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7 tips to help you find the drive and motivation to achieve your career goals

We could all do with a bit of practical, jargon-free career advice, and the founders of The Allbright, Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones, are here to provide that in their new book Believe. Build. Become. In this exclusive extract Wosskow talks about the importance of drive and motivation.

Every New Year’s Eve I take out the same old notebook and write my goals for the year, both personal and business. I’ve found that when I write things down they’re more likely to get done, so I think that this process is key to my success. Research backs this up: a recent study by Dominican University found that those who set goals were 33 per cent more successful than those who didn’t, while those who made themselves account- able – for example by emailing a weekly progress report to a friend – accomplished even more. I look at my notebook halfway through the year and see that I’m on track. If I’m not, I check that it’s still a priority and use it as motivation to get cracking. Obviously I do better in some years than in others.

We’re used to hearing about motivation and goals from incredible sportswomen. Serena Williams started the hashtag #WhatIsYourS, challenging her fans to come up with an ‘S’ word that means something to them, that inspires and motivates them. She said hers were strength and sureness – her specific qualities which are immediately recognisable to any tennis fan. 

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It’s no different when it comes to your career. To be successful and push yourself forward you need to think about your motivations. For me, entrepreneurship was what I grew up with. My grandmother and mother would not have described themselves as entrepreneurs, but with a chain of sweetshops/off licences and a printing company, that is what they were. We discussed business around the kitchen table, and it normalised this for me as a child. I simply didn’t have anyone in my immediate family who had a ‘normal job’, i.e. who was employed by someone else. So one of my first long-term goals was to work for myself. My siblings also work for themselves – so something obviously rubbed off.

I’ve always been very driven. I wanted to be the best at whatever I was going to try to do. I don’t really compare myself to others, but I am very motivated by what I’ve already achieved. For me, the next project or business always has to be bigger than the last one – I’m into empire building. Now, my goal is to bring about change in the number of women who lead businesses. That is a long-term one, but I’ve got lots of short-term ones to help me get there.

Forget that oft-quoted cheesy business adage that if you find what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. It’s nonsense. If you find what you love, in our experience, you’ll work harder than ever before because you’ll have found your calling, your source of energy. 

Believe Build Become by Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones
Believe. Build. Become. by Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones

Many of us are now seeking out a business career that is rooted in a wider sense of purpose and an active desire to do good in the world. We have done this with our own company, AllBright, which aims to inspire change by championing, connecting and upskilling women to achieve their career ambitions. As Arianna Huffington says in Thrive, ‘Making money and doing good in the world are not mutually exclusive.’ Purpose with profit is a business trend really making waves at the moment, with many brands connecting with a deeper social enterprise. We’ve found that creating something that has a wide social impact really increases your motivation to make the business work – especially when we see the visible effect it has on our members.

While new research suggests that Generation Z – those aged 18–25 – are more motivated by job satisfaction than by money, cash is still a driving force for a lot of our members: 36 per cent would like to make a significant profit and 34 per cent would like to eventually sell their businesses for a profit or go public. It is for me, too, because in my world of building businesses, there’s a direct correlation between money and success. It’s not something to be shy about: financial independence is so important for women, and not something we talk about often enough, but it should be a key motivation for us all. It became mine when I was newly divorced and building Love Home Swap. I had a very real obligation to make sure I could provide money for my children. I can’t tell you how motivating that was. 

Thinking about what you want out of life is an ongoing process. It’s totally normal that your motivations change over time as you build up experience and develop relationships around you. Anna, for instance, got to the top of her career as CEO and then realised that her motivations and goals had shifted: she wanted freedom, pace and the opportunity to build something from scratch. She says it’s harder, with longer hours, but more rewarding; now she never dreads coming to work. Which is what we want for you – and it starts here with working out your motivations and writing down your goals.

Anna Jones and Debbie Wosskow from The Allbright
Anna Jones and Debbie Wosskow from The Allbright

Values versus motivations

Your values are very different from your motivations. Values are guiding, overarching principles; generally things we’ve been brought up to believe in and what we look for in other people – be that friends, romantic partners, colleagues and even organisations that we work for. While you can choose them, they might feel more fixed in your core belief system.

After leaving Tinder, which she co-founded in 2012, Whitney Wolfe Herd experienced online bullying in the storm of her departure. In the light of this experience, she decided that values of kindness, equality and confidence were of crucial importance to her next business venture, and the online world that she wanted to create. Now they are at the heart of Bumble. For us, our values are centred around helping other women achieve success, which is at the core of our own business. Your values can shape your career.

Understanding motivations

Motivations are what make you leap out of bed – even before 5.30am, as I do (I’m a fiendishly early riser, but I realise that isn’t for everyone!). As Thomasina Miers, founder of the popular UK high street restaurant chain Wahaca says, ‘Life can be tough, but if what you’re doing makes you feel fulfilled, you find yourself being a happier person. Not waking up instantly grinning, of course, but experiencing a more grounded, “I know what I’m doing today” kind of satisfaction.’

It’s hard to put your own motivations down on paper, so it takes some soul-searching. I wanted to work for myself, I love having new projects on the go, I find building businesses energising. Some of these motivations you only discover over time. Whatever your motivations are, make no mistake that as soon as you become a business owner or rise up through the ranks of a corporation, there’s an awful lot of grit and determination that goes into it, every day.

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Why do we go to work?

