Ada Lovelace was not a conventionally “successful woman,” according to the values of her time. Born in 1815, she worked with mathematician Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine, an early mechanical computer.
Lovelace created the world’s first algorithm, and today is recognized as one of the very first computer programmers in history.
Every Ada Lovelace Day, Fujitsu holds a conference to honor the achievements of all women in technology and discuss ways we can continue to progress.
This year, I spoke at the virtual conference about career choices facing women today and how to navigate through them. I believe that it’s vital for everyone to define and have their own unique vision of success, a guiding North Star for this journey.
What’s your North Star?
Consider: What does success look like for you? Imagine you’ve achieved it: what are you doing and what how does it feel? It’s a question for your whole being, not just your professional life.
The media has given us a picture of what success looks like, based on the experiences of just a few women. Not everyone is Sheryl Sandberg, Angela Merkel or Anna Wintour, though they are certainly inspirational.
Being in the board room or running a company or a country is a vision of success for some, but most of us are somewhere between an entry level position and the C-suite.
To find your North Star, you can start by asking these questions. What do you enjoy? When do you feel you bring your best self? What kind of environment do you thrive in? What are the unique skills or traits you want to develop? What do you want to be known for?
Your North Star can change as you go through your life and career. Revisiting and revising your North Star at different stages and being adaptable and flexible is a very fun part of the experience.
Heading towards your North Star is a highly individual journey. We each have different personal set ups; your family dynamic might include caring for children or elderly parents, being a stay at home partner, single parenthood – or anything in between.
It’s important to recognize each of us has biases and/or expectations about what success means that we have inherited along the way.
I personally struggled when I had my children. I grew up in a traditional Japanese household where my father worked, and my mother stayed home.
That meant that when I first became a parent, I was killing myself trying to accomplish 100% of what my father did at work and 100% of what my mother did at home. But because I had dual roles, I felt I needed to overachieve in each to compensate and ended up feeling defeated and miserable all the time.
I fed my daughter nothing but breastmilk for the first year of her life, even though I returned to work just eight weeks after giving birth. I ran a worldwide sales organization, managing a big team around the globe, while traveling for meetings and negotiations with a breast pump.
Why? Because the pediatrician said ideally a baby should only have breast milk for the first year.
It took me years to realize that what others expected of me and my own perceptions needed to be reassessed. It’s useful to ask questions, like “Why do I do what I do?” “Is what he/she said relevant to me?” “What are the non-negotiables for me?”
It’s good to stretch yourself, but don’t set unrealistic goals. Most importantly, you NEVER have to feel guilty about any decisions you make that suit you and help you be content.
Are you sailing towards your North Star? Do you need to shed some biases and expectations to get there?
Charting your own course
The pandemic has given us all time to reflect as well as to learn and reassess our priorities and focus. And equally, it has shone a light on the digital tools now available to help us each to chart our own course in the workplace.
Unlike Ada Lovelace’s time two hundred years ago, we have various technologies to help us be effective and impactful even in a remote working environment. For example, Fujitsu and Citrix are working together to enable new ways of working from anywhere, anytime, improving employee experience while maintaining security.
Importantly, these new tools can support a new approach to our whole lives including work and general wellbeing, whether we’re experiencing a pandemic or not. Work is no longer a place you go to, but a place where you bring your skills and creativity to get the best work done.
I’ve been a remote employee for decades, even managing large teams. Being able to work remotely has been the only way for me to balance single parenthood with my professional aspirations.
With flexible working, we can all live our professional lives in harmony with our personal lives, so that we can continue to sail towards our North Star, our own definitions of success.
If you’ve found this blog helpful and would like some more support on redefining success, you can find greater detail in my recent webinar.