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Gaining wisdom through a taste of the real world

At 20, Lori Van Dusen had to come to grips with the fact that she would not have a career as a singer. She realized that performing would require more ability, and she did not plan to teach music.
Van Dusen, founding partner and CEO of LVW Advisors LLC, had tried to learn all she could about the music industry during her time at Ithaca College, but she chose to pursue investment management after allowing herself the time to process her next step. She switched from music to a business and psychology major and began a new path.
Van Dusen had no anxiety about her future back then, and she believes that mindset helped her to find her passion today as a wealth adviser.
"Now that I look back on it, it’s like a mosaic. All of these things happen for a reason, but you don’t really know what it’s going to look like back then," she says.
Many go-getters like Van Dusen have come to see that the steps leading to their successful careers began at a point when the steady, predictable progress through schooling was coming to an end. In hindsight, some Forty Under 40 alums have advice for their 20-year-old selves, counsel gained through mistakes, failures, successes and just plain living in the real world.
Van Dusen, part of the 1999 Forty Under 40 class, says she would tell her 20-year-old self to accept life’s ups and downs.
 "What I would say is to embrace all experiences, especially the most painful or disappointing and those that bring you closer to what you are meant to do," she says, "to view them as a step on the path and a refining process."
At 20, Rachael Phelps M.D. was considering medical school.
"I think when I was 20 I still wasn’t sure even quite what direction I wanted to go in," says Phelps, associate medical director of Planned Parenthood of Rochester-Syracuse Inc. "I was still very far from even knowing what the first sort of branch of the past would be, let alone all the branches that got me to where I am now."
The 2009 Forty Under 40 alum thought her life would have a certain rhythm determined by her choices. She did not factor in the ambiguity of life or its obstacles.
"I thought when I was younger that if you made all the right choices and jumped through the right hoops, that life would play out in a very predictable way," Phelps says. "That’s not how life plays out. Life throws all kinds of crazy things in your path, and bad things happen, and things you don’t expect to happen, and I think when you’re young you’re not prepared for that."
If she could, she would ask her younger self to be prepared.
"I would say to (myself) just to know that as much as you try to plan your life, things are not going to go in the directions you expect, and that things are going to happen that are unpredictable," Phelps says. "As long as you stick to the things that are important to you and the things that you care about, that you are passionate about, you’ll still end up in the right place at the end."
Craig Antonelli, a 2007 Forty Under 40 honoree, was working two jobs during college.
"You think you know everything at 20; you really don’t," says Antonelli, president of Antonelli Construction LLC. "You don’t know everything at 40. You don’t know everything today."
If he had listened to advice, he adds, "I wouldn’t have taken as many lumps and bumps and bruises as I did-not to say I took a ton of them, but you know, I could have avoided some of the pitfalls that I’ve come across during my career a lot sooner."
Since his early days in the business, Antonelli says, he has worked to listen to others.
"And sometimes you’ve got to force yourself to listen to this guy who’s gone through it: ‘Don’t walk into that hole; that hole is pretty deep,’" Antonelli says.
"’Well, I don’t trust you, I think that hole is not that deep,’ and you walk into the hole and say, ‘You know what? You’re right.’"
John Billone Jr., president and CEO of Flower City Development LLC and Flower City Management LLC, was working as a plumber in the family business at 20.
"I really enjoyed the plumbing business-although I was in school for engineering, although I got my engineering degree," he says. "I still really loved working with my hands and working in plumbing. It wasn’t long after … (that) I also got my real estate license."
After leaving the plumbing business, says Billone, now a real estate developer, he still remembered the values his parents had taught him and his siblings, which he believes could translate to any career. Working hard and having a sense of pride about it is something he knew he had to do, wherever he ended up.
If he could speak to his younger self, the 2004 Forty Under 40 alum would say: "Always do the right thing, and … enjoy what you do."
"Our family’s reputation for me has always been of the utmost importance, and I just focus on doing the right thing every single day," Billone says. "I know it’s overused, (but) treat people like you want to be treated. There’s so many people who don’t do that."
At age 20, Sharon Napier was finding that her non-academic experiences were opening new career paths for her, including a new passion for the advertising industry.
"I would describe myself as ambitious and competitive and an all-in sort of a personality, and I think that I was lucky early on: I found something that I was really passionate about, and that was advertising," says Napier, CEO of Partners + Napier Inc.
Napier, one of the 1997 Forty Under 40 honorees, found her current career in advertising by venturing outside academics. Her involvement in a political campaign was an introduction to advertising, because the campaign manager ran an advertising agency. She quickly found advertising to be a new passion.
If she could talk to her younger self, Napier would urge herself to be grounded. She would advise getting involved, meeting people and having new experiences.
"Build your connections, learn new things, put yourself where you haven’t been before," Napier says. "You may not have a clue what you want to do with your life right now, but if you reach out, only good things can happen. You know when they say that hindsight is 20/20? It’s true."

11/15/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected].



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