One of my favorite recruiters calls me a “boot strapper” someone who pulled herself up by the boot straps. My parents worked for everything they had, and they expected their children to do the same. My mother grew up on a farm with no indoor plumbing, and worked her way through college. My father was the first in his family to finish high school, and joined the military to earnmoney for a college education. I startedworking when I was 12, and worked my way through college and graduate school.

Earning my MBA was an important milestone. It opened up doors I couldn’t have opened without it. It provided me the opportunity to discover a career that combined my analytic abilities, creativity, and strong interpersonal skills—a career in marketing and brand management.

As I worked my way up, I actively sought out a wide variety of assignments to build my skill set. I started marketing high-impulse snacks, then marketed acommodity business, then a high-margin business, and then ran new product development. This wide range of experiences led to my first general manager role wherein I gained valuable knowledge about running a plant; but I learned even more about managingpeople. The relationships I built with plant employees resulted in the greatest award of my career. When I left, I received a plaque embroidered by the wife of a union employee in a frame made by the shop mechanics, reading: “Our Loss is Their Gain.”

Five key philosophies have guided my career. First, “fit is everything.” Work for a company that shares your values and values your strengths, and you will be a star. Second, take personal ownership of managing your career by seeking out the experiences you need to build yourself into a great business person. Third, know yourself well. Recognize your strengths; hire people who complement your skill set. Fourth, start each assignment thinking “how will I make my mark?” Fifth, do what you love—your passion will be contagious.

Balancing a full-time job and a full-time family is hard work. Some days will be all about work, others more about family. Every day, make the best decisions you can for that day.