Do What I Say, Not What I Do: Advice From a Successful Businesswoman

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Young entrepreneurs and aspiring executives tend to have a hard time taking older business professionals’ advice — and I understand why. The environment was incredibly different when I started my career: College grads were relatively few and far between, so there was plenty of opportunity for a gal like me, equipped with a bachelor’s degree and eager to work. The internet was new, and small businesses could grow massive with just a small amount of innovation. Finally, business leaders had much different reactions to non-typical workers — i.e., women and people of colour — than they do today. In some ways, it was much easier for me to find success; in others, the odds were stacked against me in ways young women and men will never comprehend.

As I look back on my career, I have recognized many of the opportunities I missed — opportunities that young workers in the current business climate cannot. If you are searching desperately for a path to success, you definitely shouldn’t do what I did. Here’s what to do instead.

Expand Your Possibilities

Advice From a Successful Businesswoman

I am currently working in the same field as my first job so many years ago. In my career, I have changed responsibilities, changed titles and positions, and changed employers — but I have never migrated to a new industry or field. On one hand, this strategy allowed me to accumulate extensive industry experience; on the other hand, I was supremely lucky that there was always space for me to move up.

It is by far safer and smarter to diversify your skills and knowledge, so you won’t be pigeonholed into one industry. Before your career begins — if you have the luxury of time — you should consider interning in a variety of fields or shadowing diverse professionals to gain a more thorough understanding of different industries. Additionally, you should obtain credentials that make you attractive to essentially any field. For example, you can earn an MBA, with no GMAT score required while you decide where your career should start. Then, you will be better positioned for higher-level employment and better equipped with skills that apply to every organization.

Assess Your Progress

My career goals were always vague: reach success, make it to the top, earn authority and prestige, be comfortable and confident. Because of this, in my early and middle years, I never felt successful. I would look at where I was in that moment, compare it to my unclear aims, and be utterly unsatisfied. It wasn’t until recently that I looked back on my career path, on what I had accomplished, and felt triumphant.

My first mistake was failing to make quantitative career goals. From the start, you should write down your goals, in a journal or some other permanent place, and use specific wording to make the goal line clear. Then, you must be diligent about documenting your career — for your own benefit as well as your employers’. You should have a file that catalogues your employment history, including major and minor achievements at each job, so you have concrete evidence that you have made an impact at previous workplaces. This allows you to tell your story truthfully and in its entirety, especially to yourself, who is likely your harshest critic.

Rely on Others

When I began my career, there were precious few female role models in business, so I looked to men to learn proper behaviour. Unfortunately, men in that era were restrained by their own masculinity, so alongside useful habits for establishing authority and ensuring confidence, I also gained the ignoble custom of refusing help, even when I needed it.

Cooperation is innate in women, and quashing that drive will only hurt you in your career. In fact, you should feel comfortable relying on others, especially when they volunteer their aid. Mentors and career sponsors can introduce you to valuable contacts and guide you through tricky career manoeuvres; co-workers can support you and teach you invaluable career lessons; and eventually, employees and subordinates will help you make your name. You can’t do everything alone, so you should accept help when it comes.

Find Satisfaction Elsewhere

There were several times during my career when I felt unsatisfied. However, instead of evaluating what, exactly, was missing in my life, I assumed I was simply slacking at work and threw myself more thoroughly into my career.

You may love your job. You may see career success as the ultimate success. Still, you shouldn’t live and die by the status of your career. When you clock out of work — and you should clock out — you should have something worthwhile at home, be it a loving pet or a loving partner. You should have hobbies, friendships, and other valuable diversions to take your mind off work for just a bit. You deserve that.


Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.