The road less traveled: It isn’t about success, it’s about happiness

This is a guest post by Clare Markovits, Chief of Staff for Chief Digitization Office at Cisco.

I was blessed in having a Mother as a strong female role model in my life. My parents divorced when I was a baby. She never married so I was essentially raised by a single mother who was a school teacher and an entrepreneur in her own right, investing in the Bay Area local real estate market. It was through this, her ferocious focus on education, a strong work ethic, resiliency & happiness that provided me with a solid foundation in life.

Humility, honesty, perseverance and resiliency are the values that define me and that I live by. Be it early in my life when my teacher told my Mother that “I would never be good at math” or later in life, with my challenges in starting a family (8 years of pain staking challenges associated with adoption and infertility). These were the defining moments that helped build character and skills to overcome what felt impossible. They also taught me to be goal focused, and open to possibilities and a path that may not have presented itself to me. You have to work hard (and I mean, HARD) for the things that really matter in life, and to be grateful, I mean GRATEFUL, for what you have when you have it.

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My Mother encouraged (dare I say “pushed”) me to pursue the hard sciences even when it wasn’t cool or promoted widely within society. Blessed with good foresight, she wanted me to be strong, independent and most importantly, how to think for myself. It was never even a question in my household and thus, in my mind, that I would go to college. I pursued engineering because I wanted a challenge. I studied metallurgy even at this young age because I wanted to differentiate myself and what better way than to be the only woman “welder” amongst my peers?

Engineering taught me how to think and to be an entrepreneur. Being an intern and subsequently an engineer at an engineering firm, helped me tap into my inner entrepreneur from the very start – to solve problems, build trust within my network, and commit to learning. I also very quickly realized what I liked and didn’t like. I absolutely hated the banality of sitting behind a computer building thermodynamic piping models for corrosion problems at nuclear power plants and gravitated to the business side and client engagement for the firm. A male only firm, I was blessed to be surrounded and working for partners that helped identify my strengths early: bridging the gap between business & technical, communication and business development skills. They encouraged me to move outside of my comfort zone. (To this day, some of the toughest bosses I have every worked for). One of the partners of the firm once told me, “Clare, you are not progressing unless you are feeling a little bit uncomfortable”. It was through this advice that I made bold moves, including helping the firm launch their business development function, going back to school to get my MBA, and transition into high-tech. That transition led to the good fortune of landing a fantastic position at Cisco. Through my 17-year career at Cisco, I continue to push myself to try new roles that enable me to learn new skills and new areas of the business.

Currently, I am Chief of Staff, Operations and Senior Director in Cisco’s Digitization Office. I love the variety of my role (no more sitting behind a computer cranking out thermodynamic models for me!): from building the organization from the bottoms-up to helping build new consumptive business models for our customers. I am gaining valuable new skills & experience for my ultimate career goal in starting my own business in fashion design. I am challenged in ways that I never thought imaginable and am reminded everyday that the power of this organization is fueled through the diversity of our team and people.

As I reflect on my career journey, I’ve realized that success does not define great leaders but rather how they approach adversity and challenges. I find intrinsic satisfaction in solving problems – no matter how small or large. That said, I thrive in knowing that the journey in finding the solution reaps as much reward as the solution itself. It’s that path who defines you and what brings you happiness – not the “success” at the end of the path. I have made sacrifices and choices that ultimately resulted in a large range of roles & responsibilities and a less than a direct path to where I am today, but I am intrinsically happy in the work that I am doing and the non-traditional path I’ve taken to get to where I am.

So, what practical words of wisdom can I share based on my journey?

Love yourself through your faults and all. As a result of my upbringing and early career, I have always pushed my boundaries. Love yourself through your faults and all. As a result of my upbringing and early career, I have always pushed my boundaries. It also made me very self-critical. Instead of agonizing over every little thing I did wrong, I now make it a habit of leading with the positive – I always think first about three things I did well, and then go to more constructive things that I could have done better. It’s amazing how this little shift softens the blow and provides more objectivity.

Know your values – use them as guide posts to help navigate through your decision making and define your brand. If you are analytical in nature, you can even develop a decision and action framework that can be applied in different situations. Use your values to define your personal brand and differentiate yourself in the workplace.

Get comfortable getting uncomfortable. Do something different every day. Break old habits and be open to new experiences. You might be surprised at what you learn along the way. Don’t be afraid of “failing” – it’s honestly when I’ve grown the most and when new possibilities emerge (especially when your mind is open to it).

Be generous with your time and kindness. Being kind is not weak, even for women. I find inspiration in my daughter Mara, who has the natural ability to be both kind, strong willed & opinionated. At eight years old, she proves to me every day that it can be done! Generosity is the backbone of good relationships and it will come back to you in spades. With the hyper-connectivity of the digital age, now more than ever, authentic relationships are important. Even when the snotty person at work is a jerk, rise above it. You will be the better “man” for it.

And last not be least, be grateful. From the smallest to the largest things in life, they really do put things in perspective. I am beyond blessed to be surrounded by strong, independent women at both work and at home. Both my 87-year-old mother and my adopted daughter, Mara, who has overcome severe malnutrition and a horrific start to life in her native Republic of Georgia, inspire and challenge me everyday. I count my blessings for what I have and am grateful for each & every moment I get to spend with them on this planet.

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