I would not be where I am in my profession or career without having made defining, if sometimes unanticipated, changes along the way. I knew my ideal career would be working directly with our largest, most complex, global clients, but could not predict which route I would have to take, the detours I would face, or the side trips I would get to experience.

There were pivotal times when a major change was right—my five-year international assignment in Finland, a Global role in our technology practice, and, ultimately, joining the US Assurance leadership team in a strategy role. My decisions were informed by mentors who focused me on the bigger picture; leadership who saw something in me that I did not; and my own mettle in asking for something different, and jumping in and not looking back.

You have to say yes. The hard decisions can be the most rewarding. The opportunities that you would not have looked at or thought of can be the most instrumental in creating your success. Each move took me out of my comfort zone, making me more adaptive, especially in situations where traditional styles may not work and different influence and skills are required. Each change gave me a different perspective—international, leadership, strategy—that I leveraged to make myself more valued in supporting my clients and practice. I learned it was okay to be really smart, and yet, in a new environment, to be the one who knew the least.

It is far different to live any situation than to read about it—no matter what it is. And you have to understand and appreciate people for who they are and where they’re from, regardless of whether you want to lead, collaborate, or support.

On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
Fortunately, I had several mentors instrumental in shaping my career. Those with impact shared the same characteristic of candor in their coaching and counsel. Their encouragement to stand in front of the spotlight instead of always behind it pushed me to acknowledge and pursue my own success, which in turn motivated others to continue their quests.

I especially appreciated those confident enough to make mentoring personal by pointing out that I should stay calm, I could drop a few pounds, or my suit was getting shiny. It takes courage, especially across gender lines, to provide direct and sometimes personal feedback. If my mentors had shied away from serious conversations, I would have been at a disadvantage compared to male mentees to whom they would spoken freely. Their advice made me honestly look at myself—appreciating where I was and where I wanted to be, and understanding the steps I would need to take to be successful along the way.

I did not want to be given anything other than the opportunity to be challenged and stretched, space and support to build my credentials and network, and sponsorship for that seat at the table as the best candidate. The rest was mine to earn and deliver.