3 Career Lessons About Creative Genius

As Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” Career success is often defined by moments of creative genius. But we can’t just wait for brilliant ideas to come to us—we have to put in the work, too.

Here are three things I’ve learned about what it takes to capture lightning in a bottle.

1. Put Yourself Out There

When it comes to successful career moves, it’s often about who you know. But sometimes, it’s a great idea that gets you the job you want. Early in Marisa Thalberg’s career, business news channels were exploding on cable networks. CNN, CNBC, MSNBC—they all had dedicated business channels. And yet Thalberg, a business junkie, was perplexed. “I couldn’t understand why business news was relegated just to Wall Street news,” she remembers. Thalberg thought that programming around marketing might appeal to a broad audience. When she mentioned this to a friend who happened to be a CNBC producer, he suggested she write a show proposal.

Although Thalberg had no experience with show proposals, that didn’t stop her from writing one for a show called “Ad Beat.” She sent her proposal cold to all of the networks, not expecting to hear back from anyone. Suddenly the phone rang. It was the head of the Dow Jones Network: “I don’t know if we’ll do your show. But I do know that you’re someone I want on my team.”

That’s the story of how Thalberg became a TV producer for a year—before returning to the ad world and working for companies like Revlon, Estée Lauder, and ultimately Taco Bell, where she’s currently the Chief Marketing Officer. In fact, her TV experience wasn’t unrelated to her marketing career; she identified an opportunity in the marketplace and built a creative idea around the white space. Even more than that, it was an opportunity for her to show bravery—to put herself out there, in a field in which she had no experience and still get the gig.

2. Take Care of Yourself

Sometimes, a person can spark a lightbulb moment without even knowing it. Such was the case for Shayla McGrady, a fitness coach and personal trainer. Before McGrady was the epitome of “the perfect abs,” she was pursuing a career in higher education. The Director of Residence Life at a prominent medical school, she was on the fast-track to becoming a dean, following a path expected of of her. But she wasn’t happy. Her boss was difficult, creating an emotionally abusive environment, and her confidence was at an all-time low, thanks to her history of trying to make others happy to no avail. She was taking care of everyone, but who was taking care of her?

As a side passion, McGrady got into fitness, and that’s when she discovered the workout—and the person—that would change her life. When McGrady popped the ChaLEAN Extreme workout DVD into her player, she was instantly transformed. More than just a fitness coach, Chalene Johnson is also a business owner, having built and sold several multi-million dollar lifestyle companies with her husband, and she currently holds the Guinness world record for creating the most fitness videos. On top of all of this, she’s also a motivational speaker.

McGrady started the workout series lacking confidence. She ended the workout series ready to make a change. McGrady left her job in higher education, said goodbye to her toxic boss, and began a new life dedicated to wellness as a health coach. She sought out a trainer position that would capitalize on what she learned through Johnson—and started her own personal training business, “On the Go Gym.” McGrady has never met Johnson, and yet she has been the one who has motivated and inspired her to transform her confidence, her career and her life.

3. Work It

There are some ideas that simmer on the back-burner of your mind, and then there are others that hit you like a bolt of lightning. This final nugget of wisdom is the story of how two years ago I launched my podcast, “All the Social Ladies.” It all started because of two important things I learned about myself: First, I’m a connector. I love finding common ground with people and figuring out what I can do to help them. And second, I’m secretly an introvert. All of that connecting and socializing often leaves me feeling drained of energy. Throughout my career, it had always been this weird paradox that left me running away from opportunities. Worst of all, I was the CEO of a rapidly-growing social media agency, Likeable Media, in a fast-paced industry in which nearly all of the other CEOs were loud, extroverted and, well, male.

Lightbulb Moment

And then a lightbulb went off: I didn’t have to be like them. I could own my personal strengths and work it. So I decided to start a podcast, using it as a way to connect with successful women in business while giving them a platform to share their thoughts on social media, work and life. (Also, I figured if these guests ever needed an agency, they might just think of Likeable Media.)

Guess what? It worked. Through “All the Social Ladies,” I’ve interviewed 200 women in digital marketing at big brands and cool startups alike. I’ve given them a voice, and they’ve given my audience of one million listeners countless words of wisdom. All the while, thanks to the podcast, business has grown, with Likeable Media doubling in size between 2014 and 2016.

More than that, I’ve heard some amazing stories from many trailblazing women who have helped me grow as a leader in my own right. I’ve realized that every woman I’ve interviewed through my podcast has had something to teach me—and something to teach so many others, too. And that’s when I had another lightbulb moment: Maybe this is bigger than just a podcast.