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SXSW 2018: 5 Ways to Thrive In the New Era of Work

SXSW 2018: 5 Ways to Thrive In the New Era of Work

This year at SXSW, Express hosted a panel (and a couple podcasts for good measure) focused on the ever-changing, complicated concept of Work. It was a heady conversation that tackled some complex questions: How do you maintain passion and purpose within your career? Should money dictate your professional decisions? How do you build a personal brand while growing as an employee? Can I, Employee #1138, personally effect positive change at my company?





On deck to discuss the topics at hand was a murderer’s row of industry leaders, moderated by Maxie McCoy and featuring Alisa Leonard, President of The Levo Institute, Lizzie Widhelm, Senior Vice President of Ad Innovation and Enablement at Pandora, and Tejal Parekh, Head of North America Marketing at Workplace by Facebook. Each offered their personal insights and professional advice derived from decades of experience and hard-earned success. Here are some inspiring moments of clarity and guidance perfect for navigating your own evolving work landscape.


To kick things off, McCoy asked the panel what work means to them. Is it defined by money, passion, or both?

“If you’re passionate about your work and you’re able to do it right, the money will follow,” said Parekh. In other words, passion and economics are not mutually exclusive. It’s all about establishing the right mix for you, which will inevitably lead to wealth in one sense or another.

The end result should be an insatiable appetite to do more. “I want to work forever,” said Widhelm. “I know that sounds crazy. If you don’t want to work until you’re dead, you’re probably doing it wrong.”

stay-curiousMaintaining your professional drive can be exhausting, especially when you work within a demanding, well-established company. The best way to advance without the risk of burning out or hitting roadblocks is simple: curiosity.

“What I love most about coming into the workplace is curiosity,” said Widhelm. “Heritage is important, so get on board, but don’t antagonize the system so you can’t succeed. Foster that creativity to achieve iteration, but not so you can’t get ahead.”

Leonard drove the point home for 20- and 30-somethings who are trying to shake up the system for the better, especially women changing the status quo and fighting against the tides of perception. “Millennials are a force for innovation,” she said. “They’re at once innovators and rule breakers, but as women, they also want to get that A. I’m also a fan of learning the rules so you can break them more effectively, and how you’re perceived matters.”

sxsw-panel-build-your-own-personal-brandExperience and spreadsheet skills are only part of a successful career formula. The rest is all you, as in your personal brand. That may sound like marketing buzzwords, but cultivating who you are as an individual is a critical part of success at any stage of your professional life.

“Embrace authenticity, and when in doubt, just communicate,” says Parekh. “If you’re doing it for yourself, you’re going to do it right.” That statement rings true whether you’re building your own brand or starting a business. It’s a core aspect of melding passion and purpose in a way that keeps your personality at the forefront.  There’s really no better foundation for achieving whatever you set out to accomplish than allowing your true sense of self to thrive.

Keep in mind, this will always be a work in progress—it should be! “At the end of the day, people want to connect with other people who are real,” said McCoy. “Personal brands are 100% fluid. We all know we’re just human.”

work-hard-and-side-hustleNo, having a side hustle is not cheating on your employer. In fact, it’s the perfect avenue for expressing whatever your passion may be, not to mention extremely beneficial when it comes to professional and personal fulfillment. Of course, the best part is that you can make some extra cash along the way.


“That side hustle is often the outlet for what we feel most passionate about and whatever evolution you’re going through,” said Leonard.  “This evolutionary approach to our work and lives—when we get to that blurring—is so critical. The side hustle is the new normal.”

In short: go out there and hustle!


Toward the end of a panel, an intrepid audience member posed an interesting question about how an employee can bring real, substantial change to life: “I work for a very established tech company. I think there are some things that can be changed. How do you create that fire in the belly? How do you ask those questions to your management?”

“I would say to meet with small groups of people to get consensus,” Widhelm said. “When you get feedback, incorporate it. If you’re showing the thoughtfulness of incorporating feedback, not just that you came up with the idea in the shower or on the way to work, C-levels like that.”