Suppose you’re looking to do something new. Maybe you don’t enjoy what you’re doing or you got laid off and want to try something else. What would you do? How would you discover what you like and the relevant opportunities that might exist? You could wait, hoping for something interesting to come along. You could work your small network to see what’s out there.
Or you could work out loud - a process of making your learning, discovery, and contribution visible. It may be the best way to improve your chances of finding or creating fulfilling opportunities.
Here’s a story of someone I admire who did just that.
The story of Joyce Sullivan
For more than 20 years, Joyce Sullivan worked at large banks, managing big, complex projects. At times, it was challenging, well-paid, even exciting. Particularly in the earlier years, it felt very entrepreneurial. Joyce felt she could “see the opportunity, find the zealots, organize tasks, connect talented people who were passionate about a sometimes esoteric topic, and get them in a room to create some kind of change.”
But as the banking industry changed, so did the work and so did Joyce. When her firm down-sized, Joyce was ready to do something different. But what?
Building on initial interests
There were some constants throughout Joyce’s career. Trained as an educator, she always enjoyed learning and helping others learn. She enjoyed working with people at all levels, listening to them and learning from them. (“Not just with the leaders but with the people who really do the work.”). And she liked learning about the next new thing.
One of those things was social media. She remembered how she felt when access to personal email was blocked by her firm. She had used it at work to stay connected with family and, when it was blocked, “It started to feel like I was losing my freedom.” Joyce was interested in how social media gave people a voice and some control. And so she made a point of using all the tools herself and talking with other people about how and why they used them.
She was just a banking professional at the early stages of learning and exploring, but she liked it and her efforts grew increasingly purposeful.
Leading with generosity & Leveraging other networks
Over time, Joyce came to know more than her peers about what social media was and how it could be used at work. To increase her learning, she volunteered to serve as the first Chief Digital Strategist for the Financial Women’s Association of New York. She’d been a member of the venerable, 57-year old institution for years and appreciated how helpful they’d been. Having seen newer networking groups grow through their use of social media, Joyce wanted to help her own organization use those tools and grow, too.
While it was an unpaid role, it allowed her to apply some of her learning in a business context. It helped her leverage an existing institution to establish meaningful business connections. And, importantly, it enabled her to present at conferences.where she could further shape both her reputation and her network.
Joyce was no longer just a banker interested in social media, but a social media professional who also happened to be a banker. By experimenting with ways to apply her interests while working out loud and building a network, she discovered ways her hobby could be much more than that.
And she continued to look for additional ways to contribute. She’d teach finance professionals about LinkedIn, organize her own networking events, and connect people in her growing network who could help each other. With each act of generosity, she would learn more, make more connections, and have yet more to contribute.
Narrating her learning
I first met Joyce via conference call while she was working at another bank. She made a point of connecting via LinkedIn and Twitter. And though many months would go by before we spoke again, I could follow all of her learning on-line: the people and companies she was meeting, the tools she was trying, the work she was doing, and the discoveries she was making.
This was more than just personal branding. Joyce was earnestly narrating what she was doing, including original contributions, in ways that could help others.
I was amazed at the incredible range of things she was involved in - from delivering webinars to making videos to giving talks at big conferences like SXSW and the 140 Conference - and how she knew so many interesting people.
All of this learning and all of these connections opened up new possibilities. People who’d seen her work would contact her about an opportunity: “Joyce, can I talk to you about...” and would ask her about training, coaching, or speaking to their company. One of the highlights was being asked to appear with Maria Bartiromo on CNBC “offering advice for baby boomers suddenly back at the drawing board.”
Yet the drawing board wasn’t a blank canvas at all. Joyce drew on her 20 years of banking and her years of purposeful exploring and networking. She eventually started her own consulting firm, SocMediaFin, offering “social media strategy development and implementation for financial services and other highly regulated industries”. She’s now a popular speaker at conferences and companies around the country. And she gets genuine fulfillment from her daily interaction with her large, diverse, and still growing network.
When Joyce was laid off, she didn’t recede into the background or just rely on friends and family for access to existing jobs. Instead, she channeled her energy into purposeful discovery - learning, experimenting, meeting people, contributing. And by making all of that visible using social platforms, she turned those experiences into new and more fulfilling possibilities.
You can, too.