True success is an inner quest. It’s something you define for yourself when you get up each morning, and you either achieve it or don’t achieve it by the end of the day. The only thing you can really have is this moment — this day. You can achieve huge emotional success on any day, and every day.
Or you can live by default.
Your success in this day has nothing to do with a to-do list. What matters is how you are living this day.
Most people define their day by having to be in a certain place at a certain time to do a certain thing to achieve a certain outcome.
Instead of measuring your days by how much you get done, measure them by how well you have lived and how deep you have gone. If you define your day with challenge, hope, people, passion, maturity, growth, learning, development, spirituality, and other such things, you can achieve meaningful success every day. You’ll be happier with a personal checklist like that.
It may not make others happy because there are many people who want to hand you a set of priorities, but you get to decide why you are here. You — and only you — define your purpose.
You are in control. You don’t have to “give” this day to anyone or anything. You aren’t required to relinquish the present to anyone so they can give you some sort of prize later on, like a paycheck or a promotion. Yes, you have to show up for work and do a good job. Yes, you have other obligations in life. You have to pay bills and tend to daily living. But you have a choice in how you do those things.
You are allowed to keep your own emotional space. You can tend to your many obligations. But don’t hand over your emotional growth just because you have so many demands on your time and energy. Your life, your soul, your day is yours.
When you are in the midst of the fray, it’s hard to simply wipe your hands and be free of it. It’s much easier for men who grew up with the rules of friendly—and unfriendly—engagement as they competed in sports. When the game was over, so was the battle. Most women didn’t have that, so we know the aloneness that comes with being “out there.” That’s why it is so important to bolster yourself with support networks inside your office, inside your profession at large, and outside the office.
When you need support, ask for it. When you are in the discomfort zone, say so. Commiserate. You can’t protect yourself from everything and everyone, but you can insulate yourself from some of the fear and uncertainty by putting good, reliable people around you. And, always be mindful of your role in helping others when they are in their discomfort zones.
I will make one point again and again, and that is this: Give support so you’ll get support. You don’t deserve to get any more than you are willing to give. So, when you see someone else struggling, go help! It may be as simple as saying, “How are you getting along?” Or as difficult as listening to someone venting frustrations for several hours.
If you want people to listen to you, then you have to listen to them. If you want people to care about you, you have to care about them. Do it actively, not because you will get something out of it, but because we all will. Find ways to remind yourself to be a good friend and mentor for people when their problems aren’t on your radar screen. Train yourself.
One of my mentors, Stephanie Allen, jokes that the word “bitch” really means, “Boys, I’m taking charge here.” Maybe we shouldn’t take it so personally because it really is the label of first resort by others who are intimidated by our force. Instead of getting lost in all the negativity that
can arise when that label is lobbed at us, perhaps we should remember something: hundreds of thousands of truly admirable women have also gotten that label. It’s a label. It’s not who you are. Keep raising hell.
There is a saying, “Only weak men fear strong women.” Well, weak women fear us, too. So do some strong men or women who think that they lose something when we win something. In order to truly succeed, we have to readjust our styles without losing our essence. Readjust my style? Wait a minute! Why should I readjust my style if I am a mustang who lives to be true to myself? Isn’t that hypocritical?
Learning to be strategic and diplomatic is not destroying the self, but preserving it. Self-preservation is everything if we want to be effective because we have to come to operate in a way that lets us continue to operate. One of my mentors, a woman who is especially adept at survival, reminded me, “First and foremost, you must survive to fight another day.” What good is a mustang who vanishes in her own dust cloud, never to be seen again?
This never means selling your soul. It means doing what you’ve got to do so you can get the job done. Change your approach, change your tactics, but don’t change your self.
Competent, powerful women can terrify incompetent or insecure rivals. People who are so set on criticizing or bringing down others who threaten their own standing or progress can resort to being destructive, cruel, and absolutely untrustworthy. So, what do you do when you pose a threat? Just keep on keeping on. “I’m very threatening to people,” said Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. “So be it. I try not to throw that up in people’s faces.” I remember being struck by how casually Fiorina wrote that kind of tension off. So. Be. It. All this time, all we’ve needed to do when we hear others muttering about our being castrating bitches or undermining our work is say, “So? And your point is?”
Just like you, I have wrestled with a need for approval for much of my life. Does this outfit work? Do I look fat? What if I say something stupid? Our self-doubts can cause us to search endlessly for validation and approval, but our brains have the power to take charge and send us onward, despite our doubts. It is okay to wonder about what you are doing and how it is being perceived, because that is one form of feedback that you can incorporate into your perspective. But, don’t dog yourself with the negativity and fear that can come by trying endlessly to meet the expectations of others.
