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What I Wish I Knew: Career advice from leaders for their 25-year old self

by Charlotte Woolford

Graphic with blue background and thought bubble reading 'what I wish I knew'

From the importance of embracing failure to tips for regaining focus when you’re overwhelmed at work, Six Degrees Executive founding director David Braham shares advice and wisdom gained over a long career – and sharpened by trauma.

What sort of advice would the older, wiser David Braham have for his 25-year-old self? How have his priorities and perspectives shifted over the course of his career in the recruitment world, and what can we learn from his experience? In this interview from our “What I Wish I Knew” series, David joins us to talk about mentors, goal-setting and being the best version of yourself.

What have you learnt from the mentors in your professional life?

The importance of being authentic! When I first came to Australia from the UK I was 25 years old, full of testosterone and confidence, and full of what I thought was the right way to do things. But when I arrived, the person I found myself reporting to was completely different to the (quite arrogant) leadership I’d had before. They taught me that there was a way that you could engage with people and be successful without having to beat your chest. I learnt to focus more on being authentic, genuine and down-to-earth.

How important is continual learning and development?

Like business, if you don’t constantly evolve and grow, you die and become irrelevant. As a company, we can never sit back and say we’re happy with where we’ve got to. People need to do the same. If you want to be successful and be the best version of yourself, you’ve always got to grow and evolve. You’ve got to embrace failure, embrace change, accept who you are, look at how you can play to your strengths and develop your weaknesses.

Should everyone have goals in their personal and professional lives?

When you get in the car, you have a destination in mind. When you get up in the morning, you know what you’re going to do for the day. When you set up a business, you decide where you’re going to take the business. If you don’t have an end destination in mind you’re not going to get there.

I need to be better at setting goals in my personal life. Ideally, I’d set personal goals once a year and review them twice a year. They don’t have to be big, audacious goals – they can be simple goals around my health and my wellbeing, the way I raise my daughter or my interactions with my friends. If you don’t have goals, you can never look back and say that you’ve achieved what you wanted to in life … and if you don’t review them, you’ll never keep them on track. 

What books have influenced you or provided a fresh perspective?

I usually choose fiction because I like to read for pure enjoyment and escapism rather than for self-development, but there is a notable exception. I went through a tough period in my life about five years ago due to some very serious health issues. I was introduced to a book called The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris which did have quite an impact on me. Essentially, it’s about how everyone goes through difficult times in their life, but it’s how you respond to it that matters. It’s about how you build resilience to deal with life trauma, but the concept can be applied to work issues, relationships, or whatever your difficulty might involve.

What’s your perspective on failure?

Everyone’s career is littered with little failures every single day. Failure is part of life; you have to embrace it and accept that we’re not perfect. Early in our careers, we tend to be defensive towards failure and feel like we can’t afford to fail …  but later in your career you’ll come to realise failure is normal, and human, and okay!

Failure is about learning. If we believe in always evolving, developing and growing, failure is a part of that cycle.

What advice do you have for someone who feels overwhelmed, unsuccessful, or unfocused?

The questions I ask myself – and again, this has come from going through personal trauma – is what can I control, and what can I influence? If I can’t influence or control something, there’s no point in letting it get me stressed or anxious because I can’t do anything about it.

Being focused – particularly in our business, where you have so many balls in the air and such a long list of things to do that sometimes you don’t know where to start – in those situations, just start somewhere. It doesn’t matter where; just get on with something (even if it’s tiny) and that engagement will build your motivation and momentum. It keeps you focused.

Looking back on your journey, is there anything you wish you could tell your 21-year-old self?

Firstly, don’t sweat the small stuff.

Secondly, life is full of challenges – everyone faces them. You’ve just got to be the best person you can be.

And finally – whatever position you’re in, there’s always somebody who is worse off. I remember being in hospital, in a wheelchair, and I looked across at the person in the bed opposite mine and realised they were unable to function in any way whatsoever. They were 10 years younger than me and would never, ever recover from the injuries they’d sustained in a car accident. Compared to that person, my life wasn’t so bad.

What are the top three traits you look for when hiring?

  1. Passion – it doesn’t matter who you are or how good you are at something – if you don’t have a passion for life and some innate energy about your work, you may as well not do it.
  2. Drive and ambition. Recruitment is a tough game! It tests you every single day, and every single day is made up of small ups and downs.
  3. You’ve got to be resilient. Take life, work and failure with a pinch of salt. You need to be able to pick yourself up when you get bad results and keep going every day.

These three things are innate in people; you can’t teach passion, drive or resilience. I would choose them every day of the week over someone’s track history of success.

If you could put any message on a giant billboard, what would it say?

Life is too short, so LIVE IT.

 

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