Lessons on the road to success

One of my employees recently asked what I could share with him that I wish I had known (that I know now) at his age and stage. I’m not shy about age; I’m 42 years old, and 32 years old seems like a lifetime ago. Actually, it was.

Ten years ago, I was a new mother to my second son and my daughter was not yet a consideration. I was in low/middle-management as a content writer/editor, and web and video producer with MayoClinic.com in Rochester, Minn. I felt stuck, believing I could do more, be more and lead more. But in a large corporation, career advancement is slow and measured. I was biding my time.

My husband was still in the thick of residency training at Mayo Clinic and we had no idea where we’d land in our lives or careers when his training was complete. The idea of running our own multi-state network of vein clinics was unimaginable as the current vein treatment technology didn’t even exist, and there was no “vein industry” to speak of.

However, we both had entrepreneurial fire to create something of our own and unlike most of our peers, we were risk-takers. We tested the waters with rental properties, investments and ER moonlighting to build our bank account to afford whatever was coming our way. We felt “the future” was just a matter of time and would require a great idea and money.

In 2006, we landed in Pueblo, and my husband started work at St. Mary Corwin Hospital as a partner in a radiology group. By 2010 we opened our first clinic and now in 2015, we have six clinics, thousands of patients treated, numerous awards, 50-plus employees and more growth in the works. Here’s what I learned along the way:

  • “No” is the most powerful word, ever.
  • Speak up. 
  • Listen to understand, not to reply.
  • Don’t believe what you are told or what you read at first pass. Get perspective. Research. Observe. Ask questions, then form an opinion.
  • People will hurt you, sometimes without even knowing it, but sometimes intentionally. Transcend the nonsense and do not engage. Keep your eye on your mission, vision and values. That is my definition of integrity.
  • “Be nice” is one of our core values, but being nice can be overvalued. Being respected is not.
  • Face conflict. Don’t avoid it. Don’t fear it. But be diplomatic and create the win/win so everyone walks away with respect and an answer, even if it’s not the one you or they want. Resolution is powerful.
  • Trust but verify. Then verify again. 
  • Age is irrelevant. Stage of life is far more important, but both age and stage can be reversed or accelerated.
  • Bandwidth is critical. How much space do you have in your mind, spirit and body for work, play, family and mental wellbeing?
  • Do what is right. Do what matters.
  • Don’t share your secrets. They are secrets for a reason.
  • Slow down. Life goes fast enough without hurrying.
  • Money is always an issue. Manage it well. 
  • Exercise. A lot. 
  • Dress well. It matters.
  • Don’t send group emails or hit “reply all.”
  • Never put into writing what you don’t want someone else to read.
  • Keep your passion alive – in your hobby, in your marriage, with your children. That fire makes you interesting and creates inspiration.
  • The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is now. I wish I had not postponed some dreams. It only gets harder. 
  • Get civically involved. Be a living, working part of the community. 
  • Be philanthropic. It’s the right thing to do. 
  • Keep your faith. You’ll need it.
  • Go rogue sometimes. Laugh freely (!) and be weird. It gives people something to talk about.

I’d guess that people probably “knew” me better at a younger age. I had more time to nurture relationships and my life was simpler. However, I have more texture, bruises, stories, layers and experience now. I’m far more complex now than I was 10 years ago – and perhaps that makes me more interesting or more difficult to understand.

Being a woman has unique challenges in the professional world. It’s too easy to get caught up in trying to be all things to all people. Be graceful, be yourself and protect what’s important: Family, integrity, empathy, expertise – and time, which is our most valuable resource.