Last week a friend of mine got ranked number 3 on Forbes list of CMO's (Chief Marketing Officers) with the greatest global social media influence.
I don't think I've ever been so proud, excited and happy for anyone's success before. The reason I want to share this story is because only three years ago, one rainy autumn evening I sat with him in a cafe in Helsinki and we were both wondering what to do with our lives.
Ville Tolvanen, the friend and ex-colleague, had already had a great career consulting for Finland's biggest companies. Why wasn't he just happy building a great CV and adding new clients to his list of achievements?
Because he wanted to make a dent in the universe. He wanted to make a difference.
Instead of choosing the conventional route to stroke his ego, he chose to start leading people by his own example. As a consultant it's very easy to hide behind your CV and keep dishing out advice (I know, I've been one). Ville wanted to get his hands dirty!
He started using social media in a way he believed his clients should use it. Openly. Actively. And without shame.
He started blogging about his thoughts on digitalisation, its opportunities, its potential for companies and for people. He articulated this in his own voice and started sharing his own experiences. He was very opinionated. He was controversial. And he was not asking for anyone's approval. He started posting 'selfies' at a time when they were acceptable only for the 16 year olds. And he'd record his thoughts on video clips before anyone was able to say 'Vine'.
At first I felt a little embarrassed for him as he’d put himself out there, open for criticism, risking failure and ridicule. My experience of being a professional was to keep a perfect facade at all times, at all costs. The most important thing was to look good, look right. Think about your CV, not what really matters.
But Ville had decided to give up shame. He'd chosen to do what had to be done rather than do what others expected of him. And that, my dear readers, has been the greatest lesson of my professional life!
I kept following his work on social media. It was very easy because he was putting everything out there. He'd post a blog post almost daily (600 posts in 100 days). He'd tweet 30 tweets per day (on average) and at times his activity on Facebook was breathtaking. And he'd keep chasing me for comments and to share his content. For a social media beginner like me it was at first strenuous but in the end I learned a lot. I started to understand the importance of helping others online (sharing is caring!) and I decided to learn how to become an influencer myself.
And over time I started to see the bigger picture. He was using himself as a guinea pig to prove the power of social media. He was becoming a living example, sharing knowledge, connecting people and ideas. He helped us social media neanderthals to get a grip of what the digital revolution would really mean to all of us.
However, in the first year nothing happened. Yet he didn’t see it as a failure, he kept going with the same enthusiasm.
I'm sure half of his audience thought he'd gone mad. But he endured and after two years his hard work started to bear fruit. People started responding, they started sharing and creating content. His audience started understanding what was going on.
And today, he generates more interactions (re-tweets, likes, comments) than the CMOs in companies like Yahoo, or Google!
Why is this important to me? Because he's been a role model, a normal guy who dared to achieve great things simply by taking small steps consistently every day for three years.
His 'coming out of the closet' (coming out as not being ashamed of his own opinions or his own voice) inspired me tremendously, and encouraged me to set up DrivenWoman, and to keep writing this blog. I adopted the idea that you just have to keep believing in what you are doing because you are doing something that has to be done, rather than because it looks good on your CV.
His journey has been incredible.
In just three years I’ve seen him change the social media culture of Finland. I’ve seen him create the only hub for digital economy there, the Digitalist Network, and it’s incredibly influential. And he’s become the go-to man for all things social media and digital. And now his efforts have been recognised by Forbes magazine.
But the reason I wanted to share his story with you wasn't to praise him, but to learn from him.
Here’s my take out:
Do something that makes an impact
To make a dent in the universe is the greatest gift. Why go through life not making a positive impact on people around us?
Give up shame
It's difficult to 'not care' what other people say. ‘The other people’ will always say things. They will not support you and not believe in you. They will think you are an idiot. But if you are doing something important you have to break that barrier. The only way to become remarkable is to give up shame. Starting DrivenWoman helped me over the hurdle.
Focus on the process, not the outcome
I've seen how easily people give up because they do not immediately get the outcome they think they deserve. Following Ville's journey has forever convinced me that you just have to keep pushing and believing, and one day, if what you have been doing is truly useful to the universe, you will get a reward. And if you love what you do, you may be lucky to change everything in three years!
Only by helping people can you create value. We can all help someone in our own way and often in more ways than we can think of. Just don't be scared to look!
Get others involved
Ville didn't do it alone. And there is nothing in this universe we can, or are supposed to, do alone. Believe and celebrate your own strengths and team up with people who have complementary skills. Build your own support system around you. Find people who will push you through the tough times and celebrate you when you succeed. That's why we built DrivenWoman, it's our own team of cheerleaders. Nobody makes it alone!
It takes time
Many of us are after quick wins. I don't believe in them. Success takes time. People generally over-estimate what can be achieved in a year and underestimate what they can do in three.
My plan is to live up to all of these parameters above. I 'came out of the closet' 1,5 years ago when I gave up shame and stopped looking for approval. According to Ville's example there's another 1,5 years to go before we will start to see the true fruits of all the work we are putting into DrivenWoman. Whatever the outcome in traditional measures of success (fame/money) I've already gained the biggest win - I'm free and I’m happy.
Will I ever get to be on some sort of 'best of' list? It depends on one thing, and one thing only - me.
Will I become remarkable.
That is my goal.
What is yours?