ATR International just celebrated a milestone anniversary on September 14: We’ve hit 35 years in business! 

I’m so proud of my parents for their vision and hard work throughout the years. They founded the company and built it alongside so many wonderful colleagues — too many to name although I wish I could. I’m also very proud of my team, the people currently providing stellar service to our clients and continuing the tradition of quality and innovation for all our stakeholders. Congratulations and thank you to everyone!   

I am also celebrating a personal milestone. It’s been five years since I stepped into the role of CEO. As often happens, I am surprised at how quickly that time has gone by while also seeming to last forever at times. It is an understatement to say the world has changed and we’ve all gone through a lot. 

I believe reflection is an important part of marking milestones. It allows you to celebrate the achievement while also appreciating the changes, thinking about what you’ve learned, and planning how to improve and reach the next milestone. So, have I changed? What have I learned about myself and my job? And what comes next, for me and ATR? Here are the leadership lessons I’ve learned that will inspire me to keep moving forward—and I hope they inspire your ambitious career goals, too.

  1. Being a leader is challenging and stressful.

Being the CEO is a lot of responsibility. People are counting on you to make the right decisions—a thousand times a day, it seems! Seriously though, it can feel overwhelming when several problems hit at the same time. 

When a client is unhappy, a mistake is made, or a pandemic suddenly interrupts everything, you must determine the best response — how to steer your ship through this particular storm. In the good times and the bad, you are responsible for leading your team, helping employees rise to their potential, and earning their trust and respect. The well-being of the company — its ability to celebrate another anniversary in five years — is largely in my hands, with support from my leadership and advisory team. 

I’m not going to sugar coat it — I feel the pressure, and that’s OK. I’ve realized that I can take it. In fact, I can thrive in high-pressure situations. As an avid golfer, I don’t mind a challenging putt on or off the green! 

I will gladly take the pressure if it means being in a role in which I can drive big outcomes. I want to leverage my experience, opinions, and actions to make a difference, as well as find and implement solutions. I’d rather feel pressure than be on the sidelines. If you feel the same way, the challenging CEO path may be for you. 

  1. Being a leader is chaotic and messy.

Being a leader gets messy sometimes and can feel like controlled chaos some days. We have offices and clients across the country. My to-do list is endless. There aren’t enough hours in the day. I am not unique, and having a busy life with lots to do definitely isn’t unique to CEOs, but entering my role, I was a little surprised at how powerless I would often feel even though I was the boss. 

I still have little control over my own schedule. I schedule calls and meetings when my clients and colleagues are available. Sometimes I look at my day and wonder if I will have time to breathe. I travel a lot for work, putting me at the mercy of the airlines often. Enough said. 

My point is there is no escaping or organizing or delegating your way out of the messiness — so learn to embrace it! Otherwise, it will swallow you up. When your day looks chaotic, you need to laugh a little, then tackle it. I take calls while I’m walking on the treadmill and my most common Zoom background is the inside of my car. 

Again, I know I’m not alone in this, but the chaotic nature of work increases as you rise in your career, and having a positive attitude is the key. I love my life. I love my job. My life and work are intertwined, and having a good attitude about that makes a big difference. Positivity is a superpower and the best tool to deal with the stress of being a CEO. 

  1. Being a leader is thrilling and inspiring.

The milestones that really matter to me are the personal goals I’ve seen my colleagues reach—getting married, buying a house, or having children, for example. Celebrating these touching moments over the past five years has made me appreciate my responsibility as CEO in a very tangible way. 

I want the best for our employees. I want them to build the lives they want. I want them to have stability and success in their careers because it will underpin a successful life. I want to keep providing opportunities, now and in the future. 

I did not anticipate how strongly this role would affect me. It is really inspiring to me to have the responsibility and ability to affect others in such a positive way. As much as I’ve learned that being a CEO is hard and stressful, I’ve learned that it is also inspiring, exciting, and rewarding. The good outweighs the bad 10 times over. 

I hope these leadership lessons inspire you to continue your pursuit of the C-Suite or make the most of your executive position if you’re already there. The journey is so rewarding! 

Ready to start your path to leadership? Learn how ATR International can support the next step in your career. 

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