make things happen for yourself.

#2 Leadership begins with the self. Look within and then, take action.

If everyone could learn everything there was to learn by reading books, watching videos or taking classes, the world would look quite different. The fact remains that there is a tremendous gap between what we know and what we do.

So it begs the question: how can we lead ourselves?

Forget about inspiring others. Forget about trying to master the deluge of knowledge that comes your way, in your feed or otherwise. It is torrential, disruptive and never-ending.

2020 was the year I found myself facing a learning and development business that struggled to get on top of the COVID-19 pandemic. With budgets slashed, workforces in upheaval and shock, I knew that it would be a while before things would settle into a new way of being, a way no one had a clear handle on early in the year.

I was afraid of what was to come. I was unclear how far the bottom would go and  I had no path chartered. There was no rule-book to refer to.

So I stepped up my freelance business and established my marketing and communications consultancy, Digital Confluence, in Canberra and opened my virtual doors.

I took on a MarComm role with Skoolbo Australia, an edtech company in Canberra, diving into the world of elementary school education. I was excited to explore and support eLearning solutions especially in an area I consider under-served and increasingly important, writing at the elementary school level. And more opportunities kept surfacing. I began to take on more marketing and communications consulting and ghostwriting projects which continue to help me move forward today.

Do the hard work first.

I believe that I was able to take the steps I took because I was clear about who I am and what purpose I serve. I have been building a relevant network for many years and I have long been building a body of work that speaks clearly about the areas I work in. I’d like to believe that this digital portfolio of sorts helps me showcase what I can offer.

Lesson: Doing the hard work of figuring yourself out can be as hard or as easy as you think it is. Do the hard work first. Work out the kinks and identify your direction. Of course, that also means exploring what you’re curious about and taking the failures and stop/starts that are bound to litter your path. The more you embrace the direction, the more certain you become.

Either way, you will know if this is your path or not and then take the corrective action. If this is not self leadership, I don’t know what is.

#3  Work on your soft skills more than the hard skills

Everyone understands the value of training, learning on the job and all that technical or hard skills have to offer. There’s no doubt of the value and credence mastery of hard skills can bring.

Additionally, they are tangible which makes them super attractive. You can point to them, they are easy to understand and value. They help in setting an expectation.

But those soft skills – leadership, resilience, ability to communicate and influence, social intelligence and the ability to navigate your environment, manage people, handle expectations and perform … these call for something else, don’t they?

We can hold on to a self image that we want to believe in with all our might but in our darkest hour, we can discover that things may not be as they appear. This image needs testing to hold up.

Our ability to constantly push ourselves against the boundaries we choose to draw ( I repeat, boundaries we choose), and discover new depths, new highs and lows, while intimidating and uncertain, can also bring much clarity and conviction our way.

Lesson: We are often far more capable, across the spectrum of things, than we realise. And we owe it to ourselves to become the best version of ourselves. That is for us to define and explore at our pace.

I’ll end with this.

We know that we can’t control our environment and the things that happen to us. We control ourselves instead.

So where does that leave us?

We start and end by becoming our own best cheerleaders. We have court-side seats to our own lives unfolding and we are also the players. So we cheer ourselves on, we give ourselves a break when we need to. We push ourselves and we pull back when we need to. We direct. We decide how many takes are needed. We set the soundtrack to our lives.

If you need help with your profile, building your network or getting started with writing, please to reach out.
#career #goals #influence #digitalprofile #networking #bodyofwork #StorytellingForImpact

Programme Director at VerticalDistinct.com, a media and learning organisation, Rowena Morais provides support through curated learning, communication and content development. She supports HR and Tech professionals through digital resources and internationally accredited programmes delivered across APAC and the Middle East. Author of Build a Body of Work, Rowena was Founding Editor of HR Matters Magazine in Malaysia for eight years. A LinkedIn profile writer, ghostwriter and editor, she helps organisations and senior executives with communication, branding and content development. Over the last decade, she has been helping people refine their LinkedIn profiles and digital presence. Rowena runs meetups for HR folk and career women in both Kuala Lumpur and Canberra. Invited to the TEDx stage twice, Rowena delivers workshops on leveraging LinkedIn and has a Skillshare class, Build Influence through LinkedIn. You get two months premium membership free when you sign up on Skillshare where you can take her class and more – visit https://skl.sh/2KqhEfp

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