The experiences that shape a career
The way that you approach your personal life often has a profound effect on your career. It’s usually a determining factor in how, when and where you work.
Enhancing what happens outside the office can have a huge impact on what goes on inside it too.
With that in mind, we wanted to find out the secrets behind the success of some marketing pros who’ve enjoyed a great career.
We asked 30 expert marketers what aspect of their personal life has had the most impact on their careers? – and the answers we got back were fascinating.
When I was studying abroad in China in my university days, my roommate and I decided to go to the beautiful city of Harbin in northeast China to see their famous ice lantern festival, where lights are placed inside of beautiful ice sculptures for an amazing sight. We got to Harbin early and decided to check out the city. Being close to the Russian border near Siberia, needless to say it was a cold city! That was where I saw, for the first time in my life, a huge river that was completely frozen by the icy temperatures: The Heilongjiang River! Remember I am from sunny Southern California 😉
I had a habit of taking selfies with my camera, long before selfies existed, so imagine being on a huge frozen river with my roommate looking for a location to place the camera for a self-timed photo! And then I saw some boats harbored in the frozen river, a perfect location to place my camera for the photo! I still vividly remember placing my camera on the boat, running back to join my roommate in the photo, hearing the camera take the photo, and then walking back to get the camera. With camera in hand I walked back to my roommate, and that is when I felt the ground below me start to fall.
It was as if I was in a slow-motion movie, but I distinctly remember the ice under me breaking, and I was slowly falling into a very deep river. As I was waist deep in frozen water, I reached out at the ice surrounding me, trying to get a grasp and somehow protect myself from going any deeper into the frozen river. Somehow – and to this day I still consider it a miracle – the ice around me did not break and I was able to pull myself out of the water with my own strength. My roommate cautioned me to walk around the hole so as not to further widen it, and I was able to get back to where my roommate was standing and back to ground for safety.
Life can flash by you in a second, and when I hear about children that die falling into ice holes on lakes and rivers, I shudder thinking that could have been me. That was an experience that taught me that every day should be lived to its fullest as if it might be your last.
None of us think that a serious illness will impact our career. After 10.5 years in the Army, a tour of duty in Iraq and commanding over 100 soldiers I felt invincible. Let’s rewind to May of 2018. I started traveling from Indianapolis to San Francisco every other week for work. By the end of November, I had what I thought was severe allergies because my eyes constantly watered and burned. My solution to this problem? Allergy medicine. This was all well and good, but the symptoms didn’t subside. I lived with this issue until September of 2019 when it was clear something was wrong with my eyes.
I took my twin daughters to the neighborhood pool and noticed I couldn’t look at the water because of the sun glare. I set an appointment with my eye doctor. Turns out I had severe dry eye the whole time which turned into an infection causing severe light sensitivity. After months of prescriptions the infection was cured but it left legions on my eyeballs and hemorrhaging eyelids. The light sensitivity was so bad I couldn’t look at screens or even drive for two months.
It took 10 separate surgeries until I could look at a computer or phone screen again. That didn’t happen until the beginning of January 2020. All the flying I was doing caused the original problem. I ended up having to take a full month and a half of medical leave. Today I have an eye mask to wear for travel. The lesson I learned? Never take your health for granted. Without it, you can’t do anything for your career.
Bit of a deep topic to start the year, but maybe the realisation that time is your most precious commodity and spending a large portion of it in a job you dislike is definitely not the best way to spend it. It was this that forced me to quit my role as director of a digital agency in Newcastle and set up my own agency.
Back coding again, working directly with the clients and seeing the value and success you can bring them is a far more enjoyable and worthwhile use of my time than any remuneration. Still sometimes work long hours, but I now have the scope to pick and choose clients and also to sometimes down tools and head out on the bike on sunny days!
A few years back I wound up in hospital with what doctors suspected was a cranial bleed, so intense was my body’s reaction to what started as a bad migraine. Thankfully, it was not that sinister, I’d simply burnt out and my brain was telling me to STOP!! I had to make some changes to my personal life at that point. It might sound ‘wishy washy’, but as a remote working entrepreneur I used to find myself spending 8 hours at a time in one place working away, the result of which was that I became agitated easily, and furthermore, the quality and clarity of my mental processes and work would exponentially decline.
