I have a specific bit of advice that I find myself offering at least once a week. Usually the person I’m talking to – a friend, a colleague, someone I’m coaching or doing management training with – is at a career inflection point, and they’re trying to figure out their path forward. “You may not be able to visualize the steps ahead,” I’ll tell them. “But looking back, every single dot connects.” It’s reassuring in an unmoored time to know that there’s a logical path to our progress.

In my case, the years I spent as a women’s magazine editor were full of dots that led me to the work I do now – speaking, writing, researching, and advocating for women’s rights. After leaving Condé Nast, I wrote a book for working moms, and when the publication date came around, I knew how to factcheck all 400 pages – and also how to apply false lashes for my media tour. That’s thanks to my years in magazineland.

But if I’m being honest, many of the “dots” from those days that I draw on now in my work look more like ugly, dark smudges. Moments I regret, words I’d take back, things that maybe I’d rather Magic Eraser away like the scuffs my kids are always leaving on the walls. I climbed the corporate editorial masthead in the hey-day of the Girl Boss era. There were years – years! – when I not only wore heels all day, I commuted in them. Two subways. (To be fair, I also edited the “Dos & Don’ts page” which often featured women caught walking to work in dress suits with – the horror – chunky white sneakers.) Anyway, that’s how determined I was to fit the part. Every 18 months, I either earned a promotion, or sought an outside offer that would garner me a raise. I won awards. Sent emails at all hours. Felt flattered when people told me I was my boss’ mini me.

It was up up up until one night at about 11 p.m. during a shipping week. I’d ordered Pad Thai and FaceTimed my babies goodnight hours earlier, and a junior colleague stopped by my office for a little chat. “I have to talk to you about something you did that upset the intern,” she told me, bravely. My whole body flushed red, knowing.

“It’s not appropriate to ask her to run errands for you. She said she picked up your birth control downstairs at Duane Reade?” my colleague said. Red, red, red.

The pharmacy was closing just as a page proof had hit my desk, and my boss needed me to edit it, but I desperately needed my medicine which had already lapsed a day or two. I couldn’t leave my desk. I couldn’t get pregnant. Couldn’t even kiss goodnight the two sons I had. In the moment, it had made perfect sense that someone lower down the ladder would do this business imperative task for me, just as I was doing for my boss. Except, no, it didn’t. My existential work/life balance crisis was not something to be delegated. Smudge smudge smudge.

The world hadn’t yet canceled Girl Boss culture. But that’s when I did.

The unlearning didn’t happen overnight. But over time, I began to see the little fibs we’d all been telling ourselves about leadership (and, also, incidentally, to forgive myself and my bosses who were raised to believe that we could and should have it all – but then no one waved a wand and made the world suddenly un-sexist). And now when I think of those soul-crushing smudge moments when I clung too hard to someone else’s definition of ambition, I see them as dots, helpful ones. They have ended up being just as important to the work I do now as all of the more LinkedIn-worthy skills and awards. Here are just a few “girl boss” ideals I’ve shed more happily than stilettos on the subway:

1) I will never again “fake it till you make it.” Absolutely not. We cannot solve problems that we can’t see. So often, the things we women (especially moms) are tempted to hide are not personal flaws but systemic ones. But of course we would never know that if we all walked around acting like the school day was just the same length as the work day. Or that pediatricians were open on weekends and daycares never flooded. If you have the privilege to shine a light on something – and better yet, offer a solution that would help – you’re serving all of your colleagues who may not have that same agency to speak up.

2) Related: There is so much power in knowing what you do not know. In truth, I was always a bad BS-er. I can’t “spin” to save my life. Now, that’s an asset. I’ll give a talk with 100 data points of studies and sources in my slides. And then during the Q&A someone will ask a question to which I do not have a great answer. I will talk it through. I will try. But I will also say what I don’t know yet…and why I don’t know it…and thank them for opening my eyes to a gap in my knowledge. And instead of turning off an audience, inevitably, it engages them further. And it gives even more credibility to those 100 data points I did know. They believe me.

3) Speaking of vulnerability, it’s an asset, if you embrace it. As I mentioned, I wore the false lashes for my book tour. I did all the press and promo, etc, etc. And guess when I finally went viral? A year later, when I was on a panel at the Massachusetts Conference for Women and had to be on stage at 12 p.m., exactly when my kids’ after-school sign up went live and would fill up in minutes leaving me without child care. With the host’s blessing, I opened up my laptop right there on stage and registered mid event, in front of 500 people. And then, all over Twitter and the press. Years later, people still thank me for that moment.

4) Don’t dress for the job you want – dress for the person you are. I still love heels and beautiful clothes. I know how to turn it on when I’ve gotta. But never again will I let myself feel like I’m wearing a costume. If there is a “role” you’re supposed to play, question the casting director, not your body, your budget, or your swagger.

5) Money: yes. Get it. For you…and everyone. Do not ever let yourself be underpaid as a trade for “exposure.” That only perpetuates the the problem. Same goes for hiding your salary. A rising tide lifts all paychecks. And you know what moms do with money? They make the world better.

Lauren Smith Brody is the CEO of The Fifth Trimester, a gender equity firm, and a co-founder of the Chamber of Mothers, a public policy nonprofit