November 3, 2014 — Today we’re introducing a new column, Ask Deborah, to help readers get to know our President and CEO Deborah Gillis. Deborah was appointed CEO in January 2014. She is Catalyst’s fourth president in 52 years—and the first from outside of the United States (Deborah is Canadian). As a breast cancer survivor who has successfully overcome the challenges of high-pressure, male-dominated environments, she is a recognized advocate and expert on expanding opportunities for women and business.
If you have questions for Deborah, please send them to [email protected]—your question could be featured on our blog!
This week we asked Deborah what advice she would give her 30-year-old self.
Leaving my twenties behind made me feel as though I had truly entered adulthood. And with that feeling came a certain amount of impatience to check all the boxes: to get married, own a home, start a family, and launch my career.
With that in mind, I made some big changes and took some real risks. I left my work in the public sector, saying goodbye to an established network and reputation, and started over as a business consultant working for two different firms. I ran—unsuccessfully—for elective office. And by the time my thirties were drawing to a close, I had also bought a house and settled down with my now husband.
I checked many of the boxes I had set out to check—but not in the way I had planned or in the precise order I had expected.
There were several major bumps along the road: workplaces where I felt undervalued, where the lack of women at the top indicated that I would need to leave my job in order to advance, and where the organizational culture simply didn’t align with my personal values.
But the beauty of life is that every success and setback along the way helped me to understand myself better. The challenges I faced taught me who and what was most important to me—lessons that would serve me well when I received a breast cancer diagnosis at age 40.
So what advice would I give my 30-year-old self?
Remember that life is a journey, not a destination—so enjoy the trip and be kind to yourself! Make time to nurture your relationships at work and at home, and give yourself permission to take chances.
As long as you follow your heart and your instincts, you will never take a wrong turn.