If I only knew then, what I know now.
At 20-something, when I looked forward in my life, I had no idea what would happen. Only dreams, aspirations and hopefully the best of intentions. I started my career as a woman in a male-dominated industry. I wore glasses to look older, a lab coat to appear more serious. I went back to school at 30, while I worked, to get my master’s degree. I was alone and I felt I needed extra security to make sure I could take care of myself. My career was not very linear. But I can look back now and see it helped me build on my inner talents. It was exciting, rewarding, challenging, painful and exhausting. I am sure I was not paid as well as my male counterparts, and I had my #metoo moments. But overall, it was positive. I was constantly learning, and one of the best things that came out of it was working with some talented people and extraordinary women. I grew along my journey and more importantly I grew friends.
When I look back on my life and my career, there are things I would say to my younger self. Advice that truly would have made the journey a little easier, a little less stressful, a little less doubtful. Atta-girl moments where I did good. Moments where I could have done better. And there would have been a whole lot more of kicking-up my heels and cartwheeling my way down my path, if I had only known what I know now. As it turns out I am not alone.
I knew what I would tell my younger self, but I was more interested in what my friends would say. So, I started this conversation with these friends, these gifts I met along the way. All accomplished, all successful, all wise, wonderful women I admire. All at different phases of their careers, all different ages. Thirty-something, 40-something, and 50-something, I asked them, “What would you tell your 20-something-year-old self? What would you do differently in your career? What have you learned? What did you do well?” Their comments were surprisingly similar.
- Don’t Overthink Things; it doesn’t have to be perfect to be your best and to be outstanding.
- Trust Your Gut; don’t let others, regardless of their position or gender, shake your confidence in yourself.
- Ask for More; more money, more projects, more opportunities. Don’t necessarily work more, just ask for more.
- Learn, Grow, Expand; take on new things, stretch yourself, do things you have never done. It may not be a straight line, and that’s OK as long as you are growing.
- Choose Your Battles; don’t sweat the small stuff (and by the way, MOST of it is small stuff).
- Don’t Dread Mondays; if you do, find something else to do or somewhere else to go.
- It’s Not a Zero-Sum Game; we can all win and be successful, so be supportive of each other.
- Always Do What is Right; you may feel alone, but you are not.
- Be Kind; have empathy for others, don’t get so self absorbed that you miss opportunities to care and to give.
- Stand-Up; for yourself, for your work, for others.
One of the best things I learned about this exercise in reflection, is how powerful our evolution is. It’s not too late to learn and grow, to stand up for yourself and others, to ask for more and to trust your intuition. We are all learning to do this. When we stop and take account of our growth and give ourselves credit for what we do well, we realize how strong we really are.
English is a Charleston native who took a break from her sales and marketing career to renovate the historical family home her great grandparents built in 1915. That adventure led to the creation of her blog, RenovatingCharleston.com, and her pursuit of finding and sharing the stories of our ancestors. Her days are filled with gardening, pouring over historical documents, and finding ways to tell and preserve the stories of our past.