There comes a point where you have to just do your best for you, then get on with it. If you want to stand out, you’ve got to stand up. You can’t find your true calling or wildest success by staying in your comfort zone all day, every day, so that means you need to dare to do things that make you uncomfortable and perhaps make other people nervous. It takes a lot of courage to be a mustang, and if you can’t handle the heat, the criticism, or the uncertainty, you’re not cut out for the ride. People don’t achieve extraordinary success by doing things the way they have always been done. When you stray from the norm, those who must have an unchanging comfort zone will resist.
Become secure with insecurity. You’ve got the same hangups as other women. For example, that extra 10 or 20 pounds or remembering a word of praise for five minutes and criticism for a lifetime. But, your insecurity doesn’t hold you back. Despite your flaws, you keep charging on.
Hold your breath and dive in. No, the rules aren’t always clear. Yes, it would be easier to do it the way everyone else does it. No, giving up is not an option. The mustang woman knows how to buck up and win. Be altruistic. It isn’t easy hanging out there by your lonesome, but your sense of mission and purpose will help you through the toughest moments. Really, there is no choice but to do the right thing.
Be passionate. This kind of life sure ain’t for sissies. It takes energy, stamina, and commitment. All of that comes from the passion that drives you. You care about what you are doing and who you are. That helps you put up with a lot of grief. It also helps you focus on what matters to you and gives you the creative mindset to come up with solutions.
You live an inspired life. Be connected. The true mustang woman knows that she’s got to build support networks inside and outside of work in order to be as bold as she needs to be. To build better support networks, you have to share the ones you have. Match people who need help with those who can give it, and you’ll get help in return. Despite extraordinary odds, resistance, or open hostility, you can get by with a little help from your friends.
Sometimes, we have to keep reminding ourselves that all of the emotional and political challenges in the workplace are worth the stress and effort they entail. It can be a lonely, frustrating experience.
You want to know what has become a bigger challenge than getting that seat at the table these days? It’s feeling like we deserve it. It’s holding our own, taking charge, and feeling secure enough to be ourselves. Some of America’s most powerful women executives admit they walked into their offices at the top with a tremendous amount of self-doubt in tow.
That challenge is faced by every woman who dares to stand out, whether she is the boat rocker who upsets the status quo, the woman with the impressive title who undermines herself by questioning whether she’s got what it takes, or the woman who stands by herself in a room full of men. It’s felt by the woman in management who stands in front of men and women who say they like male bosses better.
When we look for the same validation and personhood that we sought as 13-year-old girls struggling at school, we lose our ground and become our own enemies. We’ve got to appreciate ourselves because we stand out. We have fought for and won our chance to sink or swim based on our own merits, but we sometimes find ourselves drowning because of personality clashes and office politics.
We blame ourselves when it feels like the squad doesn’t want us. We may say or do the same things our male mentors did, but we keep hearing that we are doing it all wrong, coming on too strong, trying to fix things that aren’t broken, taking on the wrong issues, pushing an agenda—whatever. Some of us hear a chorus of criticism and gossip, or sense others are waiting for and cheering our downfall.
But things are getting better. Aren’t they? Most of us assume that the world is getting better—and easier—for women, but sadly, there are some places where it’s actually getting tougher. The Government Accounting Office reported in 2002 that 73 percent of all female managers in our country are paid less than their male counterparts. If that doesn’t startle you, this might: The numbers were getting worse, not better. Ex-
amples? In finance, insurance, and real estate, women managers were paid 68 cents for every dollar men were paid. Five years earlier, they were being paid 76 cents to the dollar.
Many women have won their chance to hold mid-level jobs. They can be vice presidents of companies. But only a few will climb any higher. It’s still a man’s world, even if we don’t like to admit it. We comprise nearly 47 percent of the work world, but are just 12 percent of the corporate officers, reported Catalyst, the nation’s premier research organization for women and workplace issues. Do men see the inequities? Heck no. Only 13 percent of men said women have to work harder for the same rewards.
You are who you are, so don’t give others the power to turn you into something else. Whether you find yourself being challenged to go-along-to-get-along at work, at home, in the community, or in some other place, you will find your center when you remember what it is that made you unique, strong, and passionate in the first place. Tap into that and always be authentic.
If you can’t be yourself and succeed, you are working for the wrong people. You can use good interpersonal skills, team-building methods, and high-level management training to be more effective in a tough environment, but if you are forced to be a fraud, your success will be way too expensive. We all make compromises to be effective and achieve our goals, but we can’t compromise who we are. What a miserable way to win.
