Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
"March on. Do not tarry... March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life's path." ~ Kahil Gibran
In my journey to a rewarding science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career, I've encountered my fair share of obstacles along the way. I love puns, so let's just call these obstacles "thorns on the STEM."
One thorn that really motivated me was a humbling experience I had in the workplace. I was asked by my boss to deliver an operational review to several important executives. We worked on preparation together, and we both believed I was ready. Shortly after that event, despite positive feedback from my boss, I was told that I needed to really work on my presentation skills if I wanted to advance in the business. That thorn hurt at first! Fortunately, the company believed in me and supported my development to enhance my skills. That thorn helped lead to further growth and success.
You're going to encounter all kinds of thorns -- challenges on the home front, difficult classes in high school, demanding professors in college and people who, for whatever reason, want to stand in your way or try to knock you down as you work to build your career. The most efficient, effective and rewarding way to get through those thorns is by charging straight ahead. I know from experience -- my parents practiced tough love, I didn't excel in every aspect of STEM (especially physics and biology), being a techie wasn't exactly synonymous with being popular and I didn't always get the plum assignments at work. Still, I persevered and forged ahead through the thorns. You can, too.
So, what insights can I offer about overcoming and even embracing the thorns on your STEM journey? Here are five guiding tenants I've used along the way and often share with my two daughters and mentees:
- Different is GOOD. Don't shy away from new and different experiences, opportunities, and challenges. If you can learn something from it, it can't be all that bad. And if it adds to the unique value proposition that is you, it won't be a mistake. I often tell folks that even if they find out that they hate a new assignment, at least they've gained invaluable insight about themselves. By the way, being different is a plus in most every instance - this is what true diversity is all about.
- Difficulty yields GROWTH. We only grow if we stretch ourselves. This is true physically, emotionally and mentally. If we don't try, exert and challenge ourselves, we will never realize our fullest potential. This doesn't mean we must be stressed all the time - we all know that's not healthy. We all need downtime to recover and rejuvenate. So, don't avoid something because it's hard. Move forward - you'll figure out a way through it (or around it!).
- Failing is LEARNING. Some of your best experiences and development will come from failing. In fact, it's better than OK - you'll likely learn the most about yourself from failing. And failing doesn't mean that you are a failure. It will allow you to figure out the difference between being the best (which is impossible all the time) and being your best (which is much more possible and actually leads to true happiness and success).
- LEAN ON others. Life is about people - it is about the relationships you create, develop, and grow. This is true everywhere. Your journey is not one that you must go alone. You will gain much from the support of others and will have opportunities to support others yourself. In fact, many of life's greatest joys come from this. Surround yourself with people who make you better and don't tear you down.
- IT IS all about YOU (not them). I often get asked if I've ever encountered discrimination, severe criticisms, bullying and other hurtful behaviors. The answer is, of course, yes - not only when I was younger but also in today's world. You will run into people who will put you down, call you out in a negative light (for whatever reason, and sometimes that reason won't be evident) and work to derail you. Don't worry about them and their success, focus on yours. This is the proverbial: "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it." You can't control how those around you behave, but you absolutely have ownership of every choice you make.
Ultimately, the path you forge is your own. No one can find it for you, just as no one can live it for you. But I hope my thoughts are helpful as you create your own way. And remember: there's no question that choosing a path that includes STEM will be riddled with thorns, but each one you encounter will make you stronger and more resilient. After all, "every rose has its thorns."