I’m going to tell you a few things about it. I may sound self congratulatory, but that’s not the point. I promise, there’s a good point for you in here. Honest.
So, back to the story: I genuinely don’t know how it happened. I think somewhere along the way I said “yes” a few times, but really, really, really, I didn’t mean for this to happen.
WHAT HAD HAPPENED WAS….
I can tell you where it started. A coworker said “Ryland, there’s this conference in Philadelphia. Why don’t you submit a talk about the work we’re doing on process analysis? I bet they’d be interested!” I had never submitted something to a conference before, let alone had an interest in public speaking.
But sure, why not. Long story very short, I submitted a proposal, I wrote the presentation, and I was scared of being on stage giving it, and I got over it, and it went well.
I would go on to present that same session about 3 more times - two other conferences and one local IIBA chapter event. I discovered that I handled the pop-up-questions from the audience fairly well, and I had feedback that people left my sessions feeling they’d learned something.
Go me! I’m giving something valuable back to the community!
Locally and for conferences, I was asked what other sessions I could do. Some subjects were tossed around with different people. I selected a few I found interesting and exciting, and put some talks together about those subjects. They were well received; presenting 40-minute sessions at conferences became a fun way of broadening my professional exposure & learning. Presenters get to attend the conferences at no charge, and my job was willing to pay for the trip when I was representing us to the industry and promoting us as a great place to work! When I wasn’t presenting I attended other people’s sessions and actively talked with attendees. I gave lunch-and-learn kind of summaries to my coworkers when I got back, and people told me they appreciated it and looked forward to them.
Back in Atlanta, I was more involved with presenting locally. I’d started to get involved with agile, and was offered the opportunity to give a training session on my experiences as a BA in agile environments.
Talking with our organizer, I was trying to gauge what I’d need to do. I asked: “How long a session do you want me to give? It can be a big topic to cover.”
I was expecting an answer of 60-90 minutes.
“We’d like the whole day, if you’re up for it.”
I think I started hearing a dial tone in my head.
A whole day? What the heck am I going to do for a whole day? I can’t do that. What!? What!?
My mouth, which was now somehow disconnected from the rest of my body, had gone to whatever failover system it had and continued making noises and commitments as though I were actually personally involved in the thought process.
“I think I can do a half day. Say 3-4 hours of content? I can firm things up in a few weeks after I’ve done an outline. The topic is The BA in Agile, I’ll figure the details.”
“That’s great, Ryland! I’ll put you down for it!”
Now I was hooked. Apart from my personal values of honoring commitments I make, I was actually looking forward to this session, in a very this-is-exciting-and-I-don’t-want-to-fail-horribly kind of way. That, and our professional development coordinator (and later our IIBA Chapter President) was someone you do not disappoint. She’s kind of a mix between a church picnic, a hurricane, and Vito Corleone, but in a very supportive and caring way!
I’ll try to make the rest of this short so I can get to my point.
The session went well; I actually had so many questions from the mixed BA and PM group that I got through about 50% of my content - and people were enjoying the time so much that they gave me an extra hour on the fly during the session. All of that was also unexpected.
Through a related series of events, this led to me writing a book and doing more presenting on more topics. Along the way I met many people in the top of their professions, both in business analysis and related fields, and I had many moments where I asked “how the heck am I in a room with these people?”
I have had the opportunity to do some powerful, creative, challenging, interesting projects both at work and elsewhere. It has advanced my career in both professional and personal value in ways I could not have imagined or asked for.
WHAT’S THE POINT, RYLAND?
“That’s nice. You said you had a non-self-congratulatory point in here somewhere?”
Yes, I do. Thank you for being this patient, I know that was a lot about me, and the truth is I want this to be about you.
I want you to have this same opportunity, and the amazing thing is that you already have it. You only need choose to take advantage of it!
I’m asking you to find something that you’re willing to create, and to share it with other professionals. It will do you good. It will do the profession good. It will lead you to experiences that are unique and unpredictable and exciting and engaging and unforeseeable and wonderful.
Find something - even something very small! - that you are passionate about, and offer to give a talk on it at a professional gathering. It can be a conference, a local group, even just a lunch-and-learn at your office. Even being turned down will provide you with a valuable learning experience!
You cannot know where it will take you. However, by standing up and sharing your passion and interests with others, people with similar interests and passions will find you...and you may start collaborating with them about events, or writing, or just make a new colleague.
MAKE A HABIT OF SAYING YES TO THINGS CONNECTED TO YOUR PASSION
My career and my happiness have advanced hugely because I said “yes” to something about 6 years ago. I now get to spend most of my professional time working in areas very close to my professional passions (BA, agile subjects, and career development).
I simply would not have that situation today if I had not said “yes” to applying to a conference back then, and put energy into making it a good experience. That’s where it started. That was the pebble that grew to an avalanche in my career in the next several years.
I learned my lesson on this by chance, and I’m now passing it on to you with intention:
Try something! Try anything! Say yes to things!
The returns will definitely be valuable, probably interesting, and certainly unique!
Get out there and open some doors!
Best wishes to you in all parts of your life,