One of the most important things I’ve learned in my career is that I need to remain true to myself. This has been a challenge, particularly early in my career. In moving up the ladder, I often found myself conforming to whatever corporate culture I happened to be in at the time. I don’t think my experience is that unusual.

As I reflect on the stages of my own career, I see a lot of similarity with the feminine life cycle referred to in women’s literature. According to the literature, there are three stages of the feminine life cycle: maiden, mother and crone. In recent years, Dr. Joan Borysenko added a fourth stage, the guardian, to recognize the powerful role played by middle-aged women in modern society.

These stages have played out in my career in the following ways:

Maiden: Age 20-29. Doing vs. being. Conforming to the norm. Doing for approval. Not breaking out. Looking and talking “right” for the work culture I was in.

Mother: Age 30-39. Nurturing others. Building friendships. Starting to recognize power and build confidence.

Guardian: Age 40-49. Bringing my whole self to work. Truthful period. Focus on humanity, healing and the spiritual side. Shift of discovery from neurotic things to enlightenment.

Wise Woman (Crone): Age 50+. Inspiring others. Being true to me.

I think it’s helpful to recognize these stages may exist in your own career if for no other reason than to encourage you to challenge the norm. During my 20s and 30s, I was a conformist. Although I know I did my best, had I exercised more courage to be myself, I might have been more true to my unique gifts as a leader. I was fortunate to have mentors who helped me build my confidence and claim my power, and I know that without them, I would not be in this position today.

As I enter the guardian stage of my career, I am encouraged by a new set of mentors, including some religious sisters who have dedicated their lives to serving others. These wise women inspire me to pay it forward by helping others grow professionally. I consider it my calling and privilege to help people reach their full potential. This is my passion and what drives me in my work. I encourage you to follow your passion, too, and do what you love. When you love what you do, it is no longer a job; it is a vocation.

Building a rewarding career may not always be easy, but perseverance, embracing your unique and powerful gifts, and allowing others to support you will enable you to accomplish great things.