Late last year I was about to present my company a sample curriculum at a national training session geared towards trainers. An acquaintance came up to me and said, “Oh, you look taller!” I laughed, knowing it wasn’t a height thing. In truthfulness, it was a confidence and owning my business thing. I told him as much – I went through a lot and was finally taking charge in my life, and it was showing all over the place.
And then his partner, a woman, laughed and said, “Oh, it’s her hair – and she’s an actress so she probably is wearing lifts in her shoes.” For some reason, that infuriated me – I was confident and that’s why I looked taller – I was carrying myself differently! I said this, and she scoffed again, and said, “Sure, Jen. Maybe it’s your outfit.”
I didn’t let this bug me during my presentation (if anything, it pissed me off and made me work harder). After a few hours, I was still upset. It wasn’t specifically what she’d said, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. In the car on the way home, venting about this, I realized what irked me it was the girl-on-girl crime. She was bitter (I’ve known this since meeting her) and she couldn’t fathom confidence making someone look taller. Being a person who chooses to get active instead of getting mad, I decided to put some good juju out into the world and declare to my husband/venting receptacle: “I’m going to coach 100 women for 100 hours and uplift ladies so they uplift one another!” I think he thought I was crazy – I had just finished writing a book and was raving about having time again. I think I probably was a little crazy in that moment. Still, I still threw it out on the Internets and waited.
And then my email blew up. To date, I’ve gotten 289 requests and have coached 59 women since January 1st.
Midway through the project (and still taking more requests! Sessions are only counted when they are complete – we all know people drop out of things!) I’ve learned a lot about myself, about women and how we are all dealing with the same stuff on different days. From CEOs to tech ladies to coaches to game designers to scientists – same shit, different life. After every 20 ladies, I’ve been reflecting and looking for the connections we all have – and my first three were doozies.
Don’t borrow sorrow from tomorrow.
My grandma always said something very, very important to my mom, and my mom always said it consistently to me growing up: Don’t borrow sorrow from tomorrow.
Let’s put it into perspective: How often have you worried two or three (or four…or five) steps down the line instead of worrying (OR BEING PRESENT!) about what was happening right in front of you? And your worry was about something that hasn’t even happened, something that won’t even happen unless you take action in other areas first?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
One woman worried about waiting too long to start med school – it might be too late to start a family!
She wasn’t dating anyone.
Another woman worried if her grad degree didn’t work out, she wouldn’t know what next!
She was in her second year of undergrad.
A third woman worried that she would never find a job in the field she wanted, and end up never moving into a leadership position.
She hadn’t even finished a draft of her resume.
We ALL do this – and it’s OK – you shouldn’t be feeling any shame if you’re realizing that you worry steps down the time. I was clearly told to not borrow sorrow from tomorrow on a regular monthly daily basis from my mom (and she might still tell me this). Here’s the secret: Worry about what’s in front of you while you keep your eye on the prize. Otherwise you may find yourself worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet and won’t unless you get out of your hamster wheel. Check in. What are you worried about? Too often we stack the chips in the negative pile by brainstorming about the fire and brimstone that MIGHT happen.
Think about what you are worried about. Is it happening now? Is it about to happen? If no, stop worrying about it until it happens. Need more? What does your worry do aside from cause you an ulcer? Take that worry time and put it towards making something great happen.
Failure is never as bad as regret.
In our public improv classes, we talk about being crippled by choice. Sure, we can all remember that stifling moment when we were told “no” and “you can’t” and “you shouldn’t.”
What about those moments when choices are endless?
They can be just as crippling.
This is where worry sinks in. What if I don’t make it as an entrepreneur? (That was my worry when I started.) What if I fail? (I don’t know anything about business. I have no business being in business!) And I wasn’t alone with this – out of the over 50 sessions I’ve held while writing this, I can safely say 70% of the women I’ve spoken to worry about failing at something they haven’t even tried yet.
A few were miserable with their current jobs.
What if they didn’t get a new one?
A few were nervous about starting their own business.
What if they didn’t have any customers?
And a few were afraid of following through on larger goals to determine what they want.
Why name it if they won’t get it?
While this sounds SO MUCH like “don’t borrow sorrow from tomorrow” – and while it’s VERY related – it’s a bit more serious. Imagine this: You worry about something that hasn’t happened yet. You keep worrying, so you choose not to do anything. And you stagnate. And then, years down the line, you look back at that worry, that thing that never happened, that stagnation – and you regret never trying because now you can’t or the chance has passed.
