22 Inspiring Women On What They Wish They Had Known At 22
As we settle into 2022, The Suite Collective asked 22 inspiring women – the founders, the directors, the authors and the artists – to share the words of wisdom they’d give their younger selves.
What I Wish I Knew At 22: Claire Fabb, Rachel Zoe, Kemi Nekvaptil and Mandy Richards

Lead image, L-R: Claire Fabb, Rachel Zoe, Kemi Nekvapil and Mandy Richards

Often referred to as the “Odyssey Years”, so much can happen in the first, pivotal decade of being an adult. We love – really love – and lose, we travel, explore and experiment, and we start to make our mark on the world. Do we make mistakes? Of course – to err is human, after all. But perhaps, if given the chance, there might be some things we’d do a little differently. From being more mindful with money to shedding limiting beliefs, these female founders, CEOs, directors, investors and entrepreneurs, have some beautifully articulated words of wisdom for their younger selves at 22.


Claire Fabb, Creative Director, étté resort / Style Commentator

“To reflect on my 22-year-old self, she was fun, fearless and oh-so-free travelling the world with a backpack on, a degree in hand, and a whole future in front of her. She lived for the moment. Those freedoms I wouldn’t have changed as that youth and adventure would soon be replaced by responsibility. However, what are the lessons I would teach her? Firstly, embrace your differences. Don’t question your opinion or gut instinct, it’s more powerful than you think. And don’t ‘dim your light’ because it’s that light that makes you, you. Secondly, financial health is important for now and for the future. Learn, educate and invest in upskilling yourself to be financially independent. Wealth is knowledge and knowledge is wealth. And thirdly, life is a rollercoaster and it’s about navigating that ride with perspective. The highs, the lows and everything in-between. Read Gabrielle Bernstein’s The Universe Has Your Back. It may not make sense at 22, but by hell or highwater, it will in a few decades’ time. Trust in the process.”


Rachel Zoe, CEO, Rachel Zoe, Inc.

“Learn what you’re good at. When you are just starting out in your career, it is both an incredibly exciting and scary time. It was through a combination of instinct and great advice from my parents — for which I am eternally grateful — that I was able to navigate the uncharted territory of the fashion world. While learning what your strongest skills are is obvious, being able to acknowledge your weaknesses is also a key component to success. I learned this from my father and it is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given me. When you identify your shortcomings, you are empowered to ask for help and pair up with others who will lend a hand while also benefitting from your strengths. Find the yin to your yang!” LinkedIn.


Kemi Nekvapil, Author / Coach / Global Speaker

“There was much wisdom gained in my 20s; wisdom gained from the many mistakes I made! When I look back, if I was to find a thread that weaved through most of the mistakes made during this time, it was to trust my intuition. I would have a clear feeling about a situation – my relationship, my work, my friendships – and I would second-guess myself. Looking back, I would have told my 22-year-old self to trust herself more and to take action on that first feeling. Now my intuition is my first point of reference, and it always serves me well.”


Mandy Richards, Founder, Global Sisters

“Stand tall, know your worth and live somewhere that makes your heart sing. Surround yourself with people who add authentic value to your life and bring you joy, and seek out those who are wiser than you and learn from them. Think deeply about what a truly rich life looks like for you. Learn from those successful in creating lives overflowing with what you desire. Create a mind map for the life you desire and use it a lot; review it sometimes. Dream it, believe it and feel it. Find time to read what inspires you. Write yourself affirmations as you need them and use them before you go to sleep and when you wake. Life is short and passes faster the older you get.

“Don’t waste precious time worrying about boys. Don’t give your energy and love where it is not valued. You can’t control how other people act but you can control how you react. You are the goddess of your life. The right person will come along at the right time. Whatever you do, give it your all, fail and repeat. Falling hard hurts but it allows you to fly higher. Live life so that you have no regrets and leave the world a better place.”


