One of the presentations I enjoy most every year is speaking to graduating fashion communications students. The first time I spoke, I wanted to come up with a top 10 list of dazzlingly smart career advice. But I realized that there really is only singular truth for me and that’s BE PRESENT

Photo by Tara West

What does that mean exactly? Be “present“. I see that as being completely focused on what is in front of you. I don’t mean ignore the past and forget about the future but more to focus on the task at hand and don’t lose sleep worrying about what has passed, or fret needlessly about the future. It’s a fine balance and one that I’m constantly reminding myself to follow. It’s important to learn from past experiences (good and bad), and not to get so paralyzed that you can’t move forward. Consider failure to be more like a bruise instead of a tattoo. It will heal and you will move on. 

LISTEN TO YOURSELF Being present also means that you’re paying attention to the voice inside your head and the energy coming from your body. Learn when you need to step aside and honour your instincts. Taking the time to understand why you reacted one way, or avoided a situation, will help you understand that chatter in your head. In my case, I needed to spend a winter away to understand what I really wanted from my life. Extreme? Yes, but I never would have realized so much about myself without the break. I wasn’t living in the present. I was racing forward without knowing what I wanted to do – a symptom of my personality: jump first, look last.

Photo by Tara West

Here are some of the tips that I’ll be sharing at my student presentation:

BE PRACTICAL WITH YOUR PASSION Practical and passion may not seem like they should be in the same sentence. My example is how I built a career out of a love of fashion that made the most of my functional skills. I wanted to be a fashion designer but knew that I didn’t have the artistic talent to express myself properly. I was clever with words so I jumped into the editing side of the industry. That then morphed into publishing, followed by retail, all the while continuing with my interest in social media and communications. Understand what you’re good at and then figure out a work angle to pour your energy into.  

BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF When you learn to acknowledge and accept both your weaknesses and strengths, it will set you free. There was no point me chasing a fantasy of designing accessories that I didn’t have enough talent for. Give yourself the time and energy to focus on what you’re really good at – and that will keep you fully in the present. As a Type A super achiever, I expected to be good at everything when I started in the publishing industry. And that was so stressful! Now, I surround myself with people who complement each other’s skills. I always hire to my weakness. For example, I need a detail oriented scheduling whiz who can keep everything (financial reporting and preparing business presentations are two examples) moving smoothly.

DON’T WAIT FOR PERMISSION You will wait forever for the right opportunity at exactly the right time. Or you can just seize it. Be prepared (by staying in the present) so that you can be the first person knocking at the door. And if that door doesn’t open, then it’s not the right one for you. Find another one. Keep going.

BRAND YOURSELF Cue the eye-rolling! Give me a second though … I think it’s important to be consistent in the messaging that you’re putting out about yourself. From your resume to your social media accounts, everything should project the same energy and personality. Do you want to be perceived as being friendly? Accessible? Artistic? Innovative? Always being present means that you will always be aware of how you want to be perceived. And when you’re starting a career or business, that consistency is crucial.

I read a post on LinkedIn recently in which the author enthusiastically promoted the idea of never stopping, and never letting up in the drive to succeed. I call bullshit. If you stay in the present, you’ll know when you need to hit pause. If you’re always striving, you’ll never notice signs of exciting detours that could turn into incredible opportunities. You’ll be on a fast track to burnout. I’m now a huge believer in taking a timeout to refill your creative energy. The only way you’ll be able to enjoy your success and take the most out of life is if you’re fully in the moment. And that’s a lesson that I’ve only just learned in the past few months.