Thinking about why you leave the house to go to work in the morning is a good start when figuring this out. Are you doing a job to pay the bills? Is it a career in which you want to climb the ladder? Or is it a passion that will leave a legacy? Or (typically) some combination of the three? Money will often be a motivator – you have to feed yourself and your family, plus it is also a fundamental marker of success. Indeed, in the entrepreneurial world, if you’re not making money for your shareholders and yourself, then you’re not doing your job. As Sara Blakely, founder and billionaire entrepreneur behind Spanx, said, ‘I’ve never subscribed to the idea that money’s bad or that I shouldn’t have a lot of it, because I think it’s great. I think it’s fun to make, fun to spend and fun to give away.’

Similarly, if status and being the most senior person in the organisation is important to you, then don’t be apologetic about that either. ‘The more honest you can be the more likely you will be to create a plan that matters to you,’ says executive coach Helen Hatton. You might have to keep up this conversation with yourself as you change and evolve.

Finding your passion

Thomasina Miers struggled to find her way for 10 years in a series of jobs that weren’t quite right, until she realised that a deep-rooted love of food was her true passion. ‘When I left school, a career in food wasn’t really seen as a viable option. I spent about a decade trying to find a career that fitted. But I realised that I think about food all day long, from what I’m going to have for breakfast to what I’m going to cook some girlfriends for supper. I just wanted to do something I loved.’ So, if there’s something that you find yourself talking and thinking about over and over again, that’s probably a key motivation.

If it’s not as obvious as Thomasina’s, it can seem bewildering to try to pin your passion down. There is, after all, so much choice available to us now, with jobs such as ‘influencer’ and ‘coders’ that weren’t even dreamt up when most of us took career advice at school. If this is you, we suggest you start by asking the members of your sisterhood what they think is important to you. People who care about you can often see things more clearly from the outside.

It was a woman in Michelle Kennedy’s sisterhood who prompted her to launch her app connecting mothers in their local area. ‘I was moaning about the fact that, as a new mother, I had no mum friends locally and that there wasn’t an app that acted like a dating app. Eventually, after I’d gone on about it for ages, my best mate said, “Can you just do this? I’m sick of hearing about it.”’ So, she did. Her friend gave her the kick she needed. 

Setting goals

Once you’ve discovered your motivations, you can use them to set your personal goals. ‘I constantly set goals and really try to think about where I want to be. I don’t believe we should ever be stagnant, so I always push myself to try new things. I like having goals to strive for,’ Katy Koob, vice president of Refinery29, says.

The most successful people in business often credit their ability to turn ambition into results by having clear goals written down (as you know, I’m one of them). Emma Stone decided that she desperately wanted to be an actress at the age of 14. She made a PowerPoint presentation entitled ‘Project Hollywood’ and crafted a pitch deck about why she needed to move from her home in Arizona to California, be home-schooled and attend auditions. Amazingly, her parents saw merit in her plan. (‘It’s nuts that they agreed to it,’ Emma said recently.) But perhaps they saw the clear passion in their now Oscar-winning daughter’s goal and believed in her steely vision.

Goals can also provide motivation to doggedly stick at a path even if the going gets tough – and we’ll go through why building up resilience is essential to success in chapter eight. 

How to set your goals

The author Neil Gaiman, whose novels include Stardust, American Gods and Coraline, said in a 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts that when he was 15, he wrote a list of everything he wanted to do in his life. ‘I didn’t have a career, I just did everything on that list.’ You need a list of your own.

In order to make sure you’re setting the right targets, you need space and time to think. ‘Really try to disconnect from the laptop, your phone, your desk,’ executive coach Nicola Porter advises. ‘If you can get moving, get outside, lie in the park, go for a run. Do whatever you need to do to disentangle from daily life. Give yourself permission to think big, about your life, your career, about your business. This is brainstorming and there are no wrong ideas in a brainstorm. Be bold, be creative, be ambitious. Don’t put any parameters or any limits around yourself.’ How ambitious should you be? Nicola says if one is easy and ten is nearly impossible, you should be aiming for a nine.

The kinds of questions you should be asking yourself are:

• What would I love to achieve?

• What do I really care about?

• What’s important to me?

• What’s my purpose?

• What do I want to be known for?

• If fear or money or time wasn’t a factor, what would I long to do?

The next step is to share these with someone in your sisterhood to help keep you accountable. 

Short- and long-term goals

It’s not enough to have one list of goals. ‘If you want to get ahead in life, you need to have a three-year, five-year, ten-year plan in place,’ Farrah Storr, the UK editor of Cosmopolitan, advises. ‘Because without that you’re not going to push your- self to get there. So, make sure you have that – and write it down. It will be a beacon at the end for those times when you hit the roadblocks which are always on the road to success.’

After university, I briefly worked for a management con- sultancy company; it was enough time to learn that I wanted to work for myself – that was my big long-term goal. Now my – and Anna’s – long-term goal is to increase the number of women in the boardroom and grow the amount of venture capital being invested in female-led business. But we need baby steps to get there, so our short-term goals have been things like setting up the online AllBright Academy, which we hope will become a global community for women to connect and support one another, and to write a book sharing advice gleaned from our years of experience. Our short-term goals have been achieved and we constantly set more. The long- term goal, well, that’s a work in progress, and it involves you!

Believe. Build. Become. by Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones is published on 9 May (Virgin Books, £14.99).

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