Leadership

Dear 20-Year-Old Self: If You Need to Know One Thing, Let It Be This

Top executives share the advice they would give to their younger selves.

Recently, an accomplished, successful friend and colleague of mine sent this question to her circle of leading women, “If you could tell your 20-year-old self one thing, what would it be?” The answers, all given by women now in their 40s and 50s, and at the height of their careers, should be made into a masterclass for young women entering the job market.

Below are five of the most important lessons learned from women who have been there, done that.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?

Lesson one: Take the risk! It’s never as scary as you think and if you fail, you’re right back where you started.

I remember being a young marketing manager and feeling that I should be more satisfied. I had a great job, was on my path to a bright career in public relations and had a strong female mentor paving the way for me. The only problem? The future in front of me wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be my own boss and build a company around my thoughts and ideas. 20 years ago, I took the risk and began my own agency. I have never looked back, and I am so glad I listened to my gut and challenged the status quo!

Read our 12 step guide on becoming your own boss.

Lesson two: Do you want to be right or do you want to be successful?

This bit of wisdom comes from a very successful business development executive. She learned early on how to compromise and come to the table with an open mind. The problem with an “always right” way of thinking is it instills a fear-based culture and shuts down creative brainstorming. On the other hand, the idea of being effective, versus right, leads to more opportunities for additional feedback and new ways to solve problems.

Lesson three: Apply for jobs and promotions before you feel ready.

When younger women enter the workforce, they don’t tout their accomplishments as often as their male counterparts. This leads to an unfortunate discrepancy when it comes time to dole out raises and promotions. It results in a gender gap in pay, lack of forward momentum and a whole host of other issues.  The female executive who gave this advice said if she had it to do over again, she would apply for those promotions before she felt ready and learn on the job. “Why not? Men do it all the time,” she reasoned.

Lesson four: Don’t waste your time figuring out what you want to do for a living. The smart choice is making it whatever you want it to be.

The idea that whatever you do when you get out of college or into your first job will set the course for the rest of your career is not only false, but immensely damaging. Through my interviews with leading women, I’ve found the ones who are most successful and fulfilled feel they have stretched themselves into new roles, made changes to account for their individual happiness and took risks to build the life and career they’ve always wanted. Don’t be afraid to pivot!

Lesson five: Breathe. It will be OK.

It’s safe to say that every female executive who answered this question would go back and tell her younger self to breathe and know that it will all work out fine in the end. Judging from the fact that the women who answered this question are all at the top of their fields with scores of accolades, awards and impressive titles to their names, this just might be the best advice of all!

What lessons would you share with your 20-year-old self? Share below!

Laurie Halter is the CEO of Charisma! Communications and Host of the Carearing podcast, where leading women share tips on rearing families and careers at the same time.