Life is always throwing opportunities at us, but we don’t see most of them because we’re not looking—or worse, we see them and don’t believe we can take advantage of them. In 1991, after finishing my PhD, I received a huge opportunity when I was offered a faculty position at a major research university in Los Angeles. There was one catch: it was 250 miles from my home. My first thought was not, “Oh my God, this is fantastic!” It was, “I have three kids, a husband with a business, and a home that I love. It’s not possible to take this job.”
For days I was in turmoil, bouncing between excitement and doubt. But in the moments when I was honest with myself, I was jumping up and down, ecstatic about the opportunity. The city where we lived offered nothing equivalent; in fact, there were very few opportunities for women to succeed in any big way.
Like anyone in a similar situation, I sought advice from family and friends. They had no trouble telling me that I was crazy to even consider it. What would this do to my family? My marriage? After all, I was well into my thirties! I was about to raise the white flag of surrender when my husband and kids sat me down and told me that I absolutely had to take the job. They realized, as I did, that it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
We agreed I would drive to Los Angeles early Tuesday mornings and return late Thursday nights to do the rest of my work from home. My husband had the flexibility to be with the kids when they weren’t in school. After my first week on campus, I knew I had made the right decision. I gradually allowed the guilty feelings to disappear and embraced all the possibilities. As it turned out, I commuted for 11 years until our last child started college and we finally moved to Los Angeles.
I’m not going to say it was easy—nothing worth doing ever is. But this opportunity that took me way out of my comfort zone has paid off in too many ways to count. I became a published author and speaker in my field, co-founded four companies, and now work with some of the leading scientists and engineers in the world to bring their technologies to market. But those are all minor satisfactions compared to the gratification I get from helping students learn how to take a chance and realize their dreams.
We’re human. We make mistakes. But the biggest mistake is being afraid to take risks that may lead us in new directions. My mantra is, “The only thing standing between you and what you want is yourself.” It’s a lesson my kids have embraced as they now work to achieve their own dreams. I am thankful every day that I had the courage to go after what I wanted. It opened the door to new possibilities and started me on the path to the life I’ve always wanted.