I was born and raised in Macedonia, a small country just north of Greece. Looking at my past, there are three significant transitional periods in my life that shaped my personal and professional growth.

Coming to America
I decided to pursue my graduate education in the U.S after receiving a scholarship for the University of Oklahoma’s MBA program. I arrived in Norman, Oklahoma from Macedonia. At the time, it was like moving from the Earth to the Moon. The geography, culture, cuisine, and economy were different.

The first six months are difficult to remember—there was too much to absorb, learn, and balance. I often considered quitting the program and returning home. One of my early mentors, Dr. Mike Harvey, a professor of International Business, coached me to work hard and not let my fear of failure impact my decisions. His advice was spot-on. After the first six months, life became much easier and better.

My Early Career
I have been fortunate to work for great companies, including YUM! Brands, Inc., Burger King Corporation, Aflac, Inc., and National Grid. Early in my career, I was taught to understand my guiding principles and strengths and find work in areas where I can use my strengths. Consequently, I have managed my career towards the areas of strategy, corporate development, and finance. Another great lesson I learned was to take calculated risks and make decisions without knowing all the information. It is better to make ten decisions today and three mistakes, than three decisions and no mistakes. Most mistakes are learning experiences. Action is important. We cannot be driven by our own fear of making mistakes.

Work/Life Balance
I have yet to meet a working mom who is perfectly satisfied with her work/life balance and time allocations. I frequently become frustrated with my inability to accomplish everything. My continuing goal is to ensure that I enjoy my journey and bear in mind all the wonderful people and experiences that have influenced my personal and professional development.

What advice would you give young women building/preparing for a career?

Explore and discover your strengths early in your education and career. There is a great book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton that helps the reader explore their strength discovery process and describes why understanding and developing your talents is so critical for long-term professional and personal fulfillment.

As you develop your technical skills, do not neglect developing your leadership skills: communication (particularly active listening), presentation, team building, influencing, and emotional intelligence skills. The further you are in your career, the more important those soft skills become for continued success.

Most importantly, find and prioritize the few things that matter most to you personally—your guiding principles.