And if you tried – if you failed – you’d at least know versus constantly wondering what if.
Failure is never ever as bad as regret.
What are you not doing because you’re afraid to fail? Define it and write it out. What’s the worst-case scenario if you do it?
Then think about it being 10 years later and wondering for 10 years, what if.
Yep. Go start doing that thing.
F*&# them; you are awesome.
It’s REALLY easy for me, outside of your life to say that it doesn’t matter what they think. Super easy actually. Because you’re awesome. I don’t even know you, person that’s reading this, and I know you are awesome.
Pretty spectacular actually.
You’re taking time out of your life and day to not scroll through Facebook or feel FOMO on Instagram or stalk that ex/current interest – you are bettering yourself on BizGalz and READING an ARTICLE. You might have also already done your homework, or reflected on the earlier points of this – which makes you a game-changer who doesn’t want to be stuck in some kind of holding pattern.
The key to this? You have to believe you are awesome.
I don’t need to get into every instance of people letting people treat them poorly, putting up with borderline and crossing the border abusive behavior from coworkers, leaders, friends, family or significant others. Rampant racism, crippling imposter syndrome and inability to hold yourself accountable simply because you are worth it – I’ve seen that too much. You know it happens. You might experience one or more of those things on a daily basis.
No one is going to respect you unless you respect yourself. We get the energy we put out.
If you walk into your space and you don’t care about yourself, and you think you aren’t worth respect – you’re going to get that energy right back at you.
Give what you want to get.
Start realizing and owning your awesomeness by taking the following steps.
1. Make a list of the things that make you YOU. This can be anything.
For me, I love to read, I am a good listener, I bake like a badass, and I’m stubborn as all hell.
2. Now take that list of things and, next to each one, write how it helps others or how it helps you.
I am a good listener – I like being in the moment
I bake like a badass – My husband gets to eat great cookies
3. Next, check in with what motivates you – that “how it helps” prompt above? Look closer at your responses. Are they all affirmation from other people? Is it self-motivation? Make sure your motivations aren’t all rooted in other people – and if they are, ask WHY. Figure out why you care about what they think – AND how that helps you. Does it matter what they think? Can they be a game changer in your life? (I bet not.)
4. Carry this list with you and keep adding awesome things to it. Check in when you need it. Edit it, alter it, save it, rewrite it. Pocket awesomeness – because those things that make you YOU? THAT is what makes you awesome. Not one part of it – the whole.
Remember, you aren’t pizza. Not everyone is going to like you (and there’s always that person out there who doesn’t like pizza anyway). If they still take issue with you and what you are doing? F*&# them, you don’t need it. Stop letting them cram your energy into a box, supernova.
I’m here for all the lessons.
There are easily hundreds more lessons that I’ve gotten – and will continue to get – with the rest of this project. One thing is for sure – when you are feeling like you’re too worried about things that haven’t even happened yet, worried about failing and thinking about what other people think, you aren’t alone. I’ve felt ALL of this. WE are ALL feeling like this, have felt like this, and will feel like this at some point or another.
Take comfort in never being alone, awesome one.
With more and more women breaking into the field of S.T.E.M., it’s natural to feel curious and want to discover more about the field. Whether you’re an aspiring scientist or just someone who’s interested in learning more, here are a few things that you can do to get into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics!
It’s never been easier to access content that teaches us more about the world around us and other people’s experiences. Youtube Channels like ASAPScience, Crash Course, Vsauce, SciShow and programs like Khan Academy create stunning and easily digestible content for both students and curious onlookers alike. All you have to do is follow them and wait for their next update. Thanks to the power of the internet, you can get a daily dose of cat memes and fun facts served to you at breakneck pace!
Read and explore
The wonderful thing about S.T.E.M. is that it’s all around us. Fundamentally, Science is what helps us understand the world around us and how it works. It’s made up of theories, discoveries and ideas (and it’s ever changing!). The range of topics are endless and all you need to do to learn more is interest. As someone in Biology, my main area of interest is the environment around me. Whenever I have the opportunity to travel to a new place, I take a little time to walk around and learn more about the flora and fauna that are native to the area. Aside from uploading more information into the fun fact machine, you can share what you learn with others!
