In our new three part op-ed series, George Khalife discusses the ebbs and flows of building a successful career as a young professional. Khalife is a sales & marketing professional with a background in finance and the DNA of an entrepreneur. At only 26 years old, Khalife has become Vice President at Toronto Stock Exchange, while Co-Founding an app called BookBack for students to buy and sell books more easily (which cracked the top 100 list for book-related apps), as well as hosting a podcast called ‘Let’s Grab Coffee’ where he interviews successful leaders across different industries. For the first instalment Khalife discusses why building confidence is the first step in taking charge and make positive advances in your career path.
As a young professional, building confidence at work or in life is not easy and is something that takes time and effort to breed. As Vice President at the Toronto Stock Exchange, at the age of 26, I have definitely had my share of struggles throughout my career with developing inner confidence. Full transparency, it is still something I have to give attention to daily.
Let’s start by establishing the first premise; no one is ever born with innate confidence. I certainly wasn’t. In fact, when I was in high school, I had just immigrated to Canada from the Middle East – I was a chubby kid, with a mushroom cut (don’t ask why), and a heavy English accent (my third language). I still remember presenting in front of my grade 5 teacher, Ms. Smith, about the negative impacts of smoking – it did not go well at all, in fact once I finished, she basically crushed my aspirations by saying something like “communication is not your strong-suit, it’s something that might be difficult to fix.” Not easy for anyone to hear, let alone a kid.
So how do you build confidence from there?
Well if we agree that confidence doesn’t stem from the womb, let’s establish the second premise; which is that confidence is a continually-growing muscle that develops over time.
Have you ever put yourself in a position where you were a beginner at something? Whatever that thing was, when you have to learn something new and put in the time and effort to get better at it, that process becomes a skill in itself.
For me, that activity was running. Although I consider myself to be physically fit, taking up running was not an easy feat. At first, I could barely run 3 kilometer without struggling to breathe. Eventually, I started building a foundation which I can lean on to grow more confident and stronger. I set a plan as to how to effectively train, started stretching more after my runs and taking cold showers to recover, downloaded the Nike Run Club app to help keep me on pace, etc. Today, I’m able to run upwards of 10 kilometers easily and average roughly 70 kilometers per month.
As I’ve progressed within my running, that confidence I’ve built started trickling over into my work-life; I walk into meetings feeling less nervous and more grounded, I give presentations with more presence and less insecurity… and why is that? The lessons I’ve learned from going through the process of picking up a new activity outside of work created muscles I leverage in different situations that are somewhat similar.
In university, much like many of my peers studying finance, I had my eyes set on a career in either investment banking or consulting – with no real consideration of what I actually enjoyed or was really good at.
Thankfully, my career started by entering a rotational program at TMX Group as an Associate – a 2 year program where I worked in different business divisions every 6 months (4 rotations in total). In those two years, I worked in business development, sales, IT, and project management – this gave me the chance to firstly reflect on what I enjoyed doing secondly, discover what I was good at [by way of internal reflection and or external feedback].
Since then, I positioned myself in more of a business development and marketing capacity because that’s where my true strengths lie – and I’m a big believer in leveraging those traits instead of dwelling on weaknesses.
By this I mean, real growth begins when you make yourself uncomfortable. In my experience, I’ve found it difficult to have unwavering confidence without taking the time to build self-awareness. I strongly believe you need to have a deep understanding of yourself: your strengths, weaknesses, passions… which requires contemplation and reflection.