What I Wish I'd Known 20+ Years Ago

Words of wisdom from alumnae of the 1970's-90's to 2000's-'13, based on our successes, failures, experiences, yearnings and hopes.  I'm indebted to Barbara Laskey Weinreich for regularly hosting this gathering of women and to Karen Berlin Ishii for compiling this wisdom. Please pass it along - and add to it!


  • Show, don't tell.
  • Know what you can control.
  • Show up! Be double-booked, put more stuff on your calendar than you can possibly do.
  • Use your skills and interests. The more you say it, you become it. Volunteer! Engage!
  • Be your own best advocate. Don't wait for someone to come along and say that you can do it; tell them yourself!
  • Don't be afraid to fail.
  • You can have it all, do it all, be it all – but not all three at once.
  • Just because you are good with people, does not mean you are necessarily a good manager.
  • It's good to feel a little out of your depth; that means you are learning something.
  • Ask people to talk to you. Talk to anyone who'll do so. Ask. Say thank-you.
  • Don't be afraid of men. It helps you understand and learn from them.
  • Take a 6 month "independent study" time off from your career.
  • Change on a dime by putting in a nickel.
  • Go into  a ….  experience.
  • Love yourself and those around you.
  • Ask for help.
  • Be gentle with yourself.
  • Take a leap and don't ever say you can't do that. (the men don't!)
  • Life's short: only do the things you want to do in it. Say "yes" more to hard things you want to do and "no" to those that you don't like.
  • Do something you're motivated in or you'll go crazy.
  • If you believe it can be that awesome, it can be that awesome.
  • Don't be surprised by your successes.
  • There's never a good time to have children - just do it!

 What would you add? Please share....


I Don't "Have it All" - Yeah!

After some tweet and email discussions with Anne Marie Slaughter and Cali Williams Yost about Anne Marie’s article on The Atlantic, and the uproar about Marissa Mayer becoming Yahoo’s CEO while she is pregnant, I decided to weigh in.  Finally, we are having an honest discussion of “having it all” instead of perpetuating a fairly tale.  While this has mainly been viewed as a ‘woman’s’ issue, it is a very human issue.

The phrase “having it all” is a huge part of the problem.  First, no human being can have it all, regardless of gender.  Second, as an advocate of Buber’s “I-Thou”, the focus of “having it all” is on I, not Thou.  I firmly believe that focusing on “I” always leads to disappointment (in ourselves and others), dissatisfaction with one’s life and an addiction to seeking satisfaction and happiness.  It leads to judging others and ourselves by what we don’t have but want, what we feel we are entitled to and what we did or didn’t do.  It leads to a treadmill of keeping up and keeping ahead.  It reinforces a binary world of it’s “me” or “them” - either/or – not “us”, not “and”.   Throughout my career, when I focus on the “Thou”, helping my clients’ solve challenges and innovate resulting in growth, jobs, philanthropy, the “I” takes care of itself.  When I focus on the needs of others, clients, entrepreneurs and students I mentor, my network, my own business grows as well, allowing me to do more “Thou”… a virtuous and incredibly rewarding (oh, “I”!) cycle.

My journey of work+life has been blessedly based on “I-Thou” + “AND”, very progressive for its time. Growing up in Bell Labs, I was very spoiled with a great deal of freedom, intellectual stimulation, and no sense of gender discrimination.  It was a discovery ‘factory’ that sought AND solutions.  My bosses were mentors who led with “I-Thou”:

  • One put his credibility on the line to promote me, a 22yr old ‘kid’, to a level that required a Ph.D. or at least MS, making me the first, if not one of, to get to that level without the required degrees;  
  • Another measured his success on his people’s success (output) and impact (outcome); he was one of the most admired, and loved, managers and had one of the highest promotion rates.

When I said I was quitting to move to Oberlin, OH to marry my husband in 1988, AT&T/Bell Labs offered to move me if I wouldn’t quit…another “I-Thou” moment.  My management made the case for paying to move me to Oberlin and pay for weekly commutes than lose me.  For 9 years I flew to NJ every week and to Europe or Asia monthly, was given a laptop with global network access, a cell phone and a fully equipped home office.  When I had children, with fabulous maternity-leave and benefits, I returned to work from home, no travel, part-time – keeping my same level and responsibilities. I was able to do very meaningful, impacting work because I demonstrated my talent and my management recognized my worth.

I love what I do. I am passionate (and blessed) about the impact my work can have on my clients’ business, employees and communities, my mentees, “portfolio companies” - professionally, organizationally and even personally.  I find it difficult to separate my passion for my ‘work’ from my passion for ‘life’ and hope to impart that to my children.  I pray they find an ‘avocation’ that integrates the various aspects of their lives.  I want them to know that they can impact the world in many ways – from career to marriage to parenthood to friendships etc.; that their solution is an AND, not Either/Or.  The workplace is evolving, in fits and starts as it fights the status quo, to make this goal more achievable than in the past. 

