Wisdom from Mentors That I Still Carry with Me
Nine pieces of advice that helped me navigate my career
A few weeks ago, for International Mentor Day, I wrote about how mentors can be invaluable to your career. Though we often give them less weight relative to sponsors, their insight and objectivity are essential to our long-term success. Mentors can give us advice and guidance, helping us in ways that others, who are too close to the problem, never can. A mentor’s role is to be a cheerleader, mirror, and sounding board—all things that are critical to achieving our goals.
I have had the great fortune to have strong, kind, and steadfast mentors in my own life. Their wisdom has been transformative because they were able to give me important insight at pivotal moments in my life, just when I needed it most.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to share some of that advice in today’s article. Below are nine of the best pieces of wisdom my mentors have given me, and the ways each one has changed my perspective and my choices.
1. “Your biggest challenge is having too many options. You will be great at whatever you choose, but you have to choose.”
My high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Norma Ashburn, told me this when I was applying to college and still undecided as to where I should go. When I sought her advice, she didn’t tell me where I should choose to go; instead, she gave me this kernel of wisdom. Throughout the years, her words have proven prescient: each time I’ve come to a crossroads, there has never been one perfect answer. Instead, I had to intentionally choose my path and make it my own. I agonized about where to go to college, which first job to take when I graduated, where to go to grad school, and where to work after getting my MBA. Each time, I returned to what Mrs. Ashburn said, reminding myself that the choice was mine to make.
Crossroads can be frustrating, especially when all we want is for someone to tell us what to do! But rather than allowing the weight of the decision to cripple us, we can instead see it as a good problem. Every option is good, and every potential path is a chance to excel differently. Choosing between them is the hardest part; after that, we can focus on making the most of the road we’ve taken.
We still keep in touch on Facebook today! She will ask me for crafting tips as she knew about my hobbies.
2. “Don't go with the easy choice just because it is there. Go with the right one for you, even if it is harder.”
There’s a saying that free advice is worth every penny you paid, but sometimes it also changes the course of your life. This certainly did.
When I was in my senior year of college, I took the LSAT and applied to law school on a whim. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life, but my boyfriend was in law school at the time, so I thought, “Why not?”
When I applied, there was a huge SNAFU with my transcripts, where they coded one of my engineering grades as a D instead of an A. I was only able to get it corrected in time to apply to one school, Yale. When I got in, I thought about accepting the offer (I mean, it was Yale Law School!), but I still wasn’t totally sure. I called David, my then-boyfriend, to talk it over. He advised me to defer my acceptance and try to get into business school instead. In fact, he told me that I should aim for Stanford’s Graduate School of Business for my MBA since he could more easily get a job in California. I laughed and said that was easier said than done, but that was exactly what happened. (To this day, David still reminds me that I owe all of my subsequent success to his advice.)
At that time in my life, going to Yale seemed like the obvious choice. It made sense to me. It didn’t require me to think too much about the decision. But in the end, it was only by pushing myself past my comfort zone that I was able to get to where I am today.
Although Mrs. Ashburn was right, and we eventually do always have to make a decision, that doesn’t mean we should go with the most obvious option. Instead, we should go with the option that will help us grow, learn, and evolve.
3. “You don’t have to know what you are doing. You just have to be willing to learn.”
I first interviewed for PayPal more or less by accident. At the time, it was a company of only a few hundred people located in Mountain View. I agreed to the interview for a Product Manager role on a whim at a campus career fair, not thinking anything would come of it; in all honesty, I was mostly just eager to see the office of a product I liked to use.
I later joked that I went to the PayPal offices to visit a building and left with a job offer. The only problem? Throughout the entire interview process, I didn’t know what the job actually was. During the final round of interviews, David Sacks grilled me not on product skills, but rather on my GPA, class rank, and SAT score. As the process went on, I slowly began to realize that I had no idea what a PM did. By that point, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone.
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