As an introvert, networking has always been a struggle for me – and yet I understand that it is the only way to reach my professional objectives. To take my networking skills up a notch, I find setting myself challenges works best. To challenge myself in 2011, I launched a 4X4 networking initiative to meet with four people I knew and four strangers every month. Although I learned a great deal from speaking to 96 individuals over the year, my ambition continued on; thus at the start of 2012, my next venture was an interview series featuring 50 successful businesswomen who shared their stories of success.

I have been fortunate enough to sit down with 20 inspiring businesswomen comprised of authors, CEOs, professors, entrepreneurs, career coaches, and fashion consultants. Each person I met provided me with invaluable insights that propelled my own professional growth. My favorite moment during our conversations was asking them the last question before ending each interview – it always proved to be eye-opening!

“What do you wish you would have known as a young professional woman just starting out in her career?”

There’s a single response I’ve found to be incredibly insightful for my career and life, so here are the top five pieces of knowledge successful businesswomen wish they had known earlier:

1) Seize the day and follow your desires rather than what is expected of you.

“I wish that I had always done what I wanted to do instead of what I felt like I should do. It’s so easy to just go along that path with what you should do. You can save yourself so much time and trouble if you just start with what you want to do.”

-Advice from Kimberly Palmer, Author of Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back and a personal finance columnist at US News & World Report.

2) It’s Perfectly Acceptable to Reorient Your Professional Path!

“I wish I would have known that the career I started didn’t necessarily have to be the career I stopped with. I was really stressed when I started out because I picked this plan and I didn’t really like it as much as I thought I would. I didn’t really know that I could be flexible. I wish I would have known that I could have left that path earlier and gone on and done something else. There is freedom in your career and you don’t have to stick with one career.“

-Advice from Chachanna Simpson, Small Business and Life Coach at Your Stellar Star.

3) Investing time in understanding yourself and your values can be profoundly beneficial.

“I wish I would have known more about myself. Once I recognized what my personal values were, it felt like everything just came into place so quickly. As you know yourself and you know what is important to you and the lifestyle that you want to live, then you can start crafting a career that can meet your personal and professional needs. And to know that there are careers out there that are going to hit on all of the things you love and make you feel fulfilled, and alive and that you are making a valuable contribution to the world! So know yourself and everything will fall into place!”

– Advice from Sarah Ward, Image Consultant and Owner of Cable Car Couture Image Consulting.

4) Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes!

“It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to do something that you wish you hadn’t done because if we don’t do those things we never grow. The most important thing is that we all keep growing and that we all keep learning. A terrible mistake is to think you know everything. We are all flawed. Put yourself out there and do big things! If something doesn’t go right, make your apologies, and don’t do it the next time.”

-Advice from Dawn Stanyon, Professional Image Consultant, Blogger at Professionality, and Director of Sales at The Emily Post Institute

motivational quote about personal growth

5) Make Sure to Promote Your Own Brand!

“You need to promote yourself. You are going to have great bosses and bosses you don’t love but the only person that will speak for your goals and how well you are doing is you yourself. Really use your voice to show people that you know what you are doing and promote yourself within the company because no one else is going to do that for you. Have that confidence to say hey, ‘I do a good job.’ I think sometimes people expect other people to do that for them but you need to push yourself.”

– Advice from Jen Worman, Co-Founder of a jewelry design company called T+J designs

I’m always up for a challenge, so here’s one for you. This week, try to find someone who inspires you and ask them this: “What wisdom would you have wanted to know as a young professional woman just starting out?” Seeing their answer may open your eyes to valuable information that could help shape not only how you view yourself but also how others perceive your capabilities as an emerging professional.

The solution could alter your life and future success in the same way it has transformed mine.

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