Find a mentor
I’ve come to realize that I’m in a rather privileged position when it comes to my own academic career in Biology and Technology. Not only did I have the funding the pursue a higher education, I also had the right encouragement. Not only were my parents very supportive once I decided that I wanted to study biology, I was also helped out by other incredible women and men in the science department at my community college and at my university. I realize now that not every woman who chooses a career in S.T.E.M. is surrounded by the positive encouragement from the academic community and their own support systems which is why I urge you to find a mentor if you choose to pursue an education in the Sciences.
I’ve had the pleasure of having many mentors who fed my curiosity about chemistry, physics, and biology. However, when I speak about an excellent mentor relationship I can only think of a dear friend of mine. She was an undecided major that casually joined a physics 101 class and fortunately met Dr A. Harlick. Now she’s graduating with a double major in Biochemistry and Physics. Dr Harlick was the type of person who went above and beyond to see her students succeed and understand the material. She excited hundreds of students about physics with her witty sarcasm and endless movie references. But, one thing that she never held back was the reality of being a woman in the S.T.E.M. field. Though it was difficult, she persevered. I remember her telling us that initially she was in university to study linguistics but ultimately pursued her PhD in Physics to prove someone that she could. Heck, she even tempted me to join the dark side that’s physics. Now I will admit, not everyone will run into a Dr Harlick but there is inspiration out there. You should never step into a field blind to the bad things, so take a mentor with you. It could be a professor, a professional, or someone with a passion for the sciences, a mentor is never hard to find in a field so filled with curious minds eager to share their knowledge.
Whether that means volunteering at a university or practice, opportunities to get hands-on experience is there so long as you have the heart to pursue it! I’ve had the pleasure of caring for harp seals and breeding salmon. All it took as a little patience and scouting for an opening. Who knows, volunteering can lead you to your next degree, career, community, or friends! Volunteer and help programs like Girls Who Code who are bringing S.T.E.M. to our youth. You don’t have to enrol in a 4-year university program to be active in the S.T.E.M. community. All it takes is a little dedication, a willingness to learn, and a curiosity about the world around us.
Encourage others, always.
Remember step 3? Make sure you’re a step 3 for someone else too. Being a mentor doesn’t mean that you know all there is about the world and you certainly don’t have to be Bill Nye the Science Guy. But giving words of positive encouragement and steering people in the right direction with resources that you may have will be enough to get the wheels of curiosity turning.
Learning something new doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money on equipment or completing a degree. It’s easier than ever to access information with videos breaking down complex concepts into easily digestible content. Sometimes all it takes is a little curiosity and hunger to learn more. So get on out and happy learning!
Do me a favor!
Pull out your mobile device, go to your favorite social media application and access your friends list or followers. How many people is it? Divide these people into three groups:
1. Who is in your close circle?
2. Who do you know by name but not much else?
3. Who do you not really know at all?
If you have about 1200 friends/followers your breakdown may look something like this. 1200 friends in list 10-20 (close circle), 100-300 (know them but very little about), 880-1090 ((don’t really know).
It is commonplace for almost everyone to have some type of social media account. Society integrates social media with every facet of our lives from food, shelter, religion, and communication. Forbes said that social media is like “attending a party”. You put your best you forward to gain popularity from the content you’re posting, getting new connections and friends from across the globe. Social Media’s intent was to connect people around the world to one another inexpensively, and quickly. As we find ourselves making connections, are we making more genuine connections or are they just a name and a face we call friend?
We need people in our everyday lives. People are vital to our existence. I believe that God made us dependent and dependable at the same time for others. We meet new people all the time, and we leave it at just the meeting. Social media puts meeting new people at our fingertips. I am challenging you today to take a huge leap and make them family. To many this will seem like a huge stretch, to others, this will be a piece of cake. Trust me on this. In order for us to make the world a better place for generations to come, we have to take steps together in the right direction.
Here are some ways to make the new people you meet family (once you get past the nerves):
Strike up a conversation with a random person – Establishing a common ground can only happen with the first conversation. People have so much going on in their lives. Allowing people an opportunity to unload about life can be a door to building a relationship.
Be truthful and genuine in every approach – Everything you say and do should come from the heart with the intent to learn something and share what you are willing to share. People can tell when you are being genuine. (Some may question this and I will explain why later.)\
Meet people where they are – Everyone is different. We come from different backgrounds, different experiences that shape our opinions, and different rearing. We have to approach people with a sense of empathy and flexibility. Listen to what makes them unique.
