I am often asked to share key career lessons or to give advice. Like any good businesswoman, I conduct “market research” to prepare. One particular speaking event was scheduled to take place just after I had rendezvoused with my sisters Carmen, a professor and department chair at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center; Teresita, vice president of nursing at Terrebonne General hospital in Louisiana; and Maria, a PhD in nutrition and public health and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. What better pool for my data gathering! We shared our key life lessons and the advice that had helped us navigate our own career paths and achieve success.

First and perhaps most important, I don’t think our story is unique. There are many other women who have overcome greater challenges, both personally and professionally. We grew up in a small town in south Louisiana in a family of six children, four girls and two boys. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized we were financially poor but rich in many other ways. Although neither of our parents had the opportunity to pursue a college degree, they instilled in us the importance of learning at a very early age, the window to access the rest of the world.

Listening to others to understand different perspectives before making critical decisions is important. However, after considering different viewpoints, you can’t be afraid to make tough decisions. Being respected is much more important than being popular.

It’s also key to give back by being a mentor for others. In addition to my supportive husband and family, I have crossed paths with several key leaders who supported me in taking risks. There were times when they had more confidence in me than I had in myself. I think back to their advice and support and how essential that was for me.

In summary, my advice is work hard, never stop learning, be open to the input and ideas of others, and be a role model and mentor to those around you. Finally, never forget where you came from. It has a direct influence on who you become, sometimes in spite of it and sometimes because of it. My favorite bookmark says, “It’s never too late to become who you might have been.” I truly believe that.