August 6, 2021

Not too long ago, I was texting with a colleague and friend. After a back and forth on tea versus coffee (tea, by the way), she asked: “What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?”

I didn’t immediately answer.

I mean, it depends, right? The best advice I received professionally? The best advice when I was twenty-two year-old college graduate? The best advice as a thirty-four year-old exhausted mother? The best advice about my marriage? The best advice from my parents? Or my friends? Or even from my children?

There are a million ways to answer that question. So, I hedged. I wanted her to define the question a bit more. But, my friend persisted, “No. No qualifications or small print. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?”

After a few more minutes, I told her I’d think about it . . . which, if you know me, is not a surprising response. It’s right up there with my other go-to response: “It depends,” (see above paragraph!)

But, my word is good. So, I have been thinking about it. For a couple of weeks. And I reserve my right to change my mind, but the best advice I ever received was from a professor of mine. He likely wouldn’t remember me or the conversation, as it was quite some time ago. And in spite of trying to come up with other brilliant or witty or sound-bite-worthy insights I’ve been given through the years – some of which resulted in huge shifts in my thinking, hurts in my heart, and massive repercussions – I’ve continued to circle back to this small exchange between my professor and me.

Way back in my public-affairs-days, I was a research assistant on an environmental policy grant. As it is with grants, time and money were winding down. I enjoyed certain aspects of policy-crafting work (research, writing, and field work among people), but I was restless, and I knew without a doubt I did not want to return to the world of politics. In hindsight, it was a fork-in-the-road moment. Because when I mentioned to my professor that I was considering an entrepreneurial venture in the wedding world, he said:

“Go do it. You have nothing to lose. You can afford the risk, you have no kids yet, and if you aren’t successful, come back and work for me.”

And that was that. I took the risk, never to return to policy work, to governmental affairs, or even research (in that capacity). Nothing he said was particularly quippy. It wasn’t some movie moment with polished conversation and a perfect quote. It was simply the right line of reasoning at the right time from the right person. And it changed the trajectory of my life.

In taking the risk, I discovered skill sets I didn’t realize I had. I found some bravery about making sharp changes, decisions, and pivots both professionally and personally. I developed a resilience around failure because it didn’t make failure an option. It made it a reality . . . one that I could learn from and live with. I found a willingness to be vulnerable and to take risks for the sake of, for the hope of, and for the belief that there is something better.

Now it’s your turn – what is the best advice you’ve ever received?