Careers aren’t straight lines, no matter how much we plan, worry, or think we know how to make it happen. Hard work helps make your dreams come true, but it takes more than that to be successful.
What does it take, exactly? [Watch Video: Defining Success on Your Own Terms]
We brought together some of the most interesting women with varying career paths — from side-hustle to full time passion, Wall Street to Silicon Valley, nonprofit to entrepreneur, Ralph Lauren to Glamour Magazine, living in a different city every month, and more — to hear how they define success and learn valuable lessons from their experiences that can help us realize our personal goals.
One thing’s for sure, they didn’t do it alone.
[Read more: Finding and Landing Your Dream Job in 3 Months]
Who are you and what have been the highlights of your career so far?
Sallie Krawcheck, Chair of Ellevate Network, CEO & Co-founder, Ellevest: I’m a Wall Street Refugee. I’ve changed my career every decade:
In my 20’s, I was lost. I worked as an investment banker. I got married, had a kid, got divorced, a lot happened. Finally at 29 I realized I wanted to be an equity research analyst (I know, such a popular career choice!)
In my 30’s, I finally started doing work that I loved and spent time on Wall Street in research and wealth management.
In my 40’s, I had the special distinction of becoming the only woman fired on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Twice. So much fun, I did it again. So I recognized in my 40’s that Wall Street firms weren’t the right place for me (or me for them), so I pivoted to be an entrepreneur.
Tara Abrahams, Executive Director, The Girl Project: I am the Executive Director of The Girl Project at Glamour, the company’s philanthropic initiative to support girls’ education all throughout the world. We fund a portfolio of nonprofits that invest in girls’ education and use our platforms to raise awareness about the issue.
The biggest career change that I’ve made most recently is to come back into the fray in this position after having my third child. It was not an easy decision, but it was made much easier when my partner reminded me this is what I care about, this is what I have to do — having that support helped me make the decision to give up a lot of perfection in my life to pursue this career.
Jen Glantz, Founder, Bridesmaid for Hire, Creator, Author: I am the founder of perhaps the weirdest business you’ve ever heard of, Bridesmaid for Hire. In 2015 I was working at a tech startup, I was writing on the side, everything was great. Then my boss called my into their office one day and said, “Jen we have to let you go.”
I walked out of that room and said to myself, “Jen, you are going to be your own boss. You are going to build a life where that is your reality. Even if that means making 15, 20 side hustles a month to pay your bills, that’s what you’re going to do. I made up my mind that day, and I’ve never looked back.”
Sirat Babbar- Curnow, Director, Innovation, Change Management, & Strategy, Ralph Lauren: I am a change management strategist, and I get to implement change management strategies across many different parts of a business: technology, operations, front office. I have consulted with banking, telecommunications, and now fashion.
Change is such an integral part of my life, I’ve spent a lot of time in many different countries, I know three different languages, I’ve spent time with people from many cultures and learned about their styles, and it’s always been positive for me. So I’ve tried to externalize that internal endearment towards change and make a career out of it.
How do you define success?
Sallie: I’ve had such good fortune in my life, I realized having an impact was the most important to me, and being an entrepreneur was the way to make that happen: without the bureaucracy, red tape, quarterly earnings pressure, that kind of thing.
I began getting up in the middle of the night to think about what mattered to me — the warm cookies, the big office, managing people or complexity, the money… what was the most important thing? I tried to get myself to relax and get away from the expectations that were made of me.
At the end of the day, what really came through was that I wanted to help other women succeed in business. So that’s when I bought Ellevate Network. As an entrepreneur nowadays, you can position yourself to make a much bigger difference to build a product or service that positively impacts people’s lives much more quickly than a big company can.
Investing in women has a massive ripple effect. I realized that being financially independent led women to being able to leave their job that didn’t appreciate them, the relationship that was no longer healthy, to look after their families, and contribute to causes they care about. This is why helping women make more money is my mission.
Tara: I’ve always used impact as a measure of leaving the world a better place than it was before.
When I graduated from business school and people asked me what I was working on now, their reaction was always, “Oh you must be such a good person.” This was annoying to me, because it’s thinking based on the assumption that you can’t make a difference right where you are. No matter what your company or position, you have to figure out how to make a difference there and derive meaning from your everyday work. That means different things for different people, and it’s your responsibility to find out what that means for you.
Jen: I had started a weird business that I realized I didn’t know how to run and scale. This is when I learned the first lesson in being an entrepreneur: you must ask for help.
That’s when I met Ray, my mentor. I found him on craigslist. At 86 years old, he didn’t care about my business or what I was doing to make it successful. When we met, he asked me, “How did you fail this week?” and of course my reaction was, “Nahhh, millennials don’t do that. We only share the best positive filtered version of our lives, we don’t try to fail.”
