Courtesy Shelley Westman

Your career may not turn out as you imagined. But what you learn in the process can springboard you to new opportunities.

Just ask Shelley Westman.

As a girl, her cousin would tell stories about his legal clients. She decided to become a lawyer. The fact that he was quite wealthy didn’t hurt either.

She loved law school, but hated practicing law. It was too negative and adversarial. So she left the law and joined IBM eighteen years ago. She held a variety of roles, the most recent being in cyber-security. Because only about 10% the people in this field are women, she decided to do something about it. At IBM, Shelley formed a group called WISE (Women in Security Excelling). WISE now has over 800 members.

Recently Shelley disrupted herself, leaving IBM to join Protegrity, a data security company. She’s a Senior Vice President of Alliances & Field Operations. It’s not where law school usually leads, but it’s where she’s landed.

Pivotal Moment of Reinvention

There have been so many. Leaving the practice of law was one of them; my most recent example is when I took the leap a few months ago to join Protegrity. It is a much smaller company than I have ever worked at. I can’t even imagine a bigger change. Moving from a huge company like IBM to a small company of less than 300 people where it’s on me to help grow this company.

Valuable mentor / sponsor

I have had many great mentors and sponsors over the years, far too many to name for fear of leaving someone out. It has been really helpful to have mentors that are different from me so that I can get a variety of perspectives. For example, I tend to be an analyzer. I re-play conversations over and over in my mind, ruminating about what I could have done better. Many of my mentors often have a different approach. They don’t dwell on their decisions but rather learn from them and move on. They taught me it is ok to fail.  To adopt a “fail fast” strategy.  Try something, and course correct if it does not work.


This post originally published at Forbes