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 Sarah McDonnell, Arianna Huffington, Donna Player, Jen Guarino, Sonya Lennon, Aminata Conteh-Biger
Clockwise, L-R: Sarah McDonnell, Arianna Huffington, Donna Player, Jen Guarino, Sonya Lennon, Aminata Conteh-Biger


Donna Player, Merchandise Director, CAMILLA

“I wish I knew at 22 not to care so much about what other people think. All those things I worried about – what will people think of me, will they like me, what happens when they figure out that I don’t know what I’m talking about…? – and that imposter syndrome that would surface so quickly. I read this fantastic quote from Dita Von Teese the other day: ‘You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, but there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.’ Isn’t that brilliant? I think about all the time I wasted trying to get people to be on my side, but it was completely futile because they were never gonna be on my side. If I could tell my 22-year-old self anything, it’s that time is not a replenishable resource. At 22, you reasonably have 26,280 days to live. Do what you say you’re going to do, or don’t. Just don’t spend time regretting it, either way. You always think you have more time, but you don’t.”


Sonya Lennon, Founder, Another Mother / Co-Founder, Lennon Courtney

“There is a perception that the wisdom of experience can only be earned through the passing of time. Honestly, I’ve been given so much advice that I wasn’t ready to receive it until I truly understood it. However, I know I could have progressed faster if I’d done the following things sooner:

  • Create a clear vision for success in terms of the life you want to live, the money you want to earn and the purpose and impact that will propel you forward. This will inform everything and help all your decision-making.
  • Analyse and shed your own limiting beliefs. You may think; I’m not ready, I’m not worthy, I’m not enough. Change that story to I am ready, I am worthy and I am enough. The narrative is your choice, the brain will just accept your version of the truth if you believe it.
  • Don’t defer contentment for when conditions are more favourable. Life is lived in every single moment. The chances of you having been born at all are one in 400 trillion, appreciate that and build that love and respect into the value that you place on your own existence.”


Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO, Thrive Global

“If I could go back in time, I’d introduce my 22-year-old self to a quotation by the writer Brian Andreas: ‘Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.’ If only I had learned this lesson sooner! But I hope that by sharing it here, I can make a difference in someone else’s life, and save them from the perpetually harried, stressed-out existence I experienced for so long.” As seen on LinkedIn.


Jennifer Guarino, President and CEO, ISAIC

“Young self, as someone I love and believe in, I hope to offer you reassurance, guidance and inspiration with a concept to help you flourish. The concept is balance. It is vital to keep as a beacon in life and career. I have been at my best when I have been able to maintain it and, conversely, come up short when my life and career have veered off to one side or the other. Balance means harnessing opposing forces in equal measure. Knowing, embracing and adjusting these forces will make the best of your work and relationships. Here are some key ones. I’ve added details alongside the first two as examples.

  • Confidence/humility: Confidence is essential when you take your skills honed through practice and apply them to the task at hand. Humility is being dedicated to an ever-present path of practice and improvement. Humility reminds us that there are always those we can learn from.
  • Perseverance/surrender: Perseverance is the most important essential characteristic of successful individual and organisational success. It is the warrior mentality of standing up no matter how many times one gets knocked down. Surrender is that ability to understand that yielding might be the better path. Discerning when to employ one over the other is as great a challenge as a human can face.
  • Purpose/passion
  • Objectivity/kindness
  • Seriousness/humour
  • Focus/curiosity
  • Ambition/selflessness.”


Aminata Conteh-Biger, Founder and CEO, Aminata Maternal Foundation / Author / Keynote Speaker

“By 22, I had been living in Australia for two years – a country that I didn’t even know existed up until the moment I arrived. As the first refugee to resettle in Australia from Sierra Leone, I had gone through civil war, been kidnapped by rebel soldiers and put on a plane to Australia for my own safety. So it was quite the culture shock. I had to go back to high school – Year 11, I think – and I didn’t know anyone, didn’t have any friends, didn’t have any money or even a bed or food, and mostly, I had no expectations for my future.

“However, looking back, I have to say, at that time I was fully content with my life. All I wanted, more than anything else, was peace and joy. I came from a country where, in the blink of an eye, I could be shot. So when I ended up in Australia it was like an out-of-body experience – I wasn’t even sure how I got here. All I knew is I that I felt peace and complete contentment.

“If I could tell my 22-year-old self anything, it would be to not change anything; be the same way. I would encourage her to sit in that same space because it will build her character and make her into the person she’s meant to be. I would not be where I am right now if I was to change a single day. I love every part – all the scars, all the history, all the journeys. I also know life is not perfect – I’ve never, ever had that expectation. And when you know and accept this, only then can you be fully content. Which I am. And no one can ever take that away from me.”


