This post originally appeared on Rachel's LinkedIn profile.
If I could sit down with my 22-year-old self, I would tell her about the sign in the Lean In office that reads, “Proceed and be bold,” and I'd encourage her to wake up each morning and do just that. I would admit that boldness has its downsides, like big mistakes and really bad decisions. But I’d assure her that things will work out if she trusts her gut and does everything with gusto.
I would also share the three biggest things I’ve learned to help her on her journey:
Think through big decisions but don’t overplan.There are a handful of decisions in your life that really matter. Your life partner. Your work. The top things on your bucket list. Approach these decisions thoughtfully. Do the research you need to make informed decisions and take the time to think through what’s really important to you. It seems so obvious, but if you’re not careful, it’s easy to shortchange yourself.
Regardless of the decisions you make, understand your “gives” and “gets.” Young women often ask me, “Is it OK to move across country with my boyfriend?” for fear it’s not a Lean In thing to do. For a meaningful relationship and the right partner, the answer, of course, is yes. But be honest and open about why you’re doing it and what you’re giving up. If you’ve left an amazing job behind, say so. Then the next time a big life decision is in front of you as a couple, you can talk honestly about your expectations. Life isn’t so much about finding the right balance — few people do! — as it is about creating a healthy ebb and flow.
Make decisions with intentionality, but don’t fall into the trap of master planning your life. I don’t know a single friend who’s living exactly the life that she envisioned for herself. I don’t think anybody does. If you’re comfortable being a work in progress, you’ll leave yourself open to more possibilities.
Play healthy head games with yourself.We women tend to underestimate our skills and credit our success to getting lucky, working hard, and receiving help from others. As a result, our confidence suffers and we’re less likely to go for stretch opportunities. On the other hand, men typically overestimate their skills and apply for opportunities when they meet only a fraction of the criteria. They go for it — and so should you.
Our daughter Haley (you are going to love her!) plays forward on her soccer team. She has very little trouble getting downfield and in front of the goal, but she rarely takes a shot. Yesterday I asked her why she doesn’t shoot earlier, and she said because she’s afraid that she’ll miss.
I reminded her that she has a pretty good kick and asked, “What are the odds of making a goal if you don’t shoot?”
“Zero,” she said.
“And what are the odds if you do shoot?”
“I’m not sure, but better than zero,” she said with a tiny smile.
You can’t change the way you feel, but you can change the way you think. And this goes for everyone; women haven’t cornered the market on low self-confidence. We all need to teach ourselves to push doubt aside and go for it.
Take time to smell the proverbial roses.You are going to do some really great things and surprise yourself along the way. Don’t let these moments pass you by. Slow down and relish your successes. Better yet, keep a running list of them. Sometimes you’ll fail, and when you do, it will help to remember what you’ve already accomplished. Reflecting on what you’ve done right will also help you identify your strengths, and playing to your strengths is a hell of a lot easier and more rewarding than focusing on your shortcomings.
Learn to pause before turning to what’s next. Give yourself — and everyone around you — the time and space to recharge after a big push. You’ll be happier, healthier, and better equipped for your next challenge. You’ll also be a better leader.
Following this advice won’t always be easy, I’d tell my younger self, but stick with it. Resilience pays off—in fact, it’s a hallmark of successful people.
As I look out another 22 years, I’m not sure what my older self would say to me now. I suspect she’d tell me a lot of the same things and point me to another of my favorite Lean In signs: “Fortune favors the bold.”
Photo: This photo was taken by a photographer from the San Jose Mercury News for a profile on the company I founded a year earlier named BrainTrust. I had never had a professional photo taken, so I asked him for a copy.