Essays & Confessions

5 Experienced Professional Women On The Lesson They Wish They’d Learned Sooner

By | Thursday, October 20, 2016


When you write for a website that has a pretty stable audience, it can be be easy to get a little stuck inside of that bubble — to only think to talk to people who fit exactly within your readership when thinking of new content ideas. For TFD, the vast majority of our readers are women in their 20s and 30s. It’s especially easy for me to to get stuck in this zone of only looking to people who fit that description when looking to fill out some content.

But why should the people I interview only reflect the people I’m writing for, rather than the people I would turn to in real life? Whenever I need advice on something, I don’t only ask women my age for their opinion. I ask my parents, my former co-workers, former professors — a lot of whom are older than me. But, more important than age, they all have a lot of experience and hindsight that I simply don’t have yet.

I, at the positively ripe age of 24, have a few regrets in terms of the life and money advice that I’ve chosen not to listen to. That being said, listening to people older than me talk about mistakes they were able to move beyond always makes me feel a little bit better. There’s nothing like a little perspective to help you remind yourself that you haven’t completely messed up, you’re doing okay, and you’re where you’re supposed to be. Or, if you’re not, it can help you figure out how to get there.


I reached out to some women I know who have more experience in the professional world than I do, all of whom I admire greatly (both as professionals and as honest-to-god good people). I asked them all to share a lesson they would tell their younger selves, or something they would say to a young woman just starting off in her career.

1. “I guess if I had to give advice to someone just starting out it would be to be confident in your abilities and patient with your inabilities. Everyone has a first day, first week, first month at a new job, whether it’s your first job or your tenth job. Just like school, you didn’t learn everything in first grade. Ask questions, make mistakes, learn from both to help you do the best you can at your job. And equally important, remember that someone else you come across might be having their first day, so make them feel confident, and be patient.” – Deirdre

2. “My advice would be something along the lines of, ‘Don’t dismiss the experience around you,’ or, ‘Don’t assume you know more than everyone else just because you are a recent grad/have more education/think you’re smarter, whatever.’ I began my career in the zoo world — at the time a primarily poorly-educated, mostly male work environment. Here I came, fresh out of grad school, and was given the opportunity to begin the first ever conservation research department. Quite a ego stroking feeling! It didn’t take long for me to realize that even though most of the people around me had less education, their experience within the workplace was invaluable. I couldn’t have succeeded without embracing, using, and drawing upon and honoring their vast knowledge base.” – Greta

3. “I would say to trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right — the pay offered, the terms of employment — it probably won’t be a satisfying job. I took a job that I thought made me sound more important and might be a good career move. There were some inklings of negatives, like much longer commute, worse hours than expected, more time away from family, and unclear corporate structure. I wanted out of my current job, so I took the position anyway. I was miserable and only lasted a few weeks. (Well, and those inklings weren’t as bad as getting there only to find out there wasn’t going to be any training or mentoring, though it wasn’t presented that way.)

“I have seen from younger potential employees at our company ask if the salary offered is the best possible pay when accepting a job offer. I would never have dreamed of asking that question, but now wish I had mustered that courage. I just felt either I liked the pay that was offered or didn’t accept the position. Maybe I missed out on some earnings — not sure, as there was only so much wiggle room in the hospital jobs I had.” – Sandy

4. “I wish someone had to told me to save more for a ‘rainy day,’ and explained what a ‘rainy day’ might be. To me, a rainy day is the unpredictable things that just happen in life, and you have to deal with them and figure it out, as well as late in your career you can get tired or burnt out and may want to keep working, but slow down. In short, I think that means living beneath your means, and prioritizing saving more.

“For me, having a very sick daughter and being the main breadwinner was so hard. In a way, it kept us all going, but I missed precious moments. It could mean having elderly parents that need help and care, and you work 60 hours a week and can only help on weekend. Now, I would like more options to step back, but I need to step up for a few more years. This is different than just having a leave opportunity — it’s not having to worry about the bills, etc. You know, life is what happens while you are busy making plans!” – Karen

“So hard to think of just one thing I wish someone had taught me, as I try to live with no regrets and learn from all of my experiences…Of course, I have lots of things I wish I had paid more attention to, especially in my personal life as a young adult! But even those all helped me evolve into what I am today. And I do feel like my parents told me a lot of things that perhaps I didn’t pay much attention to. But most of it is what I wish I had absorbed or taken more seriously.

“Be your own advocate — for the long haul — for the stuff happening now and the stuff that may happen later. Set yourself up to be happy and to succeed. In your career, in your relationships, with yourself. I learned it eventually by watching a lot of other people in action, and because I am a competitive person in some aspects of my life (which is an interesting aside — ‘don’t compare’ is used a lot — but there is a lot of value in comparisons, too!), but it cannot be emphasized enough to young women starting out. Be the person who pushes herself to have the career that makes her happy, to have the discipline to take care of herself mind, body and soul, to have the foresight to know that dollar cost averaging really is a (GOOD) thing. Be the person who knows she deserves chances, mentorship. Be someone who can bring out the best in yourself — each day and every day. It’s corny, but ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life’ was used in a Total ad when I was a kid. It really is true. It’s never too late to make a difference in your own life. If I had started sooner, I would have figured out how to be more disciplined in saving for retirement and our emergency fund. I would have known the little tricks to play on myself to make saving easier. I would have had the guts to go try to work at a chocolate company (as they say, do what you love!).” – Jan

Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at!

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