Some of the key lessons I've found helpful in my career, I've learned from my professors. One of them is my economics professor from graduate school. She completed her doctoral degree in economics at Harvard at a time when there were few women in her class, and has since risen to the top of her field.
Midway in her career, she was presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but accepting it would require sacrifices as she was a mother of young children and her spouse also had a demanding career. After much consideration, her family collectively decided that she should seize the rare opportunity and make it work. That experience has since propelled her to other great roles in her career.
Reflecting back on her journey, my professor recognized that while she had been fortunate in many ways, the road she travelled was not an easy one, and one that she could not have gone on without the support of her family. She strives to pay it forward by inspiring her students to apply their intellect to make a positive impact to the organizations they will eventually lead, and by advocating for the next generation of female academics rising in her field, especially since they are few in number and might be facing challenges she faced a generation ago. When asked if she would like to impart any wisdom, she shared the following with me:
Take calculated risks
When an opportunity arises unexpectedly, seizing it usually requires you to take risks. Be clear about your values — what is valued by you might not be the same as what is celebrated by others. Also, involve those who are important to you in making your decision, as you would likely need their support with whatever you decide.
Be clear about trade-offs
Accepting a demanding role required her to be on the road during the week, and only able to be home on weekends. She needed to hire additional support to take care of her young family. When she felt the guilt of being away from home, she reminded herself that this kind of opportunity may never arise again and she didn't want to live with "what if."
Speak up respectfully and thoughtfully to effect change
She often finds herself the lone voice in representing women in a room of academics. While it might be more comfortable to blend in and live with the status quo, she consciously voices her opinion in a thoughtful way to represent perspectives that might be under-represented.
As a student in her class, I respected my professor for her intellect and her clarity in teaching regression analysis. After learning her story, I admire her as a leader in her field and as a remarkable person. Perhaps there is someone in your life whose story would inspire you as well?