By Melinda Davis Lux
Executive Vice President and General Counsel
United Community Banks
Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though everything is a miracle. The other is as though nothing is.”
I have a good friend who sets the alarm on his watch to go off at 7 pm every day. The alarm reminds him to take a moment to notice and reflect upon what he is grateful for that day. While I don’t have a daily alarm, I take time regularly to think about the things for which I’m thankful. If we live life as though everything is a miracle, we find so many reasons to be grateful. Most recently I’ve taken the time to consider the gifts that have shaped my career, along with principles that can help everybody’s career development.
As I look back over every position and company where I’ve worked, I’m amazed and grateful for the unique opportunities that I was invited to participate in. When I practiced as a Mergers and Acquisitions partner in a law firm, I was given the opportunity to travel to Europe, build an international M&A practice, and expand my work into many countries around the world. In my current position at United Community Bank, I appreciate the opportunity others have given me to explore less familiar paths. In my career, I’ve been able to see areas of need, learn something new, and drive my career in ways that I find fulfilling.
When an opportunity presents itself, we can sometimes feel that we don’t have the bandwidth to embrace the opportunity or that the timing is inconvenient in the face of our busy daily lives. Over the long term, however, I think that we are much more likely to regret the things we didn’t do, not the challenges we embraced. The important principle is to think about where we’d like our career to be years from now, and then look for opportunities that will help shape that career vision. When you see those opportunities, seize them and dive in. Keep learning and pushing.
I have a full share of weaknesses. But I also have gifts that I’m able to bring to the workplace, as is true for each of us. I enjoy the nuances of solving complex legal problems and applying my organizational skills to managing multiple workflows and teams.
Another talent I’ve developed over time is networking. I have learned over my career the value of making connections and spreading those connections to others. Building connections and internal teams makes it easier for us to identify and solve problems. Most importantly, a caring network of connections can make the workplace a pleasure, as I’ve been fortunate to experience at UCB and prior workplaces.
I believe that following your passion and pursuing what you enjoy is so important. Over the course of a career, we all hit tough times. It’s so much easier to persevere if you love what you do. Identifying your strengths and passions, pursuing what you love — choosing to focus on those things makes it far easier to shape a career path that works for you, not somebody else.
I mentioned above that I have a full share of weaknesses. But fortunately, my teammates make up for my weaknesses. Each teammate has a unique skill set and perspective. By combining our unique skill sets and perspectives, we are stronger and make better decisions.
At UCB, team is one of our core values, and we have the good fortune of working alongside talented teammates who make us better. I am grateful for their support, and at the same time, I try to listen and encourage and be attentive to their needs, dreams, and goals. Finding a great team where you can use your strengths, and where others can use theirs (which often shore up our weaknesses) can lead to tremendous career satisfaction.
Along my career journey, I have encountered people whom I’ve respected and appreciated for their talents and successes. One way I’ve developed a vision for my career is by learning from others. When I joined my first law firm, I noticed that one partner excelled at being a precise and highly-skilled lawyer. I asked to meet with him to understand how he acquired his skill set. I met with another attorney who was known as a community leader, and I peppered him with questions about how he approached community involvement. I met with yet another attorney who was spectacular at business development, and he shared his methods.
Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been able to watch and learn from others who are “ahead” of me in some way. These days I notice leaders who model humility, caring, intelligence, and a positive work-life balance. I try to take note of people’s unique gifts and apply what I can to my own self-improvement.
In my experience, successful people – the kind you want to know and emulate – are more than happy to share their time and their stories. Wherever you are in your career, don’t wait for a leader or mentor to reach out to you. Be proactive, find your own mentors, and learn from them. Mentors have guided me towards a fruitful career in a way that I, alone, could never have done.
I am so grateful for these four gifts in my career path. I could mention many more, but these four gifts have provided me with principles that have helped guide my choices and even the career risks I’ve taken. My hope is that everyone can look back on their careers and recognize the beautiful and miraculous strengths and experiences they have been given, and that every workplace I’m a part of, including UCB, continues to be a special place where we can both receive and become grateful for many more.
Melinda Davis Lux serves as Executive Vice President and General Counsel at United Community Banks, one of the Southeast’s largest full-service financial institutions. Connect with Melinda at https://www.linkedin.com/in/melindadavislux.