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Three Things I’d Tell My 20-Year-Old Self

This article is sponsored by Columbia Business School.

Dear 20-year-old self,

Congratulations! You are living in an era where women are taking up space in the billionaires’ club and funds designed for the empowerment of women in historically male-dominated industries and organizations. The metaphorical window has been pried open for you to invest in yourself and pursue an MBA, and I could not be prouder. Here are a few notes to keep in mind as you navigate the next few years as a bada$$ working professional.

1. Define Your Leadership

I would like to be known as an intelligent woman,
a courageous woman,
a loving woman,
a woman who teaches by being.
–Maya Angelou

At CBS’ Women’s Week 2021, Kat Cole, former COO and President of Focus Brands (think Auntie Annie’s and Cinnabon), shared, “The truth is in our roots, but our past is not our anchor.” We are shaped by our past, but know and be empowered that you have complete authority and creative liberty to set the vision for yourself. What I love about Maya Angelou’s quote above is that she defines how she as a woman wants to lead and be seen leading. This is a self-fulfilling prophesy I can get behind and encourage you to do the same.

Try this exercise: Fill in the blanks.

I would like to be known as a/an ___________ woman,

A/an ____________ woman,

A/an ____________ woman,

A woman who ______________________________.

–Your name

2. Build Your Tribe

As you ideate the type of business leader you aspire to be, surround yourself with people who get you, push you, and inspire you. Don’t know where to start, or want to continue to expand your network? Join communities like Forté MBALaunch, reach out to folks on LinkedIn and ask for an informational interview, and ask for mentorship. Naturally, you will see your tribe evolve.

“Communities that are authentic, genuine, and human really keep bringing people together.” – Ashley Sumner, CEO and founder of Quilt

3. Use Your Voice

Especially true earlier in your career, as an entry level professional, it can be challenging to speak up. However, your voice, your experience, and your perspective deserve to be heard and recognized; even more so as you grow into managerial and executive level roles. Imposter syndrome is very real, but you are more than deserving to be in the room. Start finding moments to speak up during meetings, give feedback, and even push back when needed.

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” – Maya Angelou

With that, I want to leave you with a question:  What could and would you do if you were unrepentant and not conditioned to apologize for your place in the world?

 

With love,
Your future self

Jenny Ham, MBA ’22, Columbia Business School

Columbia Business School’s Deferred Enrollment Program enables you to apply to the highly-selective, full-time MBA program while you’re still in college. Upon admission, you’ll have the freedom to gain between two to five years of career experience before matriculating. As a Columbia student, you’ll join a team of aspiring future leaders from an eclectic mix of undergraduate majors and personal backgrounds, and become part of the supportive and diverse culture that defines the School. To learn more, please visit the Columbia Business School Deferred Enrollment section on the website.

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