Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Building a company is stressful, scary, and risky, and the odds of succeeding are not in your favor. But after 30 years in the tech industry--14 of those as one of its first female African-American CEOs--I can tell you that it's worth it. I've always been ambitious, and it's always paid off--including when I became CEO of Zaplet, a software startup that was on the brink of failure, and guided it to become MetricStream, a market leader in compliance and risk management. In my new book, Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms, I share my story and what I've learned about succeeding in business and in life. The book contains actionable tips to identify what you want, make a plan, and work strategically to realize your professional and personal goals. Here are some of its key lessons.
Make choices, not sacrifices.
I detest the phrase "work-life balance." It implies something that's a) even on both sides and b) static. Life doesn't work that way. I much prefer to treat life as a series of choices, which I make using my priorities, professional and personal, as the filter. For example, when my family was living in Dallas and I got a new job in Silicon Valley, I moved there alone. My daughter was in high school, and I opted to live separately, flying back to Dallas almost every weekend for three years, instead of uprooting her life. I don't think of these decisions as sacrifices that I'm forced to make, but rather as choices--no matter how difficult or painful--that I own.
Find the current.
Like in a river, currents of power and opportunity flow through organizations and industries. The key is to find the current and then jump in and work intentionally, allowing it to propel you farther, faster. When I became CEO of MetricStream, I looked for the current of opportunity. What problem could we solve that had enough demand to save the company? I found it in compliance and risk management, which ultimately became its own software category, with our company as an early leader.
Be a good mentee.
We all need help, and mentors are a hugely valuable resource. But if you don't know how to be good mentee, you won't be able to develop or retain these important relationships. It takes more than showing up and listening. Good mentees need to be responsible for the content of the meetings, the follow-up, and the frequency.
I believe my journey shows the power of being intentional in all aspects of life. I hope you will treat this book as a guide, and use its tools to navigate opportunities, overcome challenges, and beat the odds to achieve your most ambitious aspirations.