As a journalist, I watched one so-eager-to-please editor actually push distorted stories on the front page, rather than tell the big boss his ideas
didn’t bear out. Once that boss realized she’d damaged the newspaper’s credibility, he demoted her. Another editor suffered an emotional breakdown after the 70 hours she put in each week to impress her boss actually convinced him that she was disorganized and ineffective. He demoted her. Another editor suffered repeated public criticism and humiliation by a bullying boss who eventually did promote her because, well, who else would take his crap? Who would want to? All of those women compromised themselves too much, hoping to gain in the long run. In the end, the first two women wound up hurting their careers, and the other sold her soul.
Always go back to your center and your sense of mission. “You have to believe in why you are here,” former Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Christine Todd Whitman told me. “Why are you in this position? Think about it. Why are you doing what you are doing? If you believe in what you are doing, then that’s what it is all about. Keep your focus on that and don’t get thrown off track.”
Mustangs were the original wild horses of the West. They’re tough, strong, agile, sound, and quick to learn. Like the horse, the mustang woman experiences great rewards because her life is filled with surprise, drama, and adventure. She’s got guts, because she doesn’t run with the herd just because it is easier or more convenient. Convenience is unfulfilling and can be boring.
Mustang living is exciting, but can be hard. It can get mighty lonely out there on the trail because there are so many barriers and obstacles to overcome. It can hurt, being viewed as the one on the fringe, especially when some people are so willing to sacrifice heart and soul trying to blend in. Sometimes, our greatest obstacle is the self-doubt that can come when faced with pressure to back down or conform. But it’s the trailblazing mustangs who dare to be first, stand up, attack a problem, try a new approach, and keep charging forward despite the inertia or backward movement of the pack.
Sometimes, when it seems like the whole world wants me to slow my mustang down, all I want to do is hit the gas. I’ve come to realize that chocolate scares the heck out of a world that loves vanilla. I don’t know why, but it does. If everyone else is wearing plaid, they are going to hate your polka dots. Some polka-dot lovers will switch to plaid just to fit in, but I’d rather not. I’d much rather be me, perfectly imperfect. I’m the most valuable asset I’ve got, and if I am going to succeed, I’ve got to bank on who I really am and charge ahead, flaws and all.
Change places with your child and imagine this: Your mother is a world-class, trailblazing executive who has hundreds or thousands of people who work for her. People cling to her words and jockey for her favor, desperate to impress her… And, there she is, nagging at you to pick up your shoes. To the world, she is a title. To you, she is mom. She performs a daily balancing act.
What the child of the senior executive probably doesn’t know is, women executives wrestle with their job performance as mothers more than anything else they do. When I speak at women’s leadership events, I am constantly asked about balance issues. The reality is that there is no issue of balance. It’s all about imbalance. It’s about making it work so you succeed professionally, raising children who are not juvenile delinquents, and not losing your mind in the process.
So many of the young mothers I meet describe a frenetic cadence they have to sustain as parents and professionals. They always are running to keep up with the demands. Despite their efforts to do it all, they are tortured by guilt because, let’s face it, they can never do enough.
Is it selfish to want a career? Is it selfish to want to be with your children? Is it selfish to want ten minutes to yourself?
Nearly half of the women I spoke with, who are mothers have husbands who are stay-at-home dads. Nationally, just one in twenty fathers are stay-at-home dads, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What does it mean when these senior-level women choose this option? Does it prove that the old model was right? That the senior executive needs someone at home running the household and taking care of the kids in order to make everything work?
I think that it suggests that running a household and raising a family are such demanding challenges that every parent needs all the help she or he can get. And that those who make it to senior leadership are in a better position economically to choose that option.
What would happen to those national statistics if every family could afford financially to choose that option? Senior leadership is a demanding world, but is it any more demanding than a world where a woman works two back-breaking jobs to pay her family’s bills? I think there are a lot of women who would just love to have that kind of support at home.
There will be times when unpleasant and painful things will happen to you. There will be losses, rejections, illnesses, hardships, and huge difficulties that put obstacles in your reality that you would love to ignore — but you can’t. There will be people you have to deal with who will hurt or harm you. There will be times when you lose when you expect to win. Moments that you are in danger when you assume you are safe. You cannot run from fate. But you can control what stresses you by taking charge over the realities you prioritize.
That means you ask the question, “Do you live to work or work to live?” If you want to be in the “work to live” category, you dial down the volume on work-related stress because work no longer owns you. It is a part of your life — not your life.
When you face other stresses in your life, ask whether they matter to your heart and soul — or not. If they don’t, you can consciously minimize your emotional attachment to the situation. You still have to deal with the challenging situation, but you don’t have to let it possess you.
Instead of passively reacting to what is on the plate in front of you, take time to really look at what you’re facing. Closely examine what you are dealing with. How deeply do you have to dive into the situation? Can you control the degree of stress you experience? Is this something that has to be a part of your reality? If so, all the time?
Making the decision to choose your peace is a huge reset moment.