07/17/2013 10:55 am ET Updated Sep 16, 2013

Dare to Compete, Mrs. Clinton!

I recently attended the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) annual convention in Chicago and Hillary Clinton was the opening night keynoter. She addressed an enthusiastic crowd of 10,000+ people and left me ready to engage my competitive spirit.

While the former Secretary of State is passionate about many things, her focus is on women and children so she had me at hello. She started by telling the international audience that hiring women is the unfinished business of this century that will help the economy thrive and increase the GDP. "If we removed the barriers that many women face in the career world we would increase our GDP by 9 percent," according to Secretary Clinton.

She talked about how success is measured by how well you get people to work together and how change happens through building relationships. Hillary Clinton declared that big businesses are the leaders for change and how their work to improve opportunities for women will also create positive change in the public sector.

What I found most compelling was a story Hillary Clinton shared about her decision to run for president in 2008. Years earlier when there was much speculation about her official candidacy, she was speaking at an event honoring American women athletes. She spoke of their dedication, commitment, focus and ability to compete in a male dominated athletic arena. When greeting the athletes after the event a young woman whispered in her ear, "Dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton, dare to compete." It was a turning point when she realized she was ready to take a major leap into the unknown that would change the course of history and impact her life beyond measure. After many months of strategy and input from seasoned political advisors, the words of a young athlete were pivotal in her final decision making process to run for president.

At this point you could have heard a pin drop in the McCormick Place Convention Center even with 10,000+ people tweeting Hillary's words of wisdom. It really made me think about the scores of women who don't get into their career game because they are careful to a fault -- afraid of not being 100 percent ready and end up not participating at all. So, they often sit things out and watch from the proverbial sidelines.

It's time to take control and discover how you can make a difference in your own career. Define success on your terms and identify work that gives you an opportunity to thrive. Hillary encouraged us to "Take criticism seriously but not personally," and be willing to take a risk. Women need to get more comfortable being uncomfortable and expand their repertoire of strengths and experiences by trying new things.

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman wrote a best-selling book called Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing. They identify through cutting edge science the factors at the core of great triumph and tragic failure. Their research empowers the reader to identify her/his own competitive style so you can tip the odds of success in your favor. This is a great read for those paralyzed by the fear of failure as well as those who hunger for success. As the book jacket quote from President Dwight Eisenhower says, "What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight -- it's the size of the fight in the dog." I encourage you to discover the size of the fight within you and what to do with it.

Incidentally, I was a speaker at the Invent Your Future Conference in Silicon Valley this April and heard Bronson and Merryman speak on the topic of competition for women. It was an engaging session that provoked the audience to question their own competitive edge and how they wanted to pursue the future.

I would be remiss if I didn't include the five lessons Hillary Clinton shared at SHRM that may also help you on your career journey.

1. Good decisions are based on evidence not ideology.
2. Leadership is a team sport.
3. You can't win if you don't show up.
4. A whisper really can be louder than a shout. Practice quiet diplomacy.
5. Follow the trend lines, not the headlines.

Whether you subscribe to the Lean In philosophy of Sheryl Sandberg or the Dare to Compete wisdom of Hillary Clinton -- get into your career game.

Secretary Clinton's final words were, "Get your courage up to take on a new challenge." How will you dare to compete? Life is short and unpredictable so taking a risk to try something new today could open up a world of possibilities for your tomorrow. Get into your career game and play!

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is the Director of Career & Professional Development and Adjunct Faculty at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and hosts the national CBS Radio Show Career Coach Caroline on Tuesdays at 5pm ET. Caroline also contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, and More Magazine online. Her new Career Tips App for iPhone and Android is available for downloading now.