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Lessons Learned: Advice For My 22-Year-Old Self

As we near the end of Women’s History Month, we are pleased to share this

conversation with AEI Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant, Cindy Keaveney, on the leadership lessons she’s learned over her 30+ year career

Key,Thought Leadership

For more than 30 years, Cindy Keaveney, ExecutiveCoach and Organizational Consultant with AEI, has been building and transforming global organizations incomplex, ever-changing environments. Through those experiences, she unleashed her passion for uncovering and nurturing leadership potential in others.

Now, Cindy would be the first to tell you, that didn’t just happen overnight. Many of those lessons were hard-fought struggles, years in the making. That brings us to the point of this article, to offer support and encouragement for the next generation of leaders, particularly young women. While wisdom takes time, there are always opportunities to share what we’ve learned, to pay it forward so that those following in our footsteps can benefit from our experiences and avoid unnecessary trials and tribulations along the way.

Below, Cindy shares her words of wisdom for her 22-year-oldself … and all the other young women who are just beginning their professional journeys today:

Cindy, as you well know, many young people are driven to succeed. They are ambitious and want to do what it takes to climb the corporate ladder. What would you tell your younger self about the importance of empathy and compassion in the work world?
My youngerself was hyper focused on succeeding and achieving and meeting every goal. While that led to some short-term success, over time I learned that true success is when the teams you lead are achieving, not just you. Your success becomes the success of others. That’s an incredibly important lesson to learn. Thankfully, many people make that shift with time. It comes with confidence and the broadening of leadership experiences.

Also, I would tell my younger self that the concept of “and” is so important. Being empathetic and understanding other’s perspectives AND being accountable and staying focused on organizational goals and objectives. Those concepts are not mutually exclusive. It’s a balance that takes time to achieve, but it is absolutely possible. Imbuing empathy and compassion in leadership can result in even greater success than without doing so. That’s key to understand at any age.

Again, it took me time to embrace that concept of EQ in leadership. I was told early in my career that I could be intimidating, that others were afraid of me because I was so intense. That was a wakeup call because it was not who I wanted to be. I knew that perception would limit my success and ability to lead others. So I consciously made a shift in how I showed up for others and treated my colleagues and those who worked with me. It was the right thing to do and helped propel my career forward. I had to learn how to treat myself as well. I needed to practice self-compassion and to lighten up and see more of the humor in things.

I've heard you reference nurturing a mindset of abundance versus scarcity. What do you mean by that, and how could that perspective have helped you earlier in your career?
An abundance mindset is looking at what can be, at potential. The ability to do that flows from within, from self-awareness and being comfortable with your talents and capabilities. Having the confidence to take on new roles and challenges is having an abundance mindset. The more you can embrace an abundance mindset the more beneficial it will be to you, those you lead, and your organization. Ultimately, a mindset of abundance is all about optimism, creativity, long-term vision, and open mindedness. Alternatively, the scarcity mindset is based in fear. It’s limiting. It’s saying, “I can’t do this,” when you know you can or, “It is never good enough,” when it is less than perfect.

What I’d tell my younger self is to give myself the space and time to embrace a mindset of abundance, to nurture it. Developing a practice of reflection and thinking about what can be is so important at any age.

Speakingof scarcity, patience and wisdom are naturally somewhat scarce when we begin our careers. How would you encourage your younger self to develop one to achieve the other?
I would tell myself to temper my intensity. To give myself more time and space to reflect. But that, too, requires patience, to build that confidence and self-awareness. Like so much in life, it’s a balance. I would sit my younger self down and tell her to breathe, to be thoughtful, to not be in such a hurry to succeed. In doing so, success will come, and it will be so much more rewarding in the end.

Let'stalk about idealism. I'm sure you were filled with it in your early 20s like so many young people at the start of their careers. How do you keep that idealistic spark alive and balance it against the need for professional pragmatism?
It’s a delicate balance. You hate to see a young person sacrifice one for the other. Thankfully, there are strategies that can bridge idealism with pragmatism so that they can coexist.

First, be true to your values. Of course, that requires knowing what your values are. Identify them, live them. Carry that through in your work. Be cognizant of your values in relation to how you lead your professional life every day. They should always be front and center.

Also, gaining clarity on what you can control and influence, and just importantly what you can’t, is incredibly important to keep one’s idealism alive. By doing that, idealism remains achievable, actionable. It’s not simply a “pie-in-the-sky” idea that never manifests itself.

Finally, I’d tell my younger self to assert her point of view. It can be difficult, but we are all entitled to our opinions. Expressing a point of view almost always builds confidence. You simply have to own it and believe in what you have to say. Others deserve to hear your perspectives. Teams and organizations expect it.

For a young woman, that is particularly important. Too often, we want tomake sure we have all the right answers, that we know everything, before we speak. You don’t have to. You need to have thought things through, yes, but it’s OK to share ideas without having all the answers.

Any final words of advice for your 22-year-old self?
Expand your networks. That is soimportant. Look beyond your immediate industry. Cultivate and nurture those networks, even when you don’t have an “ask” or immediate need.

Also, be a lifelong learner, and know that requires time, curiosity and humility. That is such an important lesson that I hope any young person takes to heart.