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If I knew then what I know now …

Advice I’d give my younger self

Illustration for career story
September 18, 2019

Editor's note: This piece was written by May Busch, senior adviser and executive in residence in ASU’s Office of the President. She is also a professor of practice in the W. P. Carey School of Business and chairs the Idea Enterprise. Find her at

If I could go back to when I was starting my career, here are four things I would tell my younger self.

Infographic on finding your super strengths

1. Focus on your super strengths.

Your super strengths are the things you do well and love doing. They’re the things you do that come naturally to you. And when you’re using those strengths, you feel like you’re “in the zone” or “in flow.”

Things feel “simple, easy and fun” when you’re using your super strengths — they’re effortless and easeful.

My super strengths have revolved around communicating with and influencing people. One boss put it this way: “May, you can say just about anything to anyone and get away with it.” And I’ve described it as being able to “bring together disparate groups to collaborate toward a common goal.”

Just because you like challenge doesn’t mean you have to make things hard. And don’t equate effort with achievement.

Infographic on valuing people over tasks

2. Value people over tasks.

As an achiever, I like getting things done. In fact, I like accomplishing tasks so much that I used to resent family members, friends and even my own team for interrupting me when I was in the thick of a project. The project could be as inconsequential as finishing an email or writing an equation in a spreadsheet.

I also used to think networking was a waste of time, or at least not as important as getting my work done. But the reality is our network of relationships is a key part of our success. It’s people who put us in touch with new opportunities, innovative ideas and enriching experiences, and not tasks.

Infographic on finding your passion

3. Don’t worry about finding your passion.

I never knew what my passion was, or at least not how it related to my job or career. That’s why I’ve never liked the typical career advice of “follow your passion.” When you don’t know, that kind of well-meaning statement can cause a lot of stress!

Instead of going around in circles trying to find my passion, what ended up working for me was to put myself out there and allow my passion to find me. Because finding your passion is a discovery process and not about thinking yourself into knowing.

The more you experiment, the closer you’ll get to where you’re meant to be.

Infographic on not giving away your power

4. Don’t give away your power.

As a young person, I deferred to authority figures and just about anyone else who had an opinion. I assumed everyone else had more knowledge and expertise than me. I valued harmony so much that I kept quiet even when I disagreed. Those with louder voices intimidated me.

I also used apology language and said “Sorry!” even when others bumped into me!

As a result, I gave away my personal power and made myself small and inconsequential without realizing it.

Whether it’s a lack of confidence, not wanting to offend or something else, you close yourself off to opportunity when you give away your power. 

May Busch

The good news is you can reclaim your personal power at any time. For me, it began with a shift in my mindset. If you need to reclaim your personal power, too, now would be a good time to start making the shift. 

May Busch, the former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe, is now an executive coach, speaker, adviser, author and executive in residence in ASU’s Office of the President. This story originally appeared in the fall 2019 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.