Mentorship with Melody #1: How I Became a Leader - for Myself
Updated: May 7
By: Melody Woo
My career coach says I am the textbook definition of having an “unconventional career path”. It’s true. During my time in the Queen’s Commerce Program I thought I would stay rooted in one field such as accounting, work my way up to become a manager, and eventually become a partner of a Big 4 firm.
My resume speaks otherwise. My first job out of school was in sales at the financial services firm, Mackenzie Investments, in Toronto. One year later, I received a return offer for a marketing role at Shell where I interned in the energy sector, in Calgary. Two years later, I am now in the Project Management Office at Aritzia’s head office, in Vancouver.
Being a leader is often a sought after title in the business world. We praise people like Michelle Obama, Greta Thunberg, Steve Jobs - those who are examples of championing a cause, a movement, a purpose for others. As I reflect on the type of leader I want to be in my career and the legacy I want to leave behind, I think about the importance of being a leader for the most important person first: myself.
Over the last four years, I have come to recognize my role as a leader for myself in my own life. Much like Michelle Obama, Greta Thunberg, and Steve Jobs who have a job to champion a purpose, it is my job to champion my own purpose.
Today, I am at a place in my career and life where I have alignment between my passions and my purpose:
My love for fashion started at a young age when I used to play dress up with my mom’s clothes. Today, equipped with my education and experience, I am able to bring projects to life at one of Canada’s leading retail fashion companies and my favourite brand, Aritzia.
Outside of my 9-5, I am an avid runner, seeking to run my 7th marathon this year. Today, I live in a city that is warm enough to train year-round and provides me a seawall as my race track.
I believe my purpose in life is to inspire and motivate others to achieve their purpose. Today, I am a blogger and share fashion inspiration, my running journey, and my career story.
My presence on my platforms have opened up doors to speak at 4 universities across Canada, mentor 15 students, and have the platform to share my experience on this very WILPower blog.
I do not want my story to be one that is glorified, but one that will inspire. I want it to serve as a testament of the beauty that results when you can be a leader for yourself.
Looking back on my journey, there are three key aspects to being that leader for yourself and I want to share how it worked for me:
1 - Discover Your Purpose
A common trait we use to describe leaders is “purposeful”. A leader drives a purpose, a mission, a vision. I believe that once we understand what’s important to us, we are able to make better decisions. The less time we need to make decisions = more time and energy spent working towards our goals.
I have pivoted my role and my industry twice, while making my westward migration across the country. Each chapter brought along growing pains in my career and in my personal life. I often compared myself to my peers who were advancing at the same firm they started their career. I worried about “finding someone” with the societal pressure of “settling down”, as each of my moves subsequently ended a relationship.
However, I knew in my heart that each decision I made was right for me, and that gut instinct served as my north star. I knew that if I let myself wallow in my worries, I would lose time enjoying the life I have ahead of me and the life that I am creating.
A tool that I use to help with remembering my purpose is creating a vision board. In essence, it is a collage of images and words that remind me of things I am working towards and what I aspire to do. I created mine on PowerPoint using photos I found on Pinterest and use it as my phone lockscreen because I see it everyday.
2 - Find Your Supporters
Leaders are in charge of leading their team to achieve their common goal and champion this through adversity. A leader is only as strong as their team and so it is important to find active supporters and advocates for ourselves.
The key theme is to communicate.
When I was job searching, I cast my net wide and had conversations about what I was looking for with my network. Having built relationships with these people over the course of my career led them to help me in different ways. Some shared job postings at their company, others left “recommendations” on my LinkedIn profile. Each of these things helped me get to where I wanted to be, but it all began with me starting the conversation.
I was also lucky to have met my mentor during my fourth year of university through a student group I co-chaired. He became someone I leaned on for big and small milestones of my career and life, guiding me through resume review all the way to salary negotiations. His words of encouragement empowered me to advocate for what I wanted, what was aligned with my purpose.
3 - Be Your Best Cheerleader
The common thread of every leader I admire is their ability to inspire. They are able to do the work required to achieve a common goal; and motivate others to do the same.
When I moved to Vancouver, I experienced many quiet, lonely nights. Most of my network are in eastern time zones, leaving me alone in my thoughts by 8pm. On some of these nights, I experienced self-doubt, loneliness, and insecurities. I realized in these hours that I am the only person who is in a position to lift myself every hour of the day - which is so empowering.
No one else is in a better position to be your cheerleader than you.
One practice I do is write in The Five Minute Journal app.
Every morning I write:
3 things I am grateful for
3 things I will do to make the day great, and
1 positive affirmation.
Every evening I write:
3 things that went well during the day, and
1 thing I could have done to make the day even better
There are many studies that show the act of practicing gratitude trains your brain to scan scenarios for the positive and setting your intentions helps you achieve it.
I use this space for myself everyday to be thankful for the abundance in my life, remind myself of my purpose, and affirm something positive about myself. An affirmation I have been writing lately is “I am proud of the woman I am and the woman I am becoming”.
Each move I made entailed packing up my things, replanting my roots, and building a home in a foreign city by myself. If there was one lesson it taught me, it would be to have the courage to show up and be a leader where it’s needed most: for myself. It is when I can be my own source of strength that I can also be my best self and be a leader for others.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melody Woo, CAPM graduated from the Smith School of Business in 2017 with first class distinction. She embarked on a diverse career path with experience in the finance, energy, and retail fashion industries. Today she spends her 9-5 bringing the biggest business goals to life at Aritzia’s Project Management Office in Vancouver, BC. During her 5-9, she is a fashion blogger, marathon runner, and motivational mentor.
She is passionate about using her voice to inspire others to achieve their goals on her social media channels, speaking engagements at universities across Canada, and through 1:1 mentorship - and is dedicated to leaving a lasting legacy that uplifts her community.