Lessons Learned from my Personal Experiences, for Women — Maryann Bruce

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Before and during my tenure as a Fortune 100 Division President and CEO, and independent board director, I have lived through and collected many career and life lessons. I wanted to take some time to write them down because they might be of help for women who are yet to embark or have just started on their adventures.

I have developed 13 lessons, divided into 4 chapters.

Chapter 1. Always remain open-minded and follow your passion

1. Be flexible and open to new possibilities

It’s fine to have a plan for yourself, your career or your business, but don’t be so tied to it that you miss opportunities or mishandle obstacles that you encounter.

One of my favorite sayings is ‘I plan, God laughs’ meaning we think we are in control and in charge of our own destiny, but who knows what God has in store for us?

2. Your most difficult situations are your greatest teachers

Life isn’t fair and bad things happen to good people but remember: ‘tough times don’t last, but tough people do’.

When something bad happens to you, use it as a learning opportunity as you will learn more from these bad experiences than you could ever learn from a good one.

Think of mistakes as being marvelous — create lessons learned and move on.

3. Be passionate

Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.

Find work that excites you and is deeply meaningful to you; and bring that passion to work.

If you’re passionate about the work you’re doing, you will not only be more satisfied at work, you’ll be better at it.

Chapter 2 — Stay true to who you are and embrace others

4. Bring all of you — including your emotions — to work

I was frequently told that my emotions were a liability at work and made me look weak.

After years of experience, I now believe that if you want to be truly successful, you need to forget the old stereotypes and allow yourself to be vulnerable, especially at work.

Give yourself permission to laugh, cry, and get angry. Your vulnerability will make you more real and help you connect with those around you at a deeper level.

5. Ask for help

I once heard that “A dream is a dream until you tell someone and then it’s an aspiration”.

How will family, friends and colleagues know what you want unless you tell them and ask for their help to make it happen?

Create an “advisory board” or “team of trusted advisors” of people you can surround yourself with. People you trust implicitly, whom you can go to for advice and guidance, who can provide you with leading practices, and whom you can bounce ideas off.

The acronym TEAM stands for Together Everyone Achieves More; so when you ask for help, everyone will benefit from that relationship.

6. Have at least one female best friend

Always have at least one woman with whom you can truly be yourself — warts and all.

She will ask you questions, help enhance your understanding of what you’re really feeling and tell you the unvarnished truth without criticism and judgement.

In turn, be that type of friend to another women.

These relationships will make you more self-aware. Self-awareness has been proven to be a critical quality of successful leaders.

Chapter 3. Don’t take yourself, and work, too seriously — keep your priorities in check

7. Maintain your sense of humor

Anger makes you appear old, ugly, and mean-spirited.

Laughter keeps you young and healthy, and makes other people want to be around you.

Over the course of your career, there will be many things that upset you but if you find humor in the situation, you can diffuse the negative impact of your anger.

Use humor to cope with everyday stresses.

8. Be very clear about your priorities

Have something other than work that truly matters to you. It could be community, faith, family, friends, health and wellness, sports, travel, anything really. Just make sure you know what it is.

Decide what aspects of your life are non-negotiable. Make the ground rules very clear.

For example, I was not willing to be away from my husband and children for more than 7 days. So, if my work required me to do that, I arranged for my family to be with me.

Once you’ve set your own ground rules, live with your choices. And, understand that every choice has a consequence.

9. Strive for work-life integration

We hear a lot about “work-life or career-life balance”. I personally don’t like this term as it implies that your career and life are two separate and distinct aspects of your life competing for your time.

It also implies that it is possible to balance the two.

To me, a better term is “work-life integration” as it suggests that work and life are intricately interconnected.

I believe you can achieve your career and personal goals but perhaps not all at the same time.

Life’s demands require trade-offs — it’s not black and white or all or nothing but different shades of grey.

At different stages of your life, you will have different priorities and that’s perfectly okay.

Chapter 4. Never forget about the bigger picture

10. Support each other

Be a role model for other female leaders.

As you climb your own career ladder, keep the view from below in mind, and be sure to coach, mentor and sponsor other women so they too can reach their full potential.

It’s critical to understand the differences between these three roles. In short, coaches speak to you, mentors speak with you and sponsors speak for you.

11. When the going gets tough, get out of the office and volunteer

When work gets too intense, leave it behind by volunteering and contributing to the community.

There are many organizations that need our help.

Whatever you do, I promise when you get back to work, you’ll find that all those problems on your desk look much less significant and much less complex.

You’ll come back to work refreshed and renewed, with an entirely different perspective.

12. Take a holistic approach to defining success

I learned that you shouldn’t define success solely by your career accomplishments.

View success as multi-faceted integrating achievements in all aspects of your life:

  • personal — investing in your own health and well-being
  • professional — ensuring business growth and industry impact
  • community — giving back
  • family — spending time with those you love.

13. Remember that who you are is more important than what you do

Don’t allow yourself to be defined by your job.

Don’t try to live up to other people’s expectations of what’s “normal” or “ideal”.

There’s a reason we’re called human “beings” not human “doings”.

Ask yourself, “who do I want to be” in my life and work instead of “what do I want to do?”

My experience is that if you’re willing to dare to be different and be your true, authentic self at work, it will be inspiring, empowering and make you much more successful.

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