Growing up in the Midwest of the United States, I dreamed big and took chances. I set out to conquer the world when I graduated from Indiana University with a degree in French and political science. I’d had the incredible opportunity to live in Europe and knew I wanted to have a global perspective in my work and personal life. Sounds good, right?
Little did I know how much I didn’t know!
My career path has not been a straight line but rather a course filled with twists, turns, ups, and some downs. Through it all, I’ve learned a lot. Looking back, I realize that I’ve collected vast knowledge over the years. I have many pearls of wisdom I’d share with my younger self that may help her navigate the business world more easily.
Be Exceptional…Not Perfect
Today’s workforce is a perfectly imperfect combination of on-site, remote, full-time, part-time, and contractor positions. You can be an individual contributor or a senior leader. Choices are plentiful, and it’s a much broader landscape for women who want to have a profession and a family and take care of aging parents. That’s a tremendous amount of stress they need to manage and still feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at the end of each busy day. I’d tell younger Wendy to strive to be exceptional on whatever path she chooses, but don’t focus on perfection. Being perfect may cause her to miss opportunities that are important in work and in life. She should not be afraid to make mistakes but make sure to learn the lesson in the disappointment. Doing her best and getting it done is what should be her goal.
Mentors Are Treasures
I learned early on that there are people who have great knowledge and experience that they will share if only asked! I’ve had some amazing mentors throughout my career in sales and IT who’ve helped me become a stronger leader, better business person, and more knowledgeable in using my time wisely. I’d encourage younger Wendy to seek out and connect with mentors she admires. Ask for guidance and feedback. Learn from them and then be ready to share that knowledge in the future.
Pressure Is a Privilege
I work in an industry that is dominated by men. While STEM tracks are more and more available to young girls, it’s not unusual that I am one of few, if not the only, women at a table of executives. It’s both an honor and a privilege to have my voice heard and represent women; however, it’s not always easy. Standing my ground and defending my position can be confronted with bias and a tendency to minimize or dismiss what I say. I have learned, thanks to mentors and a great network of professional women, that it’s OK to have constructive, even contentious, discussions as long as I keep it based on hard data. I’ve learned how to invest my energy in discussions that are important to me and when to stand aside and let someone else pursue their goals. I’d tell younger Wendy to pick her battles wisely and be ready to bring the facts to the front when she is striving for her goals.
Be Curious and Ask Questions
It may sound obvious, but it’s not always easy to do. Listen more than you talk. I love sales. I love working with partners to drive business. I also love to swim, play tennis, ski, and travel! Balance is key in my world, but having a passion that gets me fired up is so important. My family keeps me grounded, but they also support my need to explore the world or challenge them to a downhill race. I’d tell my younger self to keep that fire burning in her soul and her gut. She’ll never be bored!
Get Up. Show Up.
It takes grit. It takes focus. It also takes having a healthy sense of humor and being flexible to be successful in work and life. More than anything, it takes being an active participant in the world around me. Life isn’t fair. Life isn’t predictable. Life isn’t perfect (but it’s perfectly imperfect!). I’d advise young Wendy to be a global citizen. Get up each morning with appreciation for what she can do that day. She should show up for herself, for the women around her, and for the future leaders who will look to her for guidance and advice. And know that a smile goes a long way in this world.
It’s been a privilege to work with so many diverse and capable women throughout my career. Each one has helped shape the leader I am today. My final advice to younger Wendy is be proud of what you accomplish and get excited for what’s ahead.