For me, just introducing even as little as 10 minutes of either fresh air (with no distractions) or mindfulness in a quiet room, twice a day (morning and afternoon) either side of my lunch break has meant that I’m producing better work and am about 50% happier in general at the end of each day’s work.
Without a doubt, it was having children! I’m a (very proud) Mum of 6 now! After struggling to continue with my career in Forensic Science after having had 4 of the beasties, it really was time to find a way of working around the family, rather than trying to squish in being a full-time Mum and a part-time employee! So I started investigating running my own business – and got hooked on the marketing aspect, at about the same time my eldest was pestering me to let her get a Facebook account.
I put 2 and 2 together…got what training there was at the time (9 years ago) and haven’t looked back!! And the children continue to influence me – there’s not a day goes by when I don’t learn from them – maybe something new in the world of tech, social or YouTube (my youngest lads have their own channels and are active there), or an insight into what makes people tick and a reminder of how we’re all different. I’m so very grateful to have been blessed with my amazing family!
I had been meditating since I was a teen, but during those years, it was primarily a low-level, relaxing kind of meditation. Then, about 20 years ago, I went to a doctor to get a prescription for my ADHD. He suggested meditation with a T instead of medication with a C. He helped me understand that when you meditate deeply — for about 20 or 25 minutes — your brain kicks into the alpha state, which is transformative.
When I’m in the alpha state, my brain hits the reset button and my ADHD is minimised. It’s been amazing — better focus, better leadership, better health, lower stress. The list goes on. Give it a try!
The aspect of my personal life that has had the most impact on my career has to be the commitment to learning. I remember as a child, seeing my dad’s pile of books beside his bed. He was constantly reading to stay current with his industry – I recall a “Visual Basic” and “C+ Manual” near the top of the stack. As a kid I was constantly reading, and now as an adult, I adopt this same approach in my role as a marketer and entrepreneur – sourcing new ideas from written content, podcasts, videos, and learning from other people.
It not only makes you an interesting person (a necessary ingredient for building relationships) — but it’s also kept me at the top of my game as an expert in my field, which is essential for landing new deals, opening new opportunities, and building new products/services.
Ryan K. Biddulph
Spending 2-3 hours on meditating, doing Kriya yoga, doing yin yoga and exercising had a profound impact on my career. Managing your energy means everything.
Expanding your awareness to do most things from energies of love, peace and abundance will change your career in many ways, for the better! Set aside 20 to 30 minutes minimum for some energy management ritual, daily. Observe how your life begins to shift, personally and professionally.
Deciding to volunteer for a children’s support line was the most pivotal moment in my career for several reasons. The children were often in desperate situations, but I had to learn to accept that I couldn’t solve their problems for them and the best help I could be was to listen wholly, empathise with and validate their feelings, and explore their situation from all angles to help them find the best solution for them.
A good manager leans heavily into these same skills. Helping people explore a challenge from all angles, to see all perspectives before making a decision without relying on their manager to give them the answers is one of the best gifts a manager can give their employees. Not to mention, my experience on the support line inspired me to set up my own business designing products for children that help them develop strong self-esteem and resilience, which is now two years in and thriving!
I began exploring the digital space in the Netscape Navigator days thanks to my Grandfather David – he had worked at IBM when the personal computer was in its infancy and so I was lucky enough to have access to one with dial-up access from an early age. I thought it was sheer magic that I could open up a notepad, add some HTML tags and produce something that would load into the browser for anyone across the world to access.
In my Grandfather, I had a patient tutor who would often research handy guides before I visited to help me learn the basics. Like many in our industry, I am self-taught and firmly believe these early experiences helped shape my approach to learning and progression. While the web is a very different place now than it was 25 years ago, the freedom and creativity of publishing online is still very much why I love what I do. I now get to apply the knowledge I have acquired from all kinds of platforms and use that to help others in their goals online.
I would reference three key experiences that have proven formative for my professional career: 1) My faith in God has lead me to always be growing and help others to grow. 2) My desire to be there for my family has lead me to leave the corporate life and pursue my own business and 3) my prior experience as learning Lean Six Sigma has greatly influenced the importance that I put on process and data driven decisions and and measurable bottom line results with the work we do for our clients.
