They say hindsight is 20/20. Given the benefit of looking back, if I were 22 and fresh out of college again, I’d give myself some valuable advice, including:
Do what you want to do. Truth be told, I always lived my life this way. I pursued what I wanted to pursue from a very young age. I didn’t worry about who I was gender-wise, and my parents raised me in a gender-neutral way. Women shouldn’t avoid roles they consider to be primarily male, nor vice-versa. Your passion for doing what you love will be part of what breaks stereotypes in the long run.
Pick a path and stick to it (unless your intention is to experiment). You have to invest a lot of time and energy to get really good at what you do, and that’s how you get someplace with your career. Early on, things are rarely easy. Be forewarned: if something looks like a low-hanging fruit, it probably is. Don’t go for “easy.” Go for a consistent direction, ideally trending upward. You may have to compromise sometimes, but you have to have your goals and remain true to them. Think long-term. Keep your eyes on your goals and work hard to get there.
Focus less on compensation/money and more on your experience. You should definitely advocate for your fair pay. At the same time, pay shouldn’t be the only reason you take a job. Focus on what you want to do and on becoming successful in what you believe you have talent in. If you pursue that, money will come. To be successful in title or in salary, you have to be able to believe you’re doing the right thing. Sometimes the tradeoff for pay is valuable experience that will lead toward what you want to do. It’s not as simple as dollars equating to work-satisfaction or to success. Ask for what you can ask for, compensation-wise, but be mindful of how that sits in the big picture of achieving your dreams — which hopefully aren’t only money-focused. At only 22, you have a lot of years to fill, and you’ll fill them best if they’re fulfilling, which is not only money-related.
Balance your time. When I became a mom, I subconsciously feared saying “I have to go and pick up my son” or “I have to take my son to the doctor today.” I was worried that I’d be perceived as somehow less committed to my work if I had family obligations. In retrospect, that’s ridiculous; family needs are a part of everyone’s lives. Having a great work life and a great family life are doable more than ever know with flexible, mobile tools in-hand to work from anywhere. This isn’t to say that everyone needs to be “always on,” but, when unexpected things arise, it is a great convenience to be able to juggle our lives a little more seamlessly thanks to handy tools.
Be yourself, and believe in yourself. Successful people will tell you that there is no “fake it ‘til you make it.” There are all sorts of resources on how to do things like someone else did in order to climb the ladder faster and higher, and those will not help you as much as all things described above that are unique to you: do what you want to do, pick your path and stick to it, stay experience-focused, and balance your time with regard to all things that matter in your life. Believe that you are worth a good career and a good life, and make choices reflective of that. When you do those things, that’s how you will not only get ahead but also is how you’ll feel good about yourself while doing it.
We all have our own unique life experiences, and no one person’s journey can be a roadmap for someone else’s. By sharing my own personal insights, I hope that I’ve shed some light that might help some young women, especially, consider their many options. The best advice I can give is to listen to your gut. Mine has often spoken loudest in both best- and worst-case scenarios, even at “only” 22.