Life has a way of surprising you, but success, both personal and professional, is about how you address those surprises. I was fortune to be in one of the first classes of women who were admitted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. West Point is known for its rigor and commitment to building leaders ready to serve in the armed forces. After commencement, I served six years as a regular U.S. Army officer during a period of real threat. The military provided lifelong lessons about teamwork and leadership that I leverage today. It was after my active duty service and during my seven years as a reservist that my career took a surprising turn.

I began my civilian career in the advertising and sales industry, working as a sales representative with Yellow Pages in Australia. (It’s the job where I learned to never sell something I didn’t believe in and the foundational skills to connect with customers.) After eighteen months, I returned the U.S., moving to Texas. There were few jobs available for business women with military leadership skills, even though I held a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master of science in management. I applied for a position as a part-time math tutor at a local learning center; after all, I was good at math, science, and engineering. While the owner realized I wasn’t an experienced teacher, she did hire me as the center’s director. With no prior experience in teaching or running a business, I helped grow that center into one of the best in the nation in less than eighteen months. Our success with this and several other centers led the owner and I to launch an educational software development company that created more connections in the e-learning industry while giving me the experience of leading a multi-faceted high-tech business.

Those experiences led me to Booz Allen, where my first project involved starting a distributed network of learning centers to train military service members using high-end technology. It was a unique and successful business model—sharing the capabilities and costs with other agencies and partners in the community.

Sixteen years later, I am still overwhelmed by my life’s trajectory. Booz Allen has offered me opportunity after opportunity to learn and assume new challenges and roles that have allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. Serving our clients, leading great people, and living our core values has inspired me to grow, mentor, and give back to others. It started in large part to my willingness to take advantage of the surprises.

What does it take to succeed and stay competitive in your position/field?

I have been fortunate to have had a number of opportunities that have allowed me to challenge myself and grow; those have been the keys to my success. To stay competitive, I believe you have to be willing to work hard and develop strong relationships with your clients, managers, industry colleagues, peers, and staff. You are successful when these people are successful—that means being a selfless leader.

What advice would you give young women building/preparing for a career?

While it’s important to be certain about your goals and what you want from your career, it’s equally important to be open to serendipity—those things you don’t expect. Take a chance on imperfect opportunities. You can create the experiences you seek by being opportunistic and doing your best at any job.