Prof. Dr. Marc Oliver Opresnik
The biggest impact was derived from my passion to build the potential of young people, which made me give lectures at university in parallel to my work as a manager. It was because of this experience and intrinsic motivation that I always pursued this kind of path and finally became a professor at a government-owned university and an international keynote speaker.
Having children has been the most amazing and challenging experience outside of running a business. It has taught me to value time, take the small wins, and sometimes you just plain lose. In the end though, you have a great time and see an amazing human grow up.
Getting in the gym Monday-Friday, as the FIRST thing I do that day…Exercise clears my mind and gets me pumped/focused for the day ahead. If I miss a training session (which is rare) I feel sluggish and less productive…so this habit is a MUST for me to bring my A game.
Being honest, open and willing to help out in my daily interactions. People do remember that. I am honored when folks think of me and reach out for consultation in my area of expertise.
Being born and bred in Serbia, a country that still has to learn to organise itself properly. Growing up amidst chaos, uncertainty, lack of planning and professionalism – as well as cutting corners, making do with little, resourcefulness and quick fixes – was a great preparation for Google, where ‘thriving in chaos’ was one of key dimensions of the ‘Googliness’ set of candidate evaluation.
Chaos was familiar to me and is always an opportunity to find innovative solutions. Talking about silver lining!
Losing weight and exercising. Combining the two has increased my energy levels tremendously. I sleep better, and therefore have better solutions to problems that happen in my business each day. Perhaps, the biggest plus is going home still having enough energy to play with my son – now that is huge.
My passion for traveling helped me in my career. When I became a freelance writer, my English wasn’t very good. My vocabulary was limited and my grammar was quite bad. When I started traveling I had the chance of practicing the English language more, so I improved my knowledge. Also, on my trips to other countries, I was able to meet personally with some of my clients and collaborators. This strengthened our relationships.
Ever since I was 7 years old, I’ve been looking for ways to take something I love and making a profit through it. I remember this one time clearly, I was in college and I used to play a game called Pokémon, I didn’t have a lot of money at the time so I decided to breed competitive Pokémon and sell them in third party marketplaces like eBay. My journey lasted 3 months until eBay shut me down without giving any specific details.
Anyway, I made $670.73 in profit in those 3 months. Since I was young, I’ve been flipping stuff and that has served me right now that I’m an adult. Sometimes insecurity and anxiety settles in, but then I remember that kid who would go out knocking on doors without a care in the world for what others said and it makes me feel much better. 😀 I wrote more about my experiences in my about page (if you are interested): https://johnimsecrets.com/about/
I think for me the one area of my personal life which has unquestionably impacted my career far more than anything else was my battle with cancer. Having been fortunate enough to win the fight, I now approach life with a strong can-do attitude and an ambition to make the most of every day. This is an attitude I’ve brought into my professional life and one which has shaped the career I have today.
I have learned the art of multi-tasking. Blogging takes all my free time, which, of course, I want to spend with my family. Therefore, I manage my day so I get my blogging tasks completed.
For example, on my breaks from work, I respond to my blogging emails. At lunch, I respond to my commenters. After my day job ends, I work on link building. On the way home, I learn new knowledge by listening to podcasts. In the evening while watching TV, I promote on Twitter by loading up my Buffer queue.
In 2011, in addition to a variety of professional adjustments I was having to make, I started to spend more time on social media – on Google+ in particular – and in the process of learning the best ways to use and leverage that network, I stumbled on an extraordinary change in behavior. Up until that time, I had used social media to stay marginally connected with old friends from home, and to post relative nonsense about what I was thinking or publishing at any particular moment. There was no strategy or intent involved.
But then I started to meet new people on Google+ – professionals in the marketing space – and that opened a world of opportunities for me. Friendships and professional relationships were formed that, at the time, I had no idea how formative they would be. Today, looking back, I can attest much of my professional success and trajectory to those early years. Meeting folks like Jeff Sieh and Dustin Stout led to years of collaboration and mutual support.
