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Nine things this CEO wishes she knew at 22

July 9, 2015, 6:30 PM UTC
Courtesy of SalientMG

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What advice would you give your 22-year-old self today? is written by Erin “Mack” McKelvey, CEO of SalientMG.

When I was 22 years old, I had an unfulfilling internship with a U.S. Congresswoman; and I realized my life’s dream of having a career in politics was no longer the path I wanted to pursue. And just like that, my career in politics was over as fast as it started. With no clear path ahead, I decided to pack up my stuff in Baltimore and drive out West. I ended up in Denver, where I worked three jobs. I bartended and waitressed on nights/weekends, and during the day I worked as a contractor for a large global tech company. Like many 22-year-olds, I stumbled through a handful of my early roles, and looking back now; I could have benefitted from a few pieces of advice:

Be a sponge
Learn everything about your industry, company, and your competitors. Do everything you can to be the most knowledgeable person in the room.

Travel often
Take every possible business trip while you’re young; while on the road, watch and learn from your superiors. Learning how to travel efficiently is not a luxury as your career progresses, it’s expected. Plus, you never know what adventures you’ll have, people you’ll meet, or life lessons you’ll gain.

Think globally
Study different languages and cultures; understand how people work across the globe. And, if you have any opportunity to travel internationally or work abroad at this young age, do it. You will not necessarily be able to leverage a similar opportunity in the future.

Never say ‘no’
Take on any project that will progress your knowledge and experience; better yet, seek them out. Be proactive. Be positive. And most of all, be a team player.

Be collaborative
You don’t always have to be a ‘bull in a china shop.’ I had a boss who reminded me that it wasn’t what I accomplished; it was how it was accomplished that was remembered.

Find a mentor
Seek out someone who sees potential in you and can help you navigate your career. Be organized and thoughtful with this person; your mentor is not your therapist. Don’t waste this relationship.

Have a balance
I have played competitive sports my entire life. However, working three jobs in Denver, left me with very little time to do any outside activities. I was obsessed with my career and didn’t learn anything about work-life balance until my late thirties. When you make time for activities outside of work, you’ll actually end up being more productive while in the office.

Get out of your comfort zone
I left my home to start a career in an industry I knew nothing about and in a completely foreign city. But outside of that, I didn’t stray out of my comfort zone regularly. And I realize now I should have. Being uncomfortable actually made me a smarter worker.

Pick your role wisely
In full disclosure, I borrowed this advice from a colleague. Women: do not take an assistant position, unless it’s your dream job. Once you’re an assistant, it’s incredibly difficult to change that perception to peers and superiors.

After working in marketing for over 20 years, I’ve seen enough to know that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all career path. Personally, I think these nine suggestions may have helped me smooth out the edges of my journey, but truth be told, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What advice would you give your 22-year-old self today?

Best advice for a 22-year–old: quit bragging about your accomplishments by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.

A nobody can still make a memorable first impression by Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO of Broadband TV.

Even this CEO knows it’s okay to fail by Kyle Wong, CEO of Pixlee.

How starting at the bottom gets you to the top — quicker by Frederic Kerrest, co-founder and COO of Okta.

What entrepreneurs get wrong about success by Lynn LeBlanc, CEO and founder of HotLink.

Why you should never get promoted too quickly by David Kong, CEO of Best Western.