Almost a year ago, I was part of an internal young professionals (I know, I age well !) event organised within NATO. As you can see from the photo, the event was sponsored by some pretty high level officials who are committed to help empower the youth and get them involved in security and defence. One of them will participate in my #LetsGetReal campaign soon, so stay tuned! I was very excited to be part of these wonderful role models in NATO, but at the same time I was very nervous. What am I going to share ? How will I remember my speech ? Why should they listen to me? And so on…When I am nervous about something, I always used to turn to the amazing Livia Majercsik who looked at me, as I was panicking, and said in a very nonchalant way:

‘ ’Just follow Steve Jobs who used to write his own speeches and memorize them word by word through practicing in front of his mirror ‘’.

And so I spend the next four days writing my speech through my audience’s lens. I did not sleep much I can tell you, but it was all worth it in the end..I still have people walking up to me and thanking me for sharing my authentic and unbiased Dutch advice and experience. Many of you urged me to share this, so here it is. One year later and slightly adapted to a broader audience. Enjoy the read!

Seek to understand before being understood

This may sound very deep, but is fundamental in anything you do. We too often think in silos and we think in terms of output instead of creating desired outcome.We too often judge others and impose our views/opinions/believes, without truly understanding our audience– the people we are trying to convince in the first place. And remember that we are all people with feelings, our own journey, believes and values. This is important to remember when you engage and build valuable and lasting relationships. Last week my 4 year old told me with a straight face that I have no idea what I am talking about. From a 4 year old it is cute, not from a young professional. From a young professional saying or thinking like this comes across as arrogant – not to be confused with confidence as humility is key. So be open to all ideas from the less to the most senior experienced professionals, because this is what makes diversity. Many of you have an amazing opportunity to work in a multinational security environment with access to a wealth of experience. I am amazed every day by the breadth of diversity and talent in NATO and in my own organisation, NCI Agency. If you want to achieve your desired outcome, you need to cooperate and collaborate to secure people’s buy in. And for that you need to build trust. And before building trust, you need to understand. And nothing is more powerful then telling your story, while standing in your audience’s shoes.

Embrace fear

We all fear rejection, looking stupid, being vulnerable, failure and so on. But think about this : when you are 80 years old and you look back at your life : do you really want to remember those missed opportunities you were to afraid to pursue? or do you want to remember how you overcame your fear and are happy with the achievements and difference you made in international security ? Because your passion and desire to make a difference and be valuable is far bigger than your fear. Building your resilience is key.  Stop worrying what other people think about you. Trust me, we all think the world evolves around us when it actually evolves around the sun. Know that uncomfortable feeling, the adrenaline, fear and anxiety are actually signs that you are stepping outside your comfort zone and you are about to hit breaking grounds. I am apparently known as someone that climbed the professional ladder very fast by being promoted into a position that was a much higher grade. But what people fail to realize is how scared I was to apply, how many times I was rejected for other positions or opportunities, how many people laughed in my face or belittled me when I mentioned I was going to apply, and how I doubted myself all along the way. Did that stop me ? Of course not. The hardest thing is to believe in yourself, when nobody else does. I knew my value, I knew I was going to make a difference and I knew I would never give up. And so should you. There are plenty of people that will try to limit you, don’t limit yourself. Get out of your head, change your internal narrative and get into action!

Be and know yourself

This is one of the most important advice I can give you and so critical for diversity and inclusion. We all are unique and have our own style, believes and values. Don’t compromise on them. My stakeholder engagement portfolio consists of political-military engagement and I do stand out because of my fashion style, which I fully embrace as the security and defence sector can use a bit of colour!! You can only imagine the first impression of the military and others, when they see me coming to meetings in my colourful dresses and high heels. But as soon as I start speaking about the importance of bridging the gap between military priorities and resource requirements to ensure the lives of our soldiers in theatre is not compromised – you can immediately see the shift in their perception – she has brains! I never go anywhere without being prepared. I know my stuff, I work very hard and my actions speak for themselves. It is only human nature to judge appearances, but in the end it does not really matter how you look like. Your appearance is the first thing people see. But what matters is what you have to offer and contribute. Be yourself, but know your stuff, do your homework and #KnowYourValue.

Bringing it all together

I can’t emphasise enough – invest in yourself, find out what your uniqueness is and what value you are contributing to international security. Focus on building your legacy, not your resume. Trust me, people do not care about how many masters degrees you have, how many conferences you attended or listening to your humble bragging. You want people to remember your achievements, the difference you made, how you made them feel and inspired them, and how you helped foster peace and security, especially in these times. The current strategic landscape is full of complex security threats and challenges; there is room for everybody to shine as we work together in making the world a better place. Build your legacy by knowing your value and help ensure we keep our freedom and security; something we too often take for granted.

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