I didn’t wake up one day and decide, “I’m going to be a leader!” Rather, it was a series of experiences and mentors along the way that led me down this path. It wasn’t precisely mapped out; I just worked hard at being prepared and ready to take advantage of opportunities that came my way.

My career officially began in the ninth grade when I enrolled in an introduction to Journalism class to fill an empty spot on my schedule. This class sparked my passion for storytelling—using the power of words and pictures to express ideas and other perspectives. I was also fortunate to meet a very special teacher who emphasized the spoken word. Since then, I have found that effectively expressing ideas, voicing opinions, and asking questions are absolutely critical to success, regardless of your profession.

Armed with early exposure to the broad range of communication disciplines, i had a strong foundation for what would become a life-long love and ultimately rewarding career.

Early on, I was fortunate to come into contact with the company’s first female African-American officer. I could see myself in her shoes, so i made it my business to learn what made her successful. She did not have much time to mentor me individually, but I learned a lot by observing and making myself useful. Ultimately, we developed a relationship because I worked hard at it and took every opportunity to open the line of communication between us in a constructive and meaningful way. I still admire her today and, because of her, I mentor others, particularly women and people of color.

Looking back, my advice to those beginning their careers is to recognize that what you do matters. It is important to contribute each day to the best of your ability, because your track record is what will leave a lasting impression on others. Make everything you touch better; set high standards and work hard to deliver with excellence no matter where you are in your journey. And when you experience challenges, remember that all you can control is your contribution. Be flexible and adapt to changing requirements—all while holding on to the values that define who you are. Take time to learn from people around you—those you admire and those you don’t. and always, be prepared and ready—you never know when an opportunity will come your way.