Perspectives is a weekly newsletter about careers, leadership, and growth by Ancestry CEO Deb Liu.Liu says that every piece of advice she lists has done immeasurable good in her career and life.She also highly recommends finding a mentor if you don’t already have one.LoadingSomething is loading.Thanks for signing up!Access your favorite topics in a personalized feed while you’re on the go. download the appThe following article was originally published February 3, 2023 on Perspectives.A few weeks ago, for International Mentor Day, I wrote about how mentors can be invaluable to your career. Though we often give them less weight relative to sponsors, their insight and objectivity are essential to our long-term success. Mentors can give us advice and guidance, helping us in ways that others, who are too close to the problem, never can. A mentor’s role is to be a cheerleader, mirror, and sounding board — all things that are critical to achieving our goals.I have had the great fortune to have strong, kind, and steadfast mentors in my own life. Their wisdom has been transformative because they were able to give me important insight at pivotal moments in my life, just when I needed it most.With that in mind, I’ve decided to share some of that advice in today’s article. Below are nine of the best pieces of wisdom my mentors have given me, and the ways each one has changed my perspective and my choices. 1. “Your biggest challenge is having too many options. You will be great at whatever you choose, but you have to choose.”My high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Norma Ashburn, told me this when I was applying to college and still undecided as to where I should go. When I sought her advice, she didn’t tell me where I should choose to go; instead, she gave me this kernel of wisdom.Throughout the years, her words have proven prescient: each time I’ve come to a crossroads, there has never been one perfect answer. Instead, I had to intentionally choose my path and make it my own. I agonized about where to go to college, which first job to take when I graduated, where to go to grad school, and where to work after getting my MBA. Each time, I returned to what Mrs. Ashburn said, reminding myself that the choice was mine to make.Crossroads can be frustrating, especially when all we want is for someone to tell us what to do! But rather than allowing the weight of the decision to cripple us, we can instead see it as a good problem. Every option is good, and every potential path is a chance to excel differently. Choosing between them is the hardest part; after that, we can focus on making the most of the road we’ve taken. We still keep in touch on Facebook today! She will ask me for crafting tips as she knew about my hobbies.2. “Don’t go with the easy choice just because it is there. Go with the right one for you, even if it is harder.”There’s a saying that free advice is worth every penny you paid, but sometimes it also changes the course of your life. This certainly did. When I was in my senior year of college, I took the LSAT and applied to law school on a whim. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, but my boyfriend was in law school at the time, so I thought, “Why not?” When I applied, there was a huge SNAFU with my transcripts, where they coded one of my engineering grades as a D instead of an A. I was only able to get it corrected in time to apply to one school, Yale. When I got in, I thought about accepting the offer (I mean, it was Yale Law School!), but I still wasn’t totally sure.I called David, my then-boyfriend, to talk it over. He advised me to defer my acceptance and try to get into business school instead. In fact, he told me that I should aim for Stanford’s Graduate School of Business for my MBA since he could more easily get a job in California. I laughed and said that was easier said than done, but that was exactly what happened. (To this day, David still reminds me that I owe all of my subsequent success to his advice.)At that time in my life, going to Yale seemed like the obvious choice. It made sense to me. It didn’t require me to think too much about the decision. But in the end, it was only by pushing myself past my comfort zone that I was able to get to where I am today. Although Mrs. Ashburn was right, and we eventually do always have to make a decision, that doesn’t mean we should go with the most obvious option. Instead, we should go with the option that will help us grow, learn, and evolve. 3. “You don’t have to know what you are doing. You just have to be willing to learn.”I first interviewed for PayPal more or less by accident. At the time, it was a company of only a few hundred people located in Mountain View. I agreed to the interview for a Product Manager role on a whim at a campus career fair, not thinking anything would come of it; in all honesty, I was mostly just eager to see the office of a product I liked to use. I later joked that I went to the PayPal offices to visit a building and left with a job offer. The only problem? Throughout the entire interview process, I didn’t know what the job actually was. During the final round of interviews, David Sacks grilled me not on product skills, but rather on my GPA, class rank, and SAT score. As the process went on, I slowly began to realize that I had no idea what a PM did. By that point, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. I showed up to work on my first day and finally found the courage to tell Amy Klement, the VP of Product, that I had no idea what the role was. She shared that many of the PMs there didn’t have a ton of experience, but that they hired for smarts and a willingness to learn. I never forgot that. I vowed to learn as much as I could, as quickly as possible, and I have kept that lesson close in every job since. We so often succumb to impostor syndrome that we forget how much we’re capable of. But armed with curiosity and a willingness to learn, we can achieve so much more than we think.4. “Learning to scale means learning to delegate. You may be able to do everything yourself now, but teaching someone else means multiplying your impact.” I often think back to when I was a brand new manager with just a couple of years of Product Management experience under my belt. I was about to learn that the skills that make you a great individual contributor PM do not always make you a great manager. I struggled to lead through others, preferring to do things on my own rather than delegating and keeping others on track. I knew the ropes, and I could get things done efficiently, so it was tempting to try to take the wheel. When I saw someone on my team struggling, and the delays started to pile up, I sought advice from my manager, Dave Li. He told me that in the short term, I was right- I could get things done more efficiently because I had been doing them for so long — but eventually, I would need to learn to scale. We