Anca Costin: If you don’t have a vision, it’s almost impossible to have a career

What can we learn from a leader like barrister Anca Costin who is relentlessly driven to pursue her goals? That success doesn’t just happen by osmosis or by following someone else’s plan. You have to build it. 

Strategy and direction are critical – particularly in the complex and ambiguous world we live in. However, by themselves, strategy and direction are nothing. It takes real motivation, dedication and persistence to achieve greatness. 

Now a mentor to aspiring and young lawyers, Anca says she wasn’t “born great” but that we must “not be afraid of greatness”. She also believes we should all help each other to achieve greatness. 

In this interview, Anca Costin shares how her vision and dedication to achieving it created the laser focus she needed to succeed…

How important to you is having a vision?

Anca: If you don’t have a vision, it’s almost impossible to have a career. I’ve always believed that success doesn’t come to those who wait. Success comes to those who prepare and work hard to achieve it, who know what they are aiming for and where they are going. If you allow yourself to move from one role to the other, you’re not building a vision; you’re just working for a living.

When did you first gain this critical insight?

Anca: When I came to Australia from Romania in my late 20s, I thought: now I have to structure my life. How was I going to do it? Where do I start? What do I have to do? What support would I have? And that’s when I started planning to go back into law. I had my husband’s and my family, which was critical, especially when we decided to have our first child. 

I always had a plan, and I knew it had to be a long-term plan because going back to study law took me four years. I’m always of the view that once you have a big goal ahead of you, all you have to-do is set up the little steps to reach that goal. That way you don’t have an overwhelming feeling of thinking, ‘Oh, it’s four years away, I’m never going to get there.’ Instead, I had to focus on finishing the current semester. You concentrate on the small increments, but you know each step is another step towards achieving the bigger goal. 

And that was the same thing I did with the bar. I had planned what I would do each day. Everything was meticulously detailed. I liked that because I knew that the whole thing might fall apart if I fell behind one day. It motivated me to stay focused. I would study for an exam no matter how long it took. This approach worked for me because I worked full-time with two young children. I would commit to my plan, and I remember falling asleep sometimes at the desk, but I would wake up after five minutes and get back into it. I had a calendar printout in front of me when I was studying. And I would cross off every day and tick another box, which gave me great pleasure that I’ve achieved another step towards finishing. 

I had a ‘to-do’ list every day and updated it every so often depending on how the work progressed. And I still get pleasure from doing this, ticking things off my list, and moving to the next one. I’ve tried to do them electronically, and I never felt it worked as well as writing them down. My to-do lists are always written down. 

You have a deep reservoir of drive and commitment to achieve your goals. What has shaped your aspirations?

Anca: In a way, it’s my personality. My aspirations have always driven me since childhood. For example, at school, I loved certain subjects, like English and logic, and I always wanted to do well. The subject logic (what we called it in Romania) was a new thing back then, and I loved it and did well. But even then, before going to high school, I knew I was becoming a lawyer. So by the age of around 13, I always knew that there was a plan for me, and I had to work towards.

How can people who perhaps don’t know what their aspirations are discover them now?

Anca: Mentoring is an excellent way of finding out. One of the things that I say to young people is if you’re interested in a particular area, pick a person or two from that field who might be able to assist you and write them an email or give them a call. 

And some of them may respond; some may not. But pick a few that you like and approach them and see if they will be willing to mentor you. I’m a great believer in having the chance to talk to people who did it, and I did this myself. I remember calling a barrister in Sydney a while ago when I was contemplating the bar, and she was very supportive. She knew nothing of me. I discovered her on the internet, and she was delightful. We had a good chat, and she told me lots of things, and funnily enough, now she has become an executive coach. So it’s good to have a chat with people that have already walked the walk because they can give you tips and they can give you some ideas on how you can do certain things in a particular way. They may also be inspirational because once you talk to somebody who’s done it, they will often tell you what they’ve done and how they’ve achieved certain things. They inspire you to move in the right direction. 

I don’t watch TV, as you know, but if I ever watch a movie, I always watch non-fiction movies about people who have done something in life, especially people who don’t come from privileged backgrounds and have succeeded. This is inspirational and gives you hope and confidence that I can do it too if they can do it. But I also think that once you find a mentor and hopefully speak to an executive coach, you start working to do something about it because, of course, a mentor and executive coach cannot get you there if you don’t put in the work. They can guide you, but that’s about it. You have to find achievement within yourself and start thinking, ‘how am I going to achieve this, how serious about this am I, and how strongly do I desire this?’. 

It’s tough for small business owners. What would you say to them?

Anca: It would be best if you had a business model, and you can’t do it without one. I’m the kind of person who is never without a plan and a to-do list, and the to-do list is the steps I need to take every day and every week to achieve the big dream for my future. 

For a business owner, it’s not always about growing bigger, but you can always grow stronger and better. It could be in terms of the way your clients value you. You can always work on substance, if not size, and that’s the same thing that always works in my business. Because I’m the only person in my business, I’m constantly developing my brand and reputation. I probably could never do more than I’m doing anyway.

Define and achieve your own leadership vision

Join Dr Kim Vella for the 1-day Achieve Your Leadership Vision Workshop. This will be held on 29 July, 2022 in Canberra.

Together, we will:

  • discuss the true meaning of a leadership vision and how it can change your life
  • uncover some of the roadblocks that may be obstructing your vision
  • define a clear and achievable vision you can aspire to
  • use practical tools to set a roadmap for success
  • address typical challenges you may face and how to overcome them

Seats are limited so register early to secure your spot.

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