Sarah McDonnell, Co-Founder, Gloss Publications / Editor, The Gloss Magazine

“What would I tell my 22-year-old self? Find your voice as early as you can, stand up for yourself, put a value on your intellect, your ideas and your hard work, be professional and courteous, listen, observe and learn. The honest truth is, thanks to a gentle upbringing and slightly old-fashioned convent education, I probably prioritised the latter two at the expense of the former. My daughter (now 20) and her Gen Z peers I hope do not suffer from the same basic lack of what we now call ‘self-esteem’ – at least in a professional sense.

“Confidence has a huge part to play in your professional life and while you won’t start out with it, you need to lay down layers of it as you go along. You must build resilience to knocks, even those you perceive as unfair – all part of the learning process – and chalk every setback down to experience. But you need to stand up for yourself too, and develop a way of doing so which means you get to where you want to be without compromising your values.

“At 22, you’re certainly not thinking about this yet, but balancing a busy and often consuming role with young children is a challenge. Setting up your own publishing company added a new complexity. Be interested in how the company or organisation you work for trades, makes money, and what are the challenges and the opportunities are. A more global understanding will enrich your enjoyment of your own role.

“As you get older, remember to make time to have fun, and to look after your physical and mental health. You may feel compelled to join the company’s triathlon training – another ask! Find your own way to stay well as your career demands more and more of you. Your working life really is a marathon, not a sprint.”


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Naomi Simson, Effie Zahos, Zena K'dor, Lisa Messenger, Debbie O'Donnell, Carlii Lyon
Clockwise, L-R: Naomi Simson, Effie Zahos, Zena K’dor, Lisa Messenger, Debbie O’Donnell, Carlii Lyon


Debbie O’Donnell, Founder, Seahorse Media IRL

“I would give my 22-year-old self three pieces of advice. Firstly, learn how to do your accounts. Take it from your older self who spent 19 years in a company that did them for her. Learning how to do your own books is essential – whether you are employed or self-employed – it’s key to be able to do your own tax returns and manage your books.

“My second piece of advice is, make a decision, and then stand by it. There is nothing like indecision to hold your career back. I learned this the hard way. When I was working on a daily live television show, Ireland AM, I had to make decisions quickly or else it would have serious repercussions on my entire team and the show itself. We’ve all had a boss who couldn’t make decisions. Don’t be that person.

“And finally, please know that your job doesn’t define you. You’ll have your ups and downs but ultimately the best is yet to come.”


Effie Zahos, Editor-at-Large, Canstar / Author and Financial Commentator

“One of the things about growing up Greek is that your parents have a proverb for just about anything in life. When it came to money, my mother certainly offered plenty of words of wisdom. Two, in particular, stood out. The first was: ‘How you make your bed is how you are going to sleep.’ What she meant by that is that my success comes down to me and what I’m prepared to do. The other gem was: ‘Wait for the wisest of all counsellors, time.’

“Like I said, wise words. Even at a young age, I clearly understood that time moves fast, and one of my greatest fears has always been having to retire in a polyester outfit and drinking cask wine. The problem is that I didn’t do much about this in my 20s or 30s. If I could go back in time, this is the tip I would give my younger self:

‘Your first job out of uni will pay you well. Take on the advice that the financial planner gave you and salary sacrifice into your super. You will thank yourself in your 50s for starting so early. Don’t be afraid to take on more risks with your investments … you’re only 20 and your best lessons will be learned from your failures. You have no debts, no kids and no commitments, so go for it. When you’re in your 30s, apply that 48-hour rule you’re now so fond of. If you like something, hold off, sleep on it, wait 48 hours and if you still want it, then jump on in. Discretionary spending is the biggest killer. And finally, don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Balance is bullshit. Prioritise what you want to achieve and never regret your decisions. PS. Your worries aren’t as important as you think they are, so relax a little. Be sure to enjoy the journey … the destination is only a small sum of your happiness.’”


