Lynn Banaszak | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Lynn Banaszak

Background:  

The Disruptive Health Technology Institute at Carnegie Mellon University invests in improvements in science and engineering that bring greater affordability, accessibility, quality and simplicity to healthcare.

The Mistake:

The year was 1992; I was in my 20s and I had just started working at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum as director of public relations. Late one Friday, I received a phone call saying Hillary Clinton wanted to come to the museum in the morning. She was campaigning for her husband Bill and one of their platforms was children. It all happened quickly. A debriefing team arrived, and I was asked to create a crowd by 9 a.m. the very next day.

Hillary arrived and we spent a lot of time together, touring the museum and interacting with the children. The media followed us around. As a new employee, I was very excited to be a part of this. I was not a political person at the time and don’t see myself as a political person now. I’m registered nonpartisan and prefer not to be siloed into any way of thinking. But I was very impressed with the people, the conversation and her team. At the end of the day, a woman on her staff came up and asked me to join their team. I was honored and taken aback. I gave it thought ­­– and tried to imagine what my career would look like if the job led to the White House.

At that moment, I made several mistakes. I turned down the job down based solely on the financial attribute. I was also getting ready to get married. I played it safe. I decided not to take the leap. Later that following January, I watched the inauguration of President Clinton and thought about the mistake that I had made in not seeing the magnitude of the opportunity that I had turned down.

Your 20s are a time to embrace risk.

The Lesson:

The lesson that I learned is one that I now tell the many young women that I work with and mentor: Your 20s are a time to embrace risk. Don’t play it safe. Don’t discriminate against any opportunity that presents itself to you. Look as far forward as you can. Don’t label yourself in the moment. Public service work is very similar to economic development and all the things that I care about. Even just working on a presidential campaign, if that were all it had been, it would have led to so many opportunities.

From this, I learned to see every new interaction as a potential new opportunity. My message to young women is to stay in the moment, expand your network and develop relationships with people who may offer you opportunities later. Place yourself in the center of the conversation and show people that you are an essential part of the dialogue.

If I hadn’t been preparing to get married, I would have gone in a second. Women tend to get stuck in making decisions while in one mindset. The decisions in your professional life should be separate from your personal and been give equal weight.

Follow Lynn Banaszak on Twitter at @lmbrusco and the Institute at @CarnegieMellon.

Image courtesy of Lynn Banaszak

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