Ray pushed me to come to him with a list of 10 things I failed at each week or he would no longer meet with me. I started writing emails to people I thought would never listen to me, taking risks that I previously thought were crazy. That pushed me outside of my comfort zone constantly. And you know what? Some of those people actually emailed me back. Eventually failure became my reality of success.
I’m at the point now where I wake up every morning asking myself, “OK Jen, how are you going to embarrass yourself today?” because that’s the way that things really start to happen.
Sirat: My definition of success comes back to the Ikigai - the divine interception of combining what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, with what you can get paid for.
Growing up, I thought if I had the corner office, a certain amount of people reporting to me, made a certain amount of money, I’d be happy — then I wasn’t. Without having an impact on people’s lives, I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night.
Tara, where did you get the confidence to go out on a limb like you did as a young person, founding your own non profit?
Tara: It wasn’t confidence, it was stupidity. I didn’t know what I was doing, I thought: Was this interesting to me? Could I cobble together these resources to make it work?
When I was a young person I thought to myself, “What’s going to make me excited to get up in the morning?” And I realized that putting a suit on, heading downtown and working long days wasn’t going to be it. That traditional idea of what I was told to do did not fit me.
I just went with my gut. Had I thought any longer and harder about it, I would not be where I am today. So I’m very thankful for my stupidity.
Sallie, you’ve been called many outstanding things — the most powerful woman on Wall Street, the last honest analyst, and most recently a financial feminist. Is this what you thought you’d be doing when you were younger?
Sallie: No. I wanted to be a princess when I was little and when that didn’t work out, I wanted to be a banker. I hated being an investment banker but I loved being a research analyst.
Wall Street is rife with conflicts of interest, so ‘last honest analyst’ came about when emails were published that exposed these issues — I thought, “If my children were standing right beside me in this moment, what would I want them to see?” And that’s how I landed on the cover of Fortune Magazine. Asking myself that question always clears things up for me.
Sirat, what advice do you have for women who feel stuck in life and don’t deal with change well?
Sirat: Usually, you’re not really stuck; you’re telling yourself something that isn’t necessarily true. Once you find out what’s blocking you, you can feel free. You are the master of your fate; if you feel like you’re stuck, you’re not. You’re really not.
Jen, you do it all -- you have a blog, travel the world, etc. Tell us about what you’re doing and what it means to you. What advice do you have for those of us who are so used to going to our job to pay the bills and don’t really give time to our side hustle?
Jen: There was a time when on paper it looked like I had everything you would want, but I found I wasn’t happy or satisfied at all. I had created bad habits living in the same place for too long, so now, I move every month.
It has really shaken up my priorities completely. I no longer get stressed out about certain things that used to bother me. Now that I have to figure out a means of survival every month, I’ve found out what really matters to me.
If I stay outside my comfort zone, it leads me to learn more about myself. If I sit still for too long I get complacent, and challenging myself every day has forced me to look at happiness in a different way.
Sallie: So much is written about work-life balance. Billie Jean King said, “Pressure is a privilege.” I would say work-life balance is a privilege.
Our sisters who are working three jobs just to take care of their families would love the opportunity to worry about work-life balance. I urge you to remember that and do what you have to do to make your life work. My kids joke, “Mommy, she’s so crazy,” because I would be late to the school play, bring in store-bought cookies, that kind of thing. Try not to let society tell you that you have to be perfect at everything. Find what works for you.
You know what I’m excited about in 2018? I think that we’ve learned that feminism as an individual sport does not work for us. As we’ve all tried to do this alone -- in my early days in Wall Street I wasn’t seen with other women -- the guys were the ones with the power, the ones that made the decisions and promoted people, so I was with them.
What happened when we played it as an individual sport? As we tried to do this on our own? Gender diversity in business has not changed, the pay gap has not closed. When we speak up, amplify each others’ voices, when we believe each other, when we speak up together — sh*t happens. We’re more than half the workforce, we control 80%+ of consumer spending, we have $5T dollars of investable assets... remind we why we have to play the guys’ game?
What we’ve learned is that when we work together, we make a lot of noise and drive real change.
[Related: Find Your Community -- Testimonials]
But what’s this next step? Is it taking our employee resource group cocktail hours about work-life balance into opportunities to bring new ideas about parental leave to our senior leadership?
Speaking up about sexual harassment is the explosive stuff — the more insidious, harder nut to crack, is, why aren’t we getting promoted?
Sallie: If only I had a group of 7 other women when I was going through what I was going through on Wall Street -- I was going through a couple different ups and downs with a couple of different bosses, and I was alone.
To have 7 other women to peer coach me through that situation, have a community to come together to help me navigate those career challenges, would have been so helpful.
Find your group, find your squad, find your cheering section, so you can all agree to selflessly help each other get ahead.
Join Ellevate Network this January and get 20% off membership with code MYYEAR. Because we're in this together.