Carlii Lyon, Personal Branding Coach / Founder, The Brand in You

“At 22 I had just started my PR consultancy and was already working for myself. I was fresh-faced out of college, with huge dreams and lots of ambition to succeed. I often wish I could go back and sit down with my younger self. I would tell her to embrace the power of youth, stop underestimating her ideas and lean into her lack of experience rather than be embarrassed by it. I was so busy looking for mentors and advice that I did not give myself credit for my own natural creativity and intuition. Funnily enough, I have a feeling my 80-year-old self will probably say the same to thing to me now!”


Naomi Simson, Entrepreneur / Speaker / Non Executive Director / Podcaster / Shark Tank Australia

“I would tell myself to have fun, to rush less, breathe more, eat raw food and take up yoga. I worked hard, I was focused, determined and disciplined. But I did not necessarily allow myself the space and time for creativity and self-expression. I did what was expected of me, not really knowing what I wanted for myself. I had no conscious, mindful inquiry into why I did what I did. But getting me to listen to these ideas would have been a challenge. (I was not famous for my listening in those days.)

“I would encourage my 22-year-old self to take a moment to nurture my friendships – in person. Call them, make a plan, do something together – share experience. Laugh out loud every day. A poke on Facebook does not a friendship make (not that there was such a thing as social media when I was 22).” As seen on LinkedIn.


Lisa Messenger, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Collective Hub / Author / Entrepreneur / Investor

“22 – what a wild age. I left school at 18 and headed straight to England for a solid two-year stint having never been overseas before. In hindsight, I’m so grateful this was my first trip because it made everything new and exciting. I met people from all over Europe, which set me up for an adventure of a lifetime. I ended up nannying in London, waitressing in Greece and travelling with my boyfriend in a converted van all over Europe. I came back to Australia and bounced around not knowing what to do and with no real direction. I went to uni (because I thought I should), dropped out, spent a season in the ski fields, worked in real estate and tried my hand at a bunch of other things. I drank too much and partied too hard. I had no mentors, no direction, no one really to look up to and no one to spur me on. So, I bumbled along in the school of hard knocks – and while others became book smart, I became street smart. Yet somewhere inside of me there was a yearning for more: to step into something bigger.

“What I would say to myself looking back now is, it’s okay to not have it all figured out. You have so much time ahead of you. Surround yourself with some great mentors. Try lots of jobs, pursue lots of hobbies, work out what lights your soul on fire. You do not have to stick to one path or have one career. Find ways to try lots of different things. Have fun. Start to explore what makes you tick. What your fears are and where they came from. You don’t need to turn to alcohol and self-sabotage. You are smart and kind and funny and fun. Be unafraid to lift and find groups of people who feed your soul, make you laugh and see the best in you and want the best for you.

“You will find people who make you feel like you are home if you are brave enough to explore new hobbies, jobs and activities. Keep seeking. Keep learning. Keep being brave and courageous. What I know for absolutely sure is that if you set a vision, believe in yourself, surround yourself with some incredible people, keep educating yourself, then absolutely anything – and I mean anything – is possible.

“You possess everything you need to succeed despite any challenges or setbacks you may face. I believe in you. Go girl, go!”


Zena Kaddour, Creative Director, House of K’dor

“Everything in my life has been centred on having a successful, loving relationship. I saw my parents’ relationship deteriorate, and my father tragically passed away when I was just 13 years old. As a young child, all I wanted was to be married, in love, have my own family, stability and a home of my own. I was married at an early age and had my first child at 19. Being such a young mother, I never had the opportunity to pursue a career or complete my education, which led me to question myself frequently – am I enough? Although I knew where I wanted to be in life, I lacked confidence, felt unfulfilled, and struggled to articulate my dreams.

“I would tell my 22-year-old self – you are ENOUGH! Centre yourself, trust your calling, embrace every moment and every situation, there is no such thing as failure. We are here on this earth for a short time and the true meaning of success is to learn your gift (or calling) and align your personality with your everyday purpose. I would also like to instil in her the importance of believing, nurturing and honouring yourself – you need to be love to give more love.”


