A Letter To My 20 Year Old Self

This letter was published originally in Postcards from Tomorrow, fundrising book for Lou’s Place women’s refuge.

Dear Kasia

You are now 20 years old, living in Warsaw, Poland, soon to complete your Master’s degree in Finance, and enter the workforce. Even though you think that your education is nearly over, you are about to embark on a lifelong learning journey.

You’ll never guess, but the 38-year-old you is running your own successful business, being your own boss, living in beautiful Australia, spending lots of time with your family and doing what you love every day!

These are the lessons you’ll learn in the next two decades, that are crucial to getting there. Most of it wasn’t easy, but you’ll get through it even when you think you can’t.

Don’t take what others tell you as the unchangeable truth

Be curious, ask questions and make your own informed decisions

You’ll have a number of unlucky relationships, and even a divorce, in your 20s. You’ll find yourself single again at 28. But having more space in your life will mean that you start finding some success in your job as an accountant and—believe it or not—coming 2nd place in the world in the tax exam. This will give you the confidence to ask for an international assignment within your company.

It’s a German corporation, so your boss will tell you with all the best intentions, “German people don’t like Polish people, so you won’t succeed. But good luck!”

You’ll be crushed. You’ll wonder if you should bother. But you’ll contact the headquarters in Germany anyway. And you know what? The German HR director will forward your email to the CFO in Australia, and three months later you’ll be enjoying Sydney’s beautiful beaches!

“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible – and achieve it, generation after generation.

Pearl S. Buck

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want

Be courageous

When you arrive in Australia, you’ll find yourself in a male-dominated mining industry. One day, you’ll be approached by a female colleague who’s upset she never got the chance to apply for a role she wanted. You’ll talk to her and find out she never told your boss she was interested in the role, hoping her hard work and talent would be recognised on their own. Instead, the CFO filled the role externally and she lost a rare chance for promotion.

This will lead you to the realisation that women cannot be silent. We cannot be afraid to ask for what we want, because people aren’t mind readers. Most people are good and want to help us, if only we make our desires known. We must have the confidence to share our vision, our goals and our aspirations with the world. People will respect you for what you want to do in life, and if they don’t value your goals and dreams clearly, they are not the right kind of people to be surrounded with.

This experience will form one of the seeds of your own company, Leaders in Heels. You will find fulfilment in nurturing and empowering women like your colleague.

Be gentle to yourself.

Respect yourself. Raise your standards.

You will come across people who treat you without respect—people who should know better. You’ll discover that one of your boyfriends is capable of slapping you in the face, and pushing you hard against the kitchen sink while drunk, because of his ‘justified’ jealousy.

But walking away will mean that you’ll be completely alone in a new country, with no family and a few friends who you’ve only known for a few months. You’ll find the courage to do so anyway, and you’ll have no regrets. You won’t ever look back.

You’ll also have a boss who’s a total bully. They’ll only care about work, giving you jobs at 8pm which need to be completed by the next morning. You get it done because guess what, you’re still in the office anyway.

This will all come to a head when one of your colleagues leaves the office so late, she falls asleep on the train, missing her stop and ending up in one of the less safe parts of Sydney. This will make you realise how unacceptable the entire work situation is, and give you the courage to stand up to the boss on her behalf. You’ll argue for more reasonable working conditions.

You’ll be fired after only 4 weeks on the job.

It will feel like the end of the world as you’re walked through the corridor, your belongings in your arms. After years of being a great student, winning scholarships and maths competitions, of being the ‘good girl’, you’ve failed miserably.

The truth is, you haven’t failed. It’s not the end of the world—it’s the best thing that could have ever happened to you. It will only take you one month before you’re choosing from multiple job offers. You’ll end up at an amazing start-up that grows from 100 employees to an ASX100 company. There’s so much you’ll learn about mergers and company growth, so many new people you’ll meet who will become close friends and invaluable assets.

Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.

Steve Maraboli

One year after you’re fired from that horrible job, you’ll discover that the girl you defended is still there, still being bullied by the boss. To this day I’m sad that she never stood up for herself, because there’s so much out there!

If you raise your standards the universe will meet you there.

Kasia, you’ll go through so much, but you’ll find your happiness. You’ll meet the man of your dreams and get married. He’ll encourage you to follow your dreams and step out on that entrepreneurial journey. Almost ten years later, the two of you will have a 15-month-old boy with another on the way. Leaders in Heels will become a family business, with both of you running it full-time. That will give you the ability to spend the first year at home with your baby, while growing your business at the same time.

Never stop being curious, asking for what you want, standing up for your rights, respecting yourself enough to walk away from bad relationships, and making space for the new.

It will be worth it.