Executive Commentary
Advice to My Younger Self
Lorna Donatone
Lorna Donatone
CEO, Sodexo Schools Worldwide President, Sodexo North America

I graduated from graduate school in 1982. I thought the key to my future was about keeping my head down and working hard.

It was. But, in retrospect, it was about much more, too.

I thought about this recently because DiversityInc asked me to reflect on my career and think about advice I would have given my younger self. I keep coming back to that memory of me, fresh out of school and charging ahead to work, work, work.

In fact, I wish I had picked up my head a few times and looked around for a mentor.

Back then, formal mentoring programs were rare, but informal mentoring has been happening since the beginning of time. I wish I had sought that out, especially among the female leaders with whom I crossed paths.

Why?

Because I now see that mentoring can give us a safe place to ask for advice and help. It can provide the wisdom of someone who has faced the challenges in front of us, or has more experience with the landscape, or just has a different point of view.

 

We all need an outside perspective. No matter how smart we think we are, our own point of view and our own experience are not broad enough.

Mentor relationships are usually considered “productive” when they open doors and lead to more career opportunities. That’s wonderful when it happens, but I think these relationships can be much more.

I came to Sodexo in 1999 and in 2002 took on my first division president role. This is when I first learned about mentoring. It was here that I was lucky enough to meet mentors who helped me understand how to do my job better, how to find more meaning in my career and how to forge a new path forward. I still rely on these relationships today.

When I look around today, I see so much more engagement between people across generations, across professions and across points of view. I am so glad that people are finding mentors, and becoming mentors themselves, early in their careers.

If I were starting out today, knowing what I know now, I would take a break from the work mantra to find one of those generous mentors, or maybe many of them.

 

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