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Dr Tanvi Gautam, Fotini Pratis, Sangeeta Venkatesan, Rochelle Courtenay, Samantha Cox, Sarah Built
Clockwise, L-R: Dr Tanvi Gautam, Fotini Pratis, Sangeeta Venkatesan, Rochelle Courtenay, Samantha Cox, Sarah Built


Samantha Cox, Group Guest Experience Director, Shell House

“Be kind to yourself and other people. Speak kindly to your body, it’s the most amazing gift you’ll ever have. Make the most of all the amazing opportunities you get offered (even if they don’t seem like it at the time). Travel as often as you can, it changes your life only for the better. Love with all your heart, even if it gets broken. Being in love and giving love will always make you stronger. Breathe. Tell your parents and family that you love them, even when you are mad at them. Don’t take life too seriously, it’s way too short to not have lots of fun. Get up early to watch the sunrise. Breathe.”


Fotini Pratis, Founder, Tranquil Consultancy

“At 22, you have so much drive and determination – you’re fearless and courageous and I’m proud of you. Don’t be so trusting because along the way you will get burned by people who felt threatened or are insecure. Remember, trust should be earned, not given freely; some people will have their own agendas so you need to look after yourself. Live a more balanced life and don’t work all the time or eventually you will burnout. Continue networking with those you meet along the way; they will serve a valuable purpose later. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t need to be strong all the time. Well done on asking questions to figure out how things work and not fearing what people may think of you. It’s irrelevant to your growth and development. You make me proud, young lady. Extremely proud. I often search for you, years later.”


Sangeeta Venkatesan, Entrepreneur/ Investor / NED / President of WiBF

“I’d tell my 22-year-old self to treat life as a marathon, and not a sprint. I was always in a rush for everything. Being competitive and determined meant that I pushed myself really hard, often burning myself out physically – not to mention a few relationships too. I often failed to see the big picture and missed the purpose in why or what I was doing. My age, experience, daughter and, to some extent, life in Australia, have all taught me to think with direction and move with purpose, building a foundation, one brick at a time.”


Sarah Built, General Manager, Australia and New Zealand, Etihad

“What I would say to my 22-year-old self is that life will pass by unbelievably quickly! Every day is a gift so make the most of each and every one of them and don’t worry unnecessarily. While your career is important, the most important thing is to have a balance in life – and family should always come first. The vast majority of people you will meet will be good people with good intentions and you mustn’t allow the few who aren’t to have a negative impact on you. Be known for your integrity, always believe in yourself, help others and be positive. Take all the amazing opportunities that will come your way and have fun as you do, as after all, life is short!”


Rochelle Courtenay, Founder, Share The Dignity

“Despite what people tell you, you are okay. Actually, you are better than okay, you are kind, funny and considerate and you have such a big heart. Others might put you down, but they are not your people, in time you will find your tribe. You need to learn to love yourself and eventually you do – eventually you look in the mirror and see you are more than what other people think of you. You can see how brave, dedicated and charismatic you are.

“Always ask questions, read like you’re hungry for life and know you will change the world. Don’t let endometriosis get the better of you, demand the healthcare you deserve and don’t settle for mediocre. Fight for your own medical treatment just as hard as you fight for the charity you start in the future. You will be a mum and a grandma and your heart will be so full of love it could burst.”

Dr Tanvi Gautam, Award-winning Keynote Speaker / Author / Executive Coach

“It was at age 22 when I stepped into my first corporate role. Fresh from my Master’s at La Trobe Uni, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was ready to take on the world. I was invincible! No goal was too big, no adventure too small. It was an unprecedented combination of youth and dreams to make it. The more I brought my passion to the workplace, the more it got noticed and, before I knew it, I was sitting in rooms most did not have access to. That also meant that there were people around me who did not like this ‘young’ girl from nowhere suddenly becoming involved in strategic projects that they wish they had been invited to. There was the inevitable politics and I started to withdraw and tone myself down. I was told to be more sober and let the people who I reported to do their jobs. This did impact me quite a bit but then I reminded myself, the senior mentors who were taking a bet on me were doing so, not because of my tenure, years of experience or degrees, but because I was curious, enthusiastic and not afraid to ask questions in a world of pinstriped suits and formal meetings. They appreciated the difference it made to the energy and quality of the teams.

“My advice to my 22-year-old self would be never dim your light because it shines in the eyes of others. Those who are talking behind your back are behind, and you are in front. Own your power, and know that passion and commitment will outweigh experience and intelligence.”

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