My friend Jessica is three years younger than me and as much as she watched me maneuver my way out of Tennessee to New York City, I, too, kept tabs on her trajectory to success in Chicago.
So on New Year's Eve we met up to laugh, cry and candidly share our wins with one another. During our dinner she revealed to me that she met up with some of her former high school classmates who made her feel bad for successfully "making it out" of Tennessee and having a fruitful career. She admitted to downplaying her experiences so that her former classmates would feel comfortable around her instead of the usual intimidation and jealously. It was disheartening to me that she felt the need to dim her light to spare someone else's feelings, and I wondered how many times we have both underestimated, undervalued and underrated our achievements.
Just two weeks later, I went to a networking event where I circled the room trying to connect with other professionals. As I began to introduce myself to some of the attendees, my friend, Stephanie interrupted one of my conversations and started to continue telling this person all of the small achievements that I've had in my career thus far. It was amazing that she could introduce me better than I could speak for myself. Afterwards, Stephanie pulled me to the side and asked me why I downplayed my achievements. Maybe I didn't think it was relevant, maybe I didn't think it was important, but I didn't know why I decided not to share my wins with this stranger.
I learned two important things from those encounters:
- First, I needed go back to the drawing board and rework the contents of my elevator pitch.
- Secondly, I needed to work on being bold and unafraid to let my achievements shine.
If I could master those two things, I could achieve the goals that I set for myself this year.
According to The Atlantic,
"Men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both, even though there's no difference in the quality of their performance."
Whether it's a promotion, negotiating salary, dating or even being able to confidently share our success with friends, women downplay their achievements in many ways. Communications professional and ex-Hill staffer Safiya Jafari Simmons was stunned when she came across the stats about the confidence gap between men and women. She decided to do something about the way women project their confidence in and out of the boardroom by founding Leap Executives Strategies.
I recently attended her Leap Luncheon in Brooklyn where she shared some major keys for confidently sharing your achievements in order to win:
Own Who You Are
Women are so often judged, labeled and categorized that it can feel very overwhelming and intimidating to imagine being completely and authentically ourselves when the consequences of such boldness are unknown. We must contend with so many different opinions of what is proper that we often prioritize the comfort of others over that of ourselves to "keep the peace" or to benefit the greater good. So we shrink; we make ourselves, our personalities and our skills smaller so as to be less infringing on others, less intimidating to others and to not rock the boat. From my purple Mohawk, to my colorful clothing and my unashamed devotion to Christ, I'm prayerfully and loudly leading a charge to encourage