We’ve all make trade-offs in our lives.  It’s impossible not to.  Anne Marie Slaughter’s essay makes it clear that these are personal choices that require honest and straightforward discussion without judgment.  This is not to say that we don’t have an issue with women’s accessibility to influence and power in the ‘corporate’ world.  We do.  But we need to ease up on prescribing and focus on enabling solutions that meet the needs of the working person as a whole: as an employee, parent, spouse, sibling, child, community member, etc.   It’s messy – welcome to the 21st C!  Everything is a ‘mess’ – and what a blessing!  This messiness is the foundation of change, transformation and innovation.  Perhaps we needed to reach this point to finally create flexible, agile, nimble solutions that don’t discriminate between “work” and “life”.  This is the century of AND not Either/Or…of trying to ‘give it all’ vs. ‘have it all’.

So, what can you do to evolve to an “I-Thou” management style, culture, habit? How can you leverage that to help you and your employees create an AND solution? How can you avoid creating a false choice of Either/Or? How can you change your perspective and leverage the opportunity this ‘mess’ provides to create incredible outcomes for Thou’s?

Mentoring Paradox

I believe mentoring is a gift for the mentee and the mentor.  Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed with incredible mentors who, perhaps unknowingly, taught me how to mentor.   It’s something I take seriously and joyfully. It is a paradox - an incredibly selfless thing that is also very selfish.

Recently, my mentoring has increased.  In addition to mentoring Brown seniors and startups, I’m mentoring Oberlin College students applying for a fellowship to start their business after graduation in May.  Many of these kids were in my recent Business Model Innovation class. They are eager for advice and guidance.  They really listen! For some reason, the stakes seem higher to me than in mentoring 'adults'. For these kids' their first entrepreneur experience will shape their view of entrepreneurship, innovation, success and failure.  That's part of why they are making me a better mentor.  How? They make me challenge my own ‘status quo’ views and improve my ability to ask dumb questions.  Here’s what I have (re)learned from them:

  • Status Quo is a powerful Siren Song: It’s so easy to succumb to the status quo; though I fight it, it’s the boiled frog syndrome – and it’s so very human.  When you’ve been doing, investing in and supporting startups and consulting with businesses for a long time, it’s easy to get lulled into thinking you know a lot; and you do, but not everything and not forever.  In our dynamic world, the lifespan of knowledge is increasingly decreasing. I have to challenge my own reasoning and ideas;
  • Paradox of Inexperience and Experience:  The blank slate, the fresh naïve perspective these kids have creates innovative solutions to real needs with non-traditional business models for non-traditional customers and markets.  I learn so much about different perspectives, shifting my lens so I see the ‘usual’ in unusual ways. And my clients will benefit from lessons I’ve experienced from the inexperienced.
  • Mentor Mentors: Through the network of alumni mentoring women at Brown and my friend Whitney Johnson’s insightful, must read posts about mentoring, I’ve learned how to be a good mentor: what does/doesn’t work, when, why, in which circumstances.  This has also broadened the network I can share with my mentees – teaching them the importance of The Network.

So, take some advice from these kids – start mentoring.  It will stretch you in ways you can’t imagine, let you to share your learnings with others for their success, and provide life-long experiences to be shared, imparted and enjoyed.

Mentoring - A Gift

I’ve been privileged to have had great mentors in my time at Bell Labs, AT&T and out on my own. These people have shaped my life--not only giving me guidance, but also showing me what it means to mentor.

In 2009, I started participating in Brown University's Women's Launchpad Program (WLP), pairing women alumni in business with senior students for career, grad school and other post-grad planning. My mentees have been mechanical engineering majors.

Our love of Brown gave us an immediate common ground and we quickly found others. Both young women have a passion for designing--which is really a passion for solving problems, for improving, for creating.

What did mentoring entail? Guidance on choices, pros/cons, looking at options, proper ‘business' protocol. But the most important thing I felt was to teach these women to learn to network. That is, how to find people, to reach out, to get exposure to as many ideas, types of people and interests as possible.

While the young women keep thanking me, I am the one who is richly blessed. It is an honor to know them, to be a small part of their future real, to see what wonderful things this next generation can--and will--do.

They are more mature, thoughtful and passionate than I was when I was their age! It is easy to become optimistic the future of our nation and world when you see what these ‘kids’ are capable of and committed to doing. While the WLP program is “for” the students, the greatest benefit is to us alumni, allowing us to help this great generation as they innovate the future for all of us.

So, go find someone to mentor:  in your company, your division, your alma mater, wherever...the rewards are priceless and enduring!