Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jumpstarting my career...some good advice that I wish I had taken

(Note: I first wrote this piece last December, when I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women. This is when I started to blog for my company...now I'm taking some of these blog posts public.)

One of the sessions I attended at the MA Conf for Women was "Jumpstart Your Career." I chose this because I recently came back to work full time and also took on a new role (and promotion). I figured I've taken the leap, now I need to commit to it.

One of the speakers was Eve Tahmincioglu from CareerDiva, who put forth the Anatomy of successful women (she means top women leaders, profiled in her book "From the Sandbox to the Corner Office: Lessons Learned on the Journey to the Top"). I found this list to be pretty applicable to my corporate experience:
  • Mentor - get one, be one
  • Block out negative vibes
  • Know how to sing your own praises - or, as I prefer, be your own advocate
  • Be a work horse - success is not necessarily about work/life balance!
  • Pay your dues - in other words, stay with it
  • Pick your battles and stay focused

I like all these points, and the company where I spent more than a decade did a pretty good job in addressing some of them as they prepare people to "own" their own careers. The idea of finding a mentor, for example, is something that I've heard--and tried to put into practice--time and again over my 10 years there. I have a few people that I do look up to and trust and I have asked for counsel when I needed to make a big decision. I also try to mentor other people, but this is difficult sometimes. I don't want to "preach" at them or tell anyone what to do.

The other point I learned at the big corporate gig was to sing my own praises. I don't really like that phrase, though, as I fear that I may come off as arrogant. However, the phrase "Be your own advocate" is spot-on. Who wouldn't want to be his/her own advocate? So, looking at it this way, it makes sense for me to stand up for myself, let people know what I'm doing, and be noticed. So, maybe "advocacy" is a better way for women to think about this. Women are traditionally (or anecdotally at least) less apt to "brag" about their accomplishments. "So what?" you might ask. Arrogance is an ugly trait, anyway?

Well, it matters: Read this New York Times article on the pay gap between men and women and then tell me that negotiation skills don't matter. Bottom line--if you don't ask for something, you're not going to get it!!

Final thoughts: this was a good session, timely for me. I liked Eve; although I found her to be tough, I also thought she was refreshing and had an air of candor and reality about her. I especially liked her point about being a workhorse, and how "successful" women really didn't have a work-life balance. That got me thinking about my own situation and my own definition of success. I'm not in the corner office--nor do I ever aspire to be--but I find that with each rung of the ladder I climb, the expectations are higher and the responsibilities are heavier. Do I want this? I'm not sure...but I'm willing to find out.

(Note: I didn't last long. I left my job six months after writing this post and now I'm trying to redefine success for myself and my family.)

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