People sometimes say a woman is like a river because a river continues to flow even if something is blocking the way—it just changes its path a little bit. I’ve seen this in many of my mentors.
When I was first promoted to director at Applied Materials, I was fortunate to have had a mentor who was a very successful female vice president at Cisco. She taught me about some of the challenges I would face involving priorities, business sense, and people management. She taught me how to look at the bigger picture and to look ahead because this would make decisions easier.
My father was a mathematics professor. He encouraged me to explore things and learn from my mistakes. In mathematics, for example, there is more than one approach to solving a problem, be it geometry, algebra, or trigonometry; but only one approach is the most effective. This concept taught me to be open to different people’s perspectives to reach the most effective solution. One thing I would recommend as a mentor is to be confident in yourself. Learn to shrink your ego and extend your interest and success criteria to others, so that you can identify and create a bigger opportunity to learn, contribute and demonstrate your leadership in any position.
It’s also important to have your own life in addition to your career. Understand your priorities, set realistic expectations, and manage your activities. Leave room for soul enlightening activities such as reading, friendships, and volunteering. And never wait for the best time to do something because there may never be a best time.
Know that family and career aren’t mutually exclusive; you don’t have to delay one to have the other. My mother, a full-time professor and mother of three, set an early example for me. I now have both a family and a career.
You may face challenges and doubters in your career. Although you can’t control what people will say, you can control how you react to a situation. Treat challenges and doubters as an opportunity to make new friends, and try to turn the negative into a positive. If you find you still can’t make a difference and change something, that’s OK. Just remember the river analogy and pursue another pathway.