Life and work are an adventure, and that makes every stride—and every stumble—along the way an opportunity. On my career path, I have learned that roadblocks and detours provide the chance to revisit the map and plot a better route.

I joined the U.S. Navy right out of college. My friends thought I had lost my mind. Opposition to the war in Vietnam was at its height, and opportunities for women in the military were restricted by convention and by law. Yet the Navy offered adventure, and that was what I wanted. It’s also what I got.

Serving in this traditionally male bastion was not always easy, but it was always interesting. I learned that for every person who might be an obstacle, there was a person who was willing to serve as a mentor. One helped me discover a deceptively simple strategy that has guided me ever since: working hard works every time. Hard work pleases your supporters and, better yet, tends to silence your critics. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and you are bound to progress forward.

When I found myself filling positions that had always been held by men, I realized it was impossible to do the job exactly as it had been done before. The traditional top-down military way wasn’t comfortable or practical, so I worked on developing my own leadership style and honing my own strengths and talents. A sense of adventure, hard work, and personal leadership have been my ticket to an exciting life and career. Daunting challenges—such as leading the committee recommending changes to end sexual harassment and expand opportunities for women in the Navy and Marine Corps—became wonderful opportunities to effect much-needed change.

Confidence instilled by these experiences was just what I needed to take on my current and most rewarding post. Two years of organizational effort updating how we get help to people paid off last fall when four successive hurricanes struck Florida: the Red Cross was able to shelter nearly 425,000 people and serve more than 11 million meals. The privilege of playing a role in the largest humanitarian response to a natural disaster in U.S. history was the adventure of a lifetime.