often shy away from delegating because we trust our skills and know we can do the work efficiently ourselves. But Dave’s advice was a valuable reminder that many times, teaching is more important than doing. In the long term, it is an investment in growth for everyone, and it allows you to broaden your influence further than you ever could on your own. 5. “Don’t miss out on the adventure of a lifetime by looking at what you have to lose. Instead, look at what you stand to gain.”I was debating leaving my job leading the buyer experience product at eBay, where I worked four days a week. The hours were good, and my work was straightforward. I was about to be promoted to senior director (they held promotions due to softness in the business), and I was also nursing a newborn with a toddler at home.When I first learned about an opportunity at Facebook, it seemed like too much of a gamble. I couldn’t imagine what it would mean to join a startup with fewer than 1000 people, where rumor had it that everyone worked all the time. I knew that if I took the job, I would be one of only a few moms there, and I worried that the environment wouldn’t be family-friendly. The opportunity was a great one, but it felt like I had too much on the line to take the plunge. I spent a long time agonizing over the decision. Then I found myself talking to Lori Goler. She was a friend and colleague of mine from eBay and had already taken the leap to join Facebook as the head of HR. She urged me to not look backward, and instead to look forward. I did, and the rest is history. Lori’s advice taught me something essential, which was that loss aversion can lead us to make the wrong decision. Instead of looking backward, we should look ahead. This is where the biggest opportunities lie. 6. “Credit is infinitely divisible.”I once worked on an emerging business that was finally succeeding after nearly a year of grinding. In fact, I took on a second role at the company just so I could continue working on it on the side. It was a product built on a platform created by many other teams. We were getting a lot of attention because it was finally succeeding, but there were a lot of underlying conflicts. I asked my manager for advice. He reminded me that credit for accomplishments is infinitely divisible. To be a great partner, he explained, meant understanding and appreciating those who did the work of building platforms for others. We often don’t acknowledge the work that’s been done before us, but without it, it wouldn’t be possible to build and move our products forward. There’s no limit to appreciating others’ hard work and achievements, and I always remind myself of this. 7. “Sometimes two people simply see the world from different perspectives. Don’t assume the other person is wrong.” I wrote extensively about my experience working with my peer, Boz, in my book. He was the one person I swore I would rather quit than work for, and when he abruptly became my new manager, I was blindsided. Our working relationship had always been fraught before, but with him as my manager, it seemed downright impossible. The day came when I had to choose between continuing to work for Boz or quitting. Spoiler alert: I chose to quit, but before I could finalize my decision, I was asked to try to find a way to make it work. I remember looking for validation and support from my then-manager, Mike Vernal. He told me I had so much in common with Boz, and that he had long thought we would make a great team. I thought he was absolutely wrong; I have to say, I was even somewhat insulted to think that I had anything in common with somebody I had such a terrible relationship with. Mike eventually had me do an exercise on triggers. He pointed out that Boz and I had triggers that were polar opposites to one another, and that as a result, we caused each other a great deal of grief. He explained how our backgrounds made it hard for us to see eye to eye, but that just because someone is seeing things differently, that doesn’t make them wrong. During those tumultuous first few months of working with Boz, I kept Mike’s advice in mind. It was critical to helping me to find grace in our partnership until we got to a much better place. 8. “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”When I was considering joining the board of Intuit, I had heard a rumor that Brad Smith, then the CEO, might be considering stepping down at some point. I wasn’t sure what that meant for the company and for the board, which had me second-guessing the opportunity. I ended up asking Jeff Weiner for advice. He recited the above maxim, and he was so right. When you make decisions based on fear, you are looking at the world the wrong way. This experience has reminded me over and over that we often focus so much on the end of the story, we forget about the path along the way. Every moment you get to spend learning from someone incredible is an opportunity, and you should enjoy it for as long as you have access to it.9. “You don’t have to do it all alone. Learn to ask for help.”There came a point after Danielle was born when I was nearly at the end of my rope. Danielle had colic, my father was in hospice, and I was struggling with my job. It was incredibly hard to work in tech, be fully present with my family, and also deal with two toddlers and a baby who cried three hours a night. I knew my father had months, maybe days, to live. I asked for advice from my manager, Doug Purdy. He told me, firmly but kindly, that I needed to learn to ask for help. I felt an immediate sense of relief. Oftentimes, we get so used to juggling everything ourselves that we forget there are others out there to ease our burden. Doug reminded me that we don’t have to go through things alone. He taught me that it was possible to get support when I needed it and that others would understand if I just opened up and shared vulnerably about my situation. It turned out, he was right.I highly recommend finding a mentor if you don’t already have oneEvery piece of advice I’ve shared in this post has done immeasurable good in my career and life — and I would never have received any of it if it weren’t for my mentors. I’m not even sure whether most of them would remember what they said, but each of them left me invaluable wisdom that has helped me navigate my career. I will forever be grateful for how my mentors have changed my course and reminded me of what’s important. If you don’t have a mentor, I highly recommend finding one (check out my last post on mentors for tips!).If you have one, consider how you can capture the wisdom they’ve shared that has touched your life in one way or another. Odds are, that advice will help you more than you can imagine — now and in the future. Deb Liu is CEO of Ancestry and a Silicon Valley tech executive of nearly two decades. Read more in her Substack newsletter, Perspectives.


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