Hugs and smiles are free – There is nothing easier than sharing a smile. Smiles can change a person’s mood and even the atmosphere. Hugs require stepping out of your comfort zone when interacting with new people. Hugs can relax people and bring down the walls that we put up to keep people at a distance. Hugs and smiles cost nothing to give but can be the world to the receiver. Think about the many Free Hug campaigns we have seen in the last few years. A Christian clothing company did one in DC and garnered positive results. People stop to say thanks, and several even returned for another hug.
Break bread– Sit down with people and eat family style. Growing up you may remember Sunday dinners after church when the family would get together and eat great food. Stories of life happenings and nuggets of wisdom were shared from old to young and young to old. Sitting down to eat with people gives them that same opportunity to connect in a more relaxed environment. Great food and great conversation can make a person’s day.
Join or form groups/meetups – These of groups are usually centered on a specific passion or topic. People that join the group have that same passion. It gives all participants an automatic foundation to stand up with each one, and build from there. Social media is a great tool for being effective in forming and finding groups with your interest and hobbies.
We all want to have successful businesses, relationships, jobs, and lives. It was never promised that life was going to be easy. Growing up, we were always told that it takes a village to raise a child, but we have forgotten that the village was not supposed to quit raising that child once he or she grew up. Social media has made it easy to connect with people at all stages. I challenge you to take a leap of faith and find a way to make them family. We have allowed social media to create bad habits and our in-person interactions are severely lacking.
We can change just as easy as you are reading this. Be more intentional about really connecting with people.
You only get one chance to live a life worth living and share a legacy that benefits the world. How can you facilitate change in the world if the only people you spend time and get close to are only in your backyard? We have so much to offer one another, and Love is the ultimate key to meeting new people and making them family. The Bible tells us a few times to “Love our neighbor as ourselves”. I know that if we did that one thing we would easily connect with more people. Their successes and failures would be ours. We would grow together and share alike.
I had the opportunity to make a good friend, Mike Jones of Creative South. Three things I will always remember from my conversation with him: “Hug people’s necks!”, “Take time to Break Bread”, and at the end of the day, “Make them Family” I will never forget this as long as I live. This has been my personal goal as well. I love people and I love connecting and hearing the stories that make us. Every day that I live, I try to meet new people by every means necessary, share Christ because He is the reason I am, listen to stories, and get to know people so well, they become my family.
I am consistently amused by those who try to take a definitive position on the appropriate placement of women in leadership roles. In fact, I am amused, if not sometimes concerned, when anyone takes hardline positions on most anything. There are simply too many variables to say “always” and “never.” Yet, you hear such pontificators every day.
I’ve studied a bit about leadership and the only conclusion I can draw is that each and every person comes to the leadership role with their own set of unique assets, experiences, and attributes. While, certainly, science has drawn some broad conclusions about “typical” people and “usual” outcomes, people are simply not that predictable. Most men act like “men” (whatever that means) and most women act like “women” (again, whatever that means), but these generalities are not very helpful in predicting leadership success or failure. As the saying goes – Yes, you are unique. Just like everyone else.
What do you bring to the leadership table?
Whatever your formal education, your work experiences, your innate skills, or your missing elements, you are as entitled to seek a leadership mantle as anyone else. Not everyone seeks major leadership roles, and that is fine. All organizations need leaders at all levels of the organization. With the wise move to integrated performance teams, shared leadership is common in most organizations today. Everyone is expected to lead to the best of their ability even if their leadership extends no further than their personal self-discipline. Which highlights a very critical point – you are already a leader. You might lead your family or a charity or a work project or any number of other things but as a bare minimum – you lead yourself. And like all leadership roles, you may do that well or very poorly.
So rather than lament that fact that you were born male or female or black or white or Asian or liking sushi or being lactose intolerant or anything else (yes ANYTHING else) about you, you have a leadership role that you can grow as large as you choose to grow it. And that is the key. Once you select a comfortable span of leadership, can you sustain it and, hopefully, grow it?
Many people are placed in leadership roles. That does not make you a leader. As Goffee and Jones have noted:
If you are lucky enough to be put into such a role, do you ask yourself, “Why did they choose me? What if I can’t perform in this role?” Or do you ask, “What must I do to properly grow into this leadership role and become a sustained leader?” Clearly the first question you ask yourself will influence what happens next.