That ended up positioning and preparing me perfectly for my role as Brand Evangelist at Agorapulse. Supporting other professionals like Jenn Herman led, years later, to one of the most remarkable and brilliant friendships and partnerships with myself, Jenn, Stephanie Liu and Amanda Robinson. The four of us have formed a personal mastermind group and a professional partnership that’s led to business revenue, a book deal and more with the 360 Marketing Squad. Choosing to be more open and accepting of connections and relationships online has led my career down a path I would never have imagined, yet would hardly give up.
The love and support of my family has by a long shot had the most positive impact on my career. So my brother, my sister and my mother and father. I’m blessed to have really positive, strong people in my life and such a close connection with them. To have the kind of love, support and open honest guidance from them that I do has given me the confidence to step up when needed, to persevere through tough times and most importantly to stay balanced.
The idea of “performance” has become a mantra both personally and professionally. A few years ago when I started working with Fortune 500 brands to guide their CX initiatives to new and better places, I realized that I had to be a living example of performance improvement. Since then, I wake everyday (even on weekends) to devote the time and discipline that I expect of my clients and incorporated the same regimen into my personal performance gains.
The results? I lost 50 pounds, transformed my body from 24% to 12% body fat and have complete control of all food, sugars, caffeine and alcohol that I consume. My mind and body are always ready to meet any Customer Experience demands our teams need to tackle and I’ve never been more happy to perform in every other aspect of my life. Now that’s lifetime value!
Getting a mentor has BY FAR had the most impact on my career. I was lucky enough to have the CEO of American Airlines be my mentor in my undergrad days. And as a young adult then, I would never have predicted he would open doors to CEOs at other Fortune 500 companies, plus coach me in how to behave properly among executives.
I was an avid student and reader– a “paper tiger” who did well at tests and essays. But I didn’t understand the relationship side. And it was mentors like these who helped me learn what I didn’t even know I didn’t know.
I would say it is my approach to experimenting constantly with different aspects of my life from diet to exercise to how and what I learn. This mindset has contributed to positive advancements in my marketing career as I never have a mentality of having arrived or becoming complacent. I am always looking for ways to improve my lifestyle and this has had a definite positive impact on my career in marketing.
When I first started my business I felt like I had to be always on, always working hard to be a success. After a few years of this my business was well established, I was making money but I was still working every hour that I could. I’m not sure what sparked it but one day I decided I needed to start getting some sleep. Back then the maximum time in bed was 6 hours but most nights it was 4-5.
The consequences were that I was getting sick more, I was making mistakes at work and I was ageing fast. It took me a while to get into the habit of sleeping 8 hours a night, but now I manage it most nights (there’s always the odd time you have to work late). The result has been a happier me and a more successful, streamlined business. I recommend it.
My dad taught me to look for chance opportunities. Being in the right place, at the right time and talking to a person at that moment is more than just luck. That chance meeting produces opportunity. It’s about the choices you make to be there at that moment. Career and life are integrated together. It allows you to have unique personal insights that will leave the door open for choices in your work as well.
When I got married way back in 2002, I decided to take the leap and open my own public relations and marketing company so that I could plan my career around having kids. I was a little worried that it might end my career. It turned out to be the best decision I have ever made and is the bedrock of my professional success. Plus I have been available for all the important moments of my kid’s lives, who are now teens.
What I learned was that sometimes you have to take a big leap for a bigger gain. My team at Zoetica is another part of what I gained in the jump, plus my community at the Social Media Breakfast of Houston, which I founded and have now been hosting for 10 years. Now I am working on distilling all that I have learned working for enterprise companies to grow their social media and build their online community into SmartSocialSecrets.com. I wouldn’t have that knowledge and experience without taking a chance on myself.
I studied English in university and discovered I have a love of writing. This has become my most important skill and asset in my career: blogging, speaking, writing books.
So there you have it! 30 of the best marketers around have spilled the beans on some of the most formative moments in their life.
They’ve shared how they’ve made changes to their lives to ensure that they kept growing personally and professionally.
There’s a good chance that you’ve had some life-changing experiences too, even if you didn’t know it at the time.
Look back at your life so far and try to get some takeaways from what you’ve done. Going forward, use what you find to shape how your approach your career.
It could make all the difference!