Three Alumnae Give Advice to their Younger Selves

Bwcc post Letter to my younger selfIf you could write a letter to your younger self, what advice would you give? 

In a panel at the 2017 Booth Women Connect Conference called “Letters to My Younger Self: What I Wish I Knew Then,” three alumnae read aloud letters that they had written to themselves at an early point in their careers. Laughter filled the room as the three reflected on how they’ve grown over the years and shared their wisdom and experiences with the audience. 

Carolyn Ou, associate director of leadership development at Chicago Booth, moderated the panel. Here are some of their main takeaways:

Don’t be afraid

When Jessica Tien, ’91, principal economist at DLA Piper, was 18 years old, she was sure she wanted to earn a PhD. By then, she had envisioned multiple career paths, including recording artist and figure skater. In her letter to her younger self, Tien emphasized that none of the time she had spent working toward those goals was wasted, saying to her younger self: “You are a work-in-progress, and so am I.” She was happy that her younger self had been so willing to experiment and take risks in order to grow.

“I could have said, ‘I’m not ready to be a CEO. I’m afraid,’” said Suzanne El-Moursi, ’12 (XP-81), about being offered the lead role at startup Uplift Data Partners. “Did I start on day one knowing exactly what I was going to do? No,” she said. Instead she realized that “if I don’t do well, they can let me go. It’s OK.” She knew she would learn from her mistakes. 

Trust the people around you

Early in her career, El-Moursi struggled to stay positive when she received negative feedback on projects she was passionate about. “Obviously you want to hear that you’re great,” said el-Moursi, but sometimes you have to reel back the emotion, focus on active listening, and process the feedback for what it is in order to grow.

Shaelyn Otikor, ’12, vice president and relationship manager, global fund services at Northern Trust in Chicago, learned from her upbringing to stand up for herself. “I am the first child after the civil rights movement, so all my mother and grandmother knew was, you don’t have to take it anymore. Don’t take any disrespect,” said Otikor. “They never taught me about corporate America.” Her personal board of advisors helped her learn to be her “executive self” and stay calm at work, managing her emotions effectively and demonstrating empathy for the opinions and feelings of others.

Have a personal life

An advisor once told Otikor her that if she enjoyed her personal life, she was more likely to be relaxed and supportive in the workplace. “Try to allow some of your authentic self to come out in your work,” Otikor encouraged. Ou agreed, adding, “When you’re more balanced, you’re less stressed . . . and if you’re less stressed, you’re more fully present.” Otikor added that being a perfectionist can cause problems if it makes you so stressed you can’t relax. “Sometimes 95 percent is OK.”

Booth Women Connect Conference is organized by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The 2017 event brought together more than 1,000 professionals for an extraordinary day of bold ideas, spirited discussion, practical insights, and impactful networking. Join us for this year’s conference on October 12, 2018.

—By Leah Rachel von Essen

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