My dad was my first mentor. We had a special connection. One of my earliest memories was watching him grab his attaché case and head off to work every morning. I knew that one day I would be carrying an attaché case, too.
I have never been a stranger to hard work. For four summers in a row, starting at the age of 10, I was a waitress, working early mornings and late nights, seven days a week, at a refreshment stand that my parents managed. This is where I built a strong work ethic. The job provided the family with additional income and taught me the importance of being a contributing member of a team.
As an adult moving into corporate America, I joined an association for women. This association provided me with the opportunity to interact with senior leaders dedicated to the advancement of women. I soon realized that I needed to give back and take on a leadership position within this organization. Before long, I had a statewide role that allowed me to travel and speak to women’s groups. This is probably where I first coined the phrase I use today: “Insert yourself where you add value.” In other words, find a place where you can show what you know and learn from others.
Having a network of people to mentor you is crucial, regardless of where you are in your career. The more senior you become, the less likely you will receive candid feedback or advice. Nurture your contacts. Meet periodically with them, even if it is just to check in. You then will find that when you need advice or counsel, those people will be there to support you.
Now, as I head to work each morning with my own briefcase in hand, it is a physical reminder of my father’s work ethic. I also carry with me each day the knowledge that I belong to a team. No matter how senior I become in an organization, that team is counting on me to work to achieve the common goal. I also know that I need to give back, add value where it matters most and build to “feed” my network. It is a lot to carry, both physically and psychologically. But it also is worthwhile and rewarding.