On women, equality, and a process for finding your passion
I grew up in North Little Rock, Arkansas in a working class, African-American neighborhood, literally on the wrong side of the tracks.
I was raised to say “yes ma’am” and “yes sir,” respect my elders, and speak only when spoken to. I knew at an early age that I didn’t want to stay in Arkansas and that I would have to work hard to “get out” and experience all the world had to offer. So, when many of my friends and neighbors hung out, I studied.
When my father died just before my 17th birthday, I focused even more on striving for academic excellence. I hustled to support myself through college and managed to graduate with a degree in finance and a ticket to New York City.
Today I am a Harvard MBA, run my own consulting firm and sit on the board of the Lean In Foundation.
Throughout my journey, I found my voice and learned how to advocate for myself. Many of my lessons came the hard way and what I have learned is that everyone has a story. Whether you grew up in an affluent neighborhood or just in the hood. Whether you had a “normal” childhood, or you had to negotiate an environment that included drugs, crime, and violence, you can live an authentic and empowered life. It starts with knowing your worth and the value you bring to the world.
My story is unique but the challenges of living an empowered life are universal.
Make no mistake. Living an authentic and empowered life is hard.
We are trained early to stand down, and as we get older, “stand by our man.” I was told that my feelings, desires, and thoughts were not as important as those of my father/brother/husband.
I know now that many women experience similar double standards. I was led to believe that men make the decisions and essentially rule the world. Well — if you look at the state of things — Ferguson, our economy, world politics, and horrific violence — it’s not working so well. We have been taking a back seat for far too long. The statistics are staggering:
- Women in the first year out of college are paid 82% of what their male colleagues earn
- Women do the majority of the world’s work, but earn a small percentage of the world’s income, and own even less of the world’s property
- For every dollar white men are paid, white women earn 77 cents. African-American women earn 64 cents and Hispanic women 54 cents
- Women would have $11,600 more a year if we were paid equally
- Women comprise only 19% of U.S. congressional seats
- There are less than 30 female Fortune 500 CEOs. Women hold about 15% of the executive officer positions and 17% of the board seats
- Women have less than 6% of top CEO jobs in almost every country in the world
- According to the Shriver Report, if women working fulltime, year round, were paid the same for their work as comparable men, we would cut the poverty rate for working women and their families in half.
There are many reasons that women’s wages lag behind those of men. Societal issues such as gender stereotyping, gender segregation in occupations, discrimination, and inadequate family-leave policies are contributing factors.
The problem is systemic, interrelated, and complex.
But there is hope. Knowing your worth is about understanding exactly what you deserve out of life and what has already been promised to you. I grew up as a “nice” little Southern girl and leveraged my desire for “a different life” to bust out of my comfort zone. I found my voice amid the wolves of Wall Street and then eventually used that voice to step out on my own.
Knowing your worth starts with finding your passion.
If you want to transform your life, I highly recommend figuring out what you are passionate about, then choose to do it for a living.
Now, this isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it’s well worth the effort. If you dread going to your job, or find yourself constantly lacking motivation, you are never going to get what you want out of life.
I learned this firsthand coming out of college. I graduated with a degree in finance and set my sights on Wall Street. I arrived at a top investment bank with a number of other college graduates, and we joined an analyst “class.” Almost immediately, I stood out like a sore thumb. Most of the people in my analyst class were Ivy League graduates who were savvy to the ways of Wall Street.
I was a fish out of water — a girl from Arkansas with a southern accent and flowered dresses. And if the culture wasn’t bad enough, I found the job to be unfulfilling and the hours exhausting. I was miserable. I had worked for years to get this job, yet I decided to quit, and began working for a start-up nonprofit for half my salary.
Even though I am a compensation consultant, I know that money isn’t the most important thing for lasting happiness and career satisfaction. Too often, I see people get caught up in the “salary-race,” and personal contentment goes by the wayside.
If you want true professional fulfillment, choose a field or a job because it is your passion. And then, work to be paid equitably. Unless you are born into a wealthy family or marry rich, you will spend the majority of your life working. The average fulltime employee spends 65-75% of each year working, and that is far too much time to be doing something you don’t love. I am a firm believer that if you follow your passion, the money will come. The ideal balance, of course, is a job that is fulfilling AND pays a competitive wage.
How can you find what you’re passionate about? Here are some suggestions:
- Is there something you already love doing? Do you have a hobby, or something you loved doing as a child, but never considered it as a career possibility? If there’s already something you love doing, you’re ahead of the game. Now you just need to research the possibilities of making money from it.
- What do you spend hours reading about? For myself, when I get passionate about something, I’ll read about it for hours on end. I’ll buy books and magazines. I’ll spend days on the Internet finding out more. There may be a few possibilities here for you… and all of them are plausible career paths. Don’t close your mind to these topics. Investigate them.
- Take a self-assessment. The Strong Interest Inventory® assessment is one of the world’s most widely respected and frequently used career planning tools. It has helped both academic and business organizations develop the brightest talent and has guided thousands of individuals – from high school and college students to midcareer workers – seeking a change in their search for a rich and fulfilling career.
- Never quit trying. Can’t find your passion at first? Give up after a few days and you’re sure to come up empty. Keep trying, for months on end if necessary, and you’ll find it eventually. Thought you found your passion but then you got tired of it? No problem! Start over again and find a new one. There may be more than one passion in your lifetime, so explore all the possibilities. Found your passion but haven’t been successful making a living at it? Don’t give up. Keep trying, and try again, until you succeed. Success doesn’t come easy, so giving up early is a sure way to fail. Keep trying, and you’ll get there.
When you are pursuing your passion, it makes it so much easier to ask for what you want.
Whether you are just out of college or in the middle of your career, you probably have a vision about what your ideal career looks like. I know that for myself, I had it all planned out when I graduated. But, as we all learn, even the best-laid plans can’t prevent life’s unexpected twists and turns.
You may covet a prime position, only to realize you are miserable in it. Or, you may settle down where you’re happy, yet not make enough to pay the rent. Career ups and downs, such as these, are inevitable, but as long as you stay focused, you will keep moving in the right direction. Set professional immediate and long-term goals so that when life throws you the inevitable curve ball, you can refocus on them and get right back on track.
My hope is that Best Self will give you a few more tools for your personal toolkit to help you ask for, and receive, what you seek and deserve in life. The rewards of knowing your worth will help you have healthy relationships, pursue your dreams, and reach new heights in all areas of your life.
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