What advice would women give their younger selves?

One resource we are all short of – and will never get back – is time. We know it yet often behave as if it wasn’t the case when making everyday decisions. What career choices should we make not to regret them in 10 or 20 years? What decisions do you make everyday that shape your career path? What traps to avoid?

I’m often inspired by women much more experienced that I am. A couple of years ago I started taking notes on a couple of things that seemed to be common denominator in their stories – so to speak the advice they would give their younger selves. 

Being afraid of making mistakes – and being stuck in your own indecision.

No one is always right and we learn as we grow. Some mistakes are the things we need the most to show us what we truly care about. It’s only later in life that you can connect the dots and see how each ‘failure’ was simply a stepping stone to something better.

Trying to please others way too often.

You can lose a part of your identity by always saying yes to people. They can’t figure out who you really are or what you stand for – and it makes it difficult to build trust. This way you also rarely focus on what is important to you and choose to put yourself at the end of your priority list. Accepting that not everyone needs to agree with you or like you is very liberating. Think about politics: you are considered a winner if you get more than 50% of the votes. This means that the remaining 50% don’t necessarily need to agree with you. Still, in life and work we get hung up on the small percentage of people who criticize us or don’t agree with us, forgetting about the majority being on our side – and more importantly, choosing to ignore our own feelings about what feels right.

Pretending to be someone you are not – to fit in.

Maybe your parents had dreams about your career and you decided to follow their advice instead of listening to yourself. Maybe you work in an environment or with people you don’t get along with but choose to pretend it’s not the case. It could be that you invested time and money into a career that makes you feel empty at the end of the day? It’s a cliché but life is really too short to be afraid of change, and long enough to have several careers during its course.

Working too much – and sacrificing other aspects of your life like health, friends, family, hobbies.

Being committed and dedicated is one thing, spending 60+ hours at work every week is something else. We all have crunch times when we need to put in additional hours and that’s absolutely fine. Making it a routine may lead to a dangerous imbalance in your life and create holes that are then difficult to fill out.

Leaning back too early.

The other extreme of the above advice is something that was noted as very prevalent among young women, especially as they are thinking about starting a family: they automatically stop raising their hand for new projects or are less happy to take up new challenges. As Sheryl Sandberg notes in her book Lean In: Don’t leave before you leave. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make. And in reality? It happens way too early, sometimes only when you start thinking about accommodating family or kids in your life. Once they are here you can decide what to do.

Perfectionism and micromanaging life and work.

We like to feel in control. We think that if we don’t do something ourselves, no one else will be able to deliver the same results. This leads to being stressed, anxious and ultimately overwhelmed. Letting go sometimes and allowing others to take the steering wheel is very liberating. Also, in real life we tend to reward those who get things done – not the perfectionists.

Making it all about the money.

Accepting a job, or staying in one despite your dissatisfaction because you are paid well is a short-sighted strategy. It’s similar to choosing a life partner based on how wealthy he or she is, instead of seeing this as a bonus to the portfolio you already like.

Not enjoying what you do for way too long.

Only a small percentage of us can call their work their passion or their calling. This doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t enjoy what you do. If you find yourself grumpy on Sunday thinking about the upcoming week it may be time to think about some other options!

Not asking for help and guidance.

The most successful people are always open to feedback and new ideas. So should you be! Ask a friend you trust, a work colleague, or look for a mentor who will help you align your career choices with your strengths. Sometimes the best solutions are the easiest ones but we can’t see them ourselves – and can hugely benefit from a constructive feedback.

Forgetting about the power of your network.

It’s really important to feel that you have a support group, people you can rely on in case of an emergency. How to build your network? It starts really early – whenever someone needs your help, even if you don’t get anything in return, you can volunteer to help. This not only makes you feel better but also creates strong relationships across different sectors and careers.

Delaying motherhood – if that’s what you want to experience in life.

It’s a controversial point and the only thing I know is that it’s no one else’s business except for yours. But let’s face it: there is never a good moment to decide to get pregnant. When you are young and your biological time is at its peak it’ss also aligned with starting your career, becoming financially independent, and last but not least – finding someone you actually want to be with! The point is: be the one who chooses when and how, instead of always looking for a perfect moment (it may never come).

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