How do I grow as a leader?
In my research, I have identified 229 different elements of leadership. No one is perfect in all of them and everyone has a unique set of elements where they have already shown different levels of success. To sustain that leadership, to grow into your new leadership role, there are several things you can do immediately. First, consider your natural and already developed traits. Know yourself.
Do you exhibit good character or do you have a collection of company office products at home?
Do you have the appropriate level of competence or do you need to learn more about the operations of your new team?
Do you have the appropriate level of compassion toward those you lead, or do you put people down in public?
How good is your communication? Are you comfortable expressing your vision, or does your public persona “er” and “um” every time all eyes in the room are on you?
What level of commitment do you have to the overall vision and mission? Does the vision you have developed for your team align with the overall organizational goals or is the team confused and befuddled by your vision and their role in fulfilling it?
These five elements – Character, Competence, Compassion, Communication, and Commitment – combine to form the backbone of leadership. All leaders should review these traits regularly, spending time to dig deeper into the lower level elements to assess their performance.
Staying on Track
There’s another assessment of your leadership skills, something I call the Essential Leadership Journey Checkpoints (ELJCs). These are:
Being a constant learner
Developing situational awareness
Being focused and disciplined
Developing other leaders
As you review all 229 elements, you might select others where you believe you need more development as a leader. That’s fine. In fact, that decision reflects a level of self-awareness that is a positive leadership trait.
These seven ELJCs reflect seven areas where people in leadership positions most commonly fail. You may be able to retain your position for a season, but an inability to master these seven will ultimately cause your leadership to become unsustainable. Character includes the elements of honesty, integrity, and knowing yourself. A leader who does not engage in constant learning will soon atrophy and become a dinosaur with technology, among other things. Being a regular reader and exposing yourself to new opportunities are essential parts of this element. A sustained leader develops their observational abilities to be able to assess a variety of situations as quickly as possible. Whether it is negotiation posturing, the level of talent that is available, or a specific developing opportunity, the sustained leader will gather facts quickly and choose a course of action. Being decisive allows for progress on goals without undue delay. A focus and disciplined approach to the tasks at hand prevents wasted resources and ensures that the goal is achieved – the final product is delivered as promised. A leader’s vision inspires the team toward a positive goal, and through example and formal development, on the job and in more structured environments, the sustained leader ensures that there is a strong cadre of developing leaders to assume more responsible leadership roles. Each of these is critical to sustainable leadership.
Identifying Areas of Weakness
A particular trait of yours might be another area that could derail your leadership journey. Are you a narcissist? Often such people get “seen” and are put in leadership roles, but their hubris and ego cause their followers to abandon them. Do you procrastinate and allow yourself to be paralyzed through successive rounds of analysis? A bias for action is a favorable leadership ability. Or is your paralysis most on display when you attempt to speak to larger groups? Do you hold a sense of privilege over your position, or do you try to manage by rumor and gossip? All of these are examples of where leaders have failed, sometimes spectacularly!
Look for your areas where development will enhance your leadership.
Engage in constant learning and improve your leadership abilities.
Where Do I Go From Here?
Whatever your starting point, your set of strengths and weaknesses, or your personal background, you have the potential for leadership.
When you look around at the state of leadership across the world today there is something very puzzling. We have leadership institutes and think tanks. There are courses of study and college degrees. Leadership development is one of the major training expenses in many organizations and more than 1000 books on leadership topics are published every month. Why then does there seem to be such a lack of leadership in business, government, and charities? In Jeffrey Pfeffer’s recent work Leadership BS he notes that both the development and selection of leaders across society seems to be badly broken. I agree.
The determining factor for success is your personal choice. Do you want to develop yourself as a sustained leader or not?
The solution? Changing the world, one leader at a time.
It’s your turn.
Sustained Leadership WBS
Never before in the leadership literature has such a comprehensive review of the attributes, traits, characteristics, abilities, and practices been so well developed. Using a Work Breakdown Structure approach borrowed from project management disciplines, Sustained Leadership WBS takes that metaphor a step further in defining the scope of work in building a leader. It provides the necessary “Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary” that provides a proper lexicon for discussing leadership and giving everyone a proper roadmap for the personal development. Sustained Leadership WBS can be purchased wherever books are sold online or in-store.