What’s your best advice?

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a “speed mentoring” event for professional women sponsored by the local business journal.

Business woman shaking hands in meetingAs a mentor I was available to have five minute conversations with individual women who could ask questions about anything. Most asked specific questions about how to advance their business or career.

One woman asked me a wide open question: “What’s your best advice?”

I tried to clarify the context. “Best advice about what? Growing a business? Career success? Leadership? Something else?”

She said, “Just your best advice in general.” Hmmm. I had to think for a moment. I felt a little pressure. The clock was ticking.

I responded, “Know who you really are.

I explained that when you know who you really are, it makes decision-making a little easier in any context. You rely on your own values, beliefs and instincts.

You can play to your strengths and be more deliberate in guiding your path.

You can orient yourself more intentionally around the people, things or issues you care about.

  • Knowing who you really are helps you build courage. The courage to go for it — and the courage to say “No” when you need to.
  • Knowing who you really are helps you attract business that is right for you and deflect business that is not right for you.
  • Knowing who you really are makes you less susceptible to following a path that’s not the best for you.

Depending on the nature of your work or business, you may have lost sight of who you really are.

When I left my corporate career years ago to start my own business, I felt a little lost. My identity had been associated with the large organization I worked for and the leadership position I held.

To gain more clarity about myself, I met informally with a number of friends and acquaintances to understand how they saw me — not in any specific role, but as a person.

In retrospect, I was conducting my own 360 degree feedback exercise in person!

I asked them questions like, “What three words would you use to describe me?”

“What do you think I do well?” “What can I do better?”

I learned a lot through that exercise that helped me position myself in my business today.

I don’t think I would have given the same advice 10 or 20 years ago. Hopefully I’m a little wiser now.

As I reflect on my own experience and my work with other executives, I see that those who achieve what they really want are not afraid to be themselves.

They are themselves, unapologetically.

What’s more, they’re not only committed to doing work and living their lives congruently with who they are, they care about the person they’re becoming.

They focus as much on personal growth and learning as they do on growing their business or career.

They allow their experiences to shape them without losing themselves in the process.

But it’s not easy.

If you feel like you’re losing yourself, you’re not alone.

Business owners are especially vulnerable to losing themselves in the business.

One client confessed she found herself with a little down time the other day, and didn’t know what to do with herself. It was an unusual experience for her.

She’s conditioned to hit the ground running each morning as the pace of the day accelerates. She focuses on work well into the evening — and even loses sleep thinking about work.

3D white people. Businessman in a hamster wheelShe’s mastered the art of doing — without paying attention to priorities in her life. Running on the hamster wheel is exhausting. She said she needs time and space to “reconnect with herself.”

This is a common challenge for both men and women.

You are the only constant on your business, career or life journey, so know yourself well.

Reclaim yourself if you have to. If not, someone else might.

You’re not being self-centered. You are centering yourself in what really matters to you.

And you will be better for it.

You’ve come a long way.

What’s the “best advice” you can offer someone else — or yourself — today?

It’s worth thinking about.

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