I recently participated in a women’s leadership panel. I was honored to be among a group of esteemed women leaders who were committed to community service while in pursuit of various professional accomplishments. We were talking with a group of college students (all female) and we were asked to discuss what we studied in school and how that related (or not) to what we did professionally. In addition, we were asked to address our experience providing community service, both then and now.
I think it goes without saying that these kinds of experiences are often as educational for me as they are for the intended audience. Hearing the perspectives of so many people I admire, learning new things about each individual and collectively sharing our experiences and advice in that setting was stimulating and inspiring for me…and I hope for the college students as well.
And while this very bright group of students seemed eager to learn the secrets to success, I was struck by several recurring themes that serve as valuable reminders for people at any stage of their career.
With age comes wisdom.
I have officially entered middle age, which is not necessarily a fact that bothers me. Of course, I could do without the increasing aches and pains or laugh lines (sounds better than wrinkles) that accompany this current phase of life. But I now recognize that with age comes a wisdom that is hard to explain to the young. As the saying goes, hindsight really is 20/20. There are things I have learned as my life has been shaped by experience that I could never have understood when I was in college.
For example, I always knew I wanted a husband and family “someday,” but I had no idea how creating my family would alter almost everything about my younger self’s world view. How could I have understood the idea that the pursuit of professional dreams sometimes takes a backseat to the needs of your family? Or that life as a new mother – a time of balancing work and daycare and regulated schedules that I thought was stressful – seems vastly different from the worry I currently have raising pre-teen and teenage daughters.
I don’t know it all, but I do know that the phase of life I’m in now will ultimately be just another chapter in a story that is constantly being written and revised. If I can learn to pause and appreciate the now – a discipline that is very hard to develop – then I’m already doing better than my 20-something self.
It’s okay to change course.
I was not the one who made this point during the panel discussion, but boy, did it resonate strongly with me. The women in our audience were all high-achieving college students who, no doubt, strive for that next great grade; great internship; dream job. But what if they decide that the career path they set at 19 or 20 is not really everything they thought it would be? As I sat among women who had studied everything from business to sports management to architecture, only some of whom had found that line of study to be their ultimate calling; I felt so completely normal and validated that my own professional path was filled with twists, turns, and redirects.
Public relations sounded cool to me in college as I dreamed of working with high profile people negotiating national news stories. My actual professional experience – while still public relations – has been quite different. And when I encountered a boss who promised to convert me to health care, I simply thought he was crazy. That seemed too practical at the time. What did I know?
By stating – out loud – that there is nothing wrong with changing your mind or revising your dream, I hope the audience of college students felt some relief in the fact that no one is expecting them to have all the answers now. It’s okay to be unsure. That’s what makes life a great adventure. Trying to live without regret seems too lofty, but having permission to learn as you go is much easier to grasp.
Women really are the ultimate multitaskers.
So admittedly, this was a panel of women and we were talking to an audience of women. No matter what the career choice or volunteer commitments, as a group it was obvious that multitasking was a honed skill across the board. Life is not linear and the balancing act is real.
Multitasking is a skill that will translate well in life – from the Boardroom to the kitchen. Whether making time for family, travel, work priorities, community service, hobbies or passions, there will always be something else competing for your time, your talent, your resources. The need to control that ebb and flow will make you crazy (quick) if you aren’t able to prioritize and delegate based on what is most important right now. And once you think you’ve got it all figured out, life will present you with another curve ball…you can be sure of that.
It takes a village, and that’s okay.
Which leads to my final take away from this experience. In the pursuit of dreams, no one should feel like they have to do it alone. Having a support network is vital. You can find that in many different places – whether it comes from your family or friends, colleagues at work, advisors at school. You will need to develop relationships that can be tested and trusted.
Our life is our story. Some chapters are more interesting than others. But the storyline will continue to unfold, revealing more life lessons as we go. I was glad to be reminded through this experience that we’re all just at different stages of creating the ultimate work of art.