“You create the perfect job yourself!”

Marion Debruyne and Katleen De Stobbeleir about career myths

Contrary to popular belief, building a successful career does not mean accumulating promotions and getting to the top as quickly as possible. In Making your way: The (wobbly) road to success and happiness in life and work, Marion Debruyne, Dean at Vlerick Business School, and Katleen De Stobbeleir, Full Professor at the same institution, unravel 15 myths about career success and happiness in life.

Laurien Van Nieuwenhove, Content Officer BDO Marketing & Communication

Warning! “This is above all not a recipe book that you must follow to the letter. We only offer tools and ingredients so that you can season to your own taste,” say the authors, putting their work into perspective.

I have a dream…

Do you remember what you wanted to be as a child? Ballerina, professional footballer, or perhaps an astronaut? Whatever your ambition, a 9-to-5 desk job probably was not on that list. And yet that is what many of us end up doing. So, are those childhood dreams of yesteryear a fraud? Marion and Katleen think not: “Big dreams drive you forward. If you think big, you also undertake big things, even if you do not ultimately fulfil those ambitions or you decide to follow a different path. By pushing yourself into a corner, you put a brake on what is possible for yourself.”

Our potential reaches much further than we think. Marion says: “The fear of failure – and, oddly enough, of success – stops many chasing those big dreams. After all, accomplishments set expectations and put on pressure. The pursuit of perfection and the fear of not achieving it is then large. This often holds back enthusiastic starters, and even more experienced professionals, from aiming higher.”

“Everyone has leadership in them but interprets success differently.”

Marion Debruyne, Dean Vlerick Business School

Do not be fooled by the ‘imposter syndrome’

Success is often encouraging, but unfortunately not for everyone. Some achieve great things and still feel they do not deserve their success. The ‘imposter syndrome’ affects as many as 70% of people. Marion also suffered from it: “When I started as a professor in the US, I felt like I was just pretending. Could they really believe that as a young girl from Belgium I was competent to teach there? But it worked out wonderfully well. Even better, I already got a pay rise after the first year. Nevertheless, I continued to struggle with this uncertainty until I read an article about the phenomenon and discovered that I was far from the only one who felt that way.”

The road to success

According to Katleen, the fear of making a mistake is unnecessary. Even if you do go in the wrong direction, you are still a step ahead of those who do nothing. “Daring to make mistakes is essential for learning valuable lessons and thus building a successful career.” To do this, you must step outside your comfort zone. This can be done in various ways:

  1. Be open to new challenges. Adopt a growth mindset. If you believe that there is always room to explore your potential and develop yourself, every situation becomess a learning opportunity. “Become a real ‘learning animal’ Learning never stops: what you know now may be different tomorrow. You can continue to learn anywhere and anytime, as long as you are open to it.”
  2. Make yourself visible. You do not grow by fulfilling the typical office tasks. Dare to say ‘no’ and take on projects that give you more visibility. Also make good use of your network. “Don’t just ask your LinkedIn connections for help when you need it. Also ask yourself what you can do for them. Your network acts like a boomerang: if you give a lot, you also get a lot back.”
  3. Persevere. Behind the greatest successes are countless failed attempts. So do not be discouraged when things are not going your way. “Just start. You don’t build a successful career overnight; you learn by trial and error. Every step helps.”
  4. Stay honest. You do not have to accept every challenge that comes your way. “Be critical. Are your actions still in sync with your ambitions? If not, change course. This can also be done within the company where you are already working. After all, you create the perfect job yourself.”
  5. Actively ask for feedback. Nobody likes to be criticised, but it is essential for growth. Marion and Katleen call this ‘tough love’: a good mentor gives you both a helping hand and a kick in the pants – both with the same amount of love (also read the inset on p. X). Also ask for feedback from your personal environment: you achieve your successes – indirectly – thanks to them.
  6. Be authentic. Emotions are often wrongly associated with an unprofessional attitude. However, those who dare to be vulnerable and show that they are not perfect come across as more authentic than those who keep up appearances. This is called the ‘pratfall effect’. “Authenticity is an important factor in the workplace. People are more likely to look up to someone in whom they can recognise themselves. So do not be afraid to show the person behind the manager.”
  7. Do not just look upwards. A career is not just about climbing up the ladder. In reality, the road to success has many twists and turns and you can also go left, right, diagonally and even down. A term as president also comes to an end at some point, but it is not the end of someone’s career, success or influence.

“Are your actions no longer in line with your ambitions? Then change course.”

Katleen De Stobbeleir, Full Professor Vlerick Business School

Devour knowledge like a real ‘learning animal’

To keep up, you don’t have to walk around with your nose in a book all the time. There are plenty of other opportunities to broaden your horizon. A learning animal has 3 characteristics:

  • Curiosity. We live in an age where information is available in the blink of an eye – but paradoxically, that makes it harder to learn something efficiently. Plan regular focus moments, during which you ban all distractions and concentrate on one specific source of information.
  • Fundamental modesty. You will never have all the knowledge. Be aware of that and approach every situation as a learning opportunity. Even a managing partner can also learn from a junior!
  • Bravery. Your comfort zone is – as the word says – comfortable, but not challenging. The chance that you will gain new insights inside your own bubble is small. So, challenge yourself when appropriate.

Making a difference starts with yourself

Are you only successful when you manage a team or start your own business? “No, you certainly do not have to be a second Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates,” Marion assures us. “Everyone has leadership in them, but interprets success in a different way. This can also be on a small scale. Often it is those little bits that create a domino effect and, in the end, do make a world of difference. So, above all, stay optimistic and believe in yourself. Doing good is also a question of not doing anything wrong.”

“Feedback is key in the BDO culture”

“At BDO, we are known for our personal approach in which you are at in the driver’s seat of your own career. In this regard, we pay particular attention to feedback,” says Wim Galbusera, HR Director. “No more annual appraisal interviews. We now organise regular check-in and ‘feed forward’ conversations so that we can continually pay attention to the growth of each employee. And not just in terms of a career, but also in terms of someone’s well-being, job performance and personal development. ‘Making your way’ perfectly reflects our BDO slogan ‘Let’s grow … together’.”

The book ‘Making your way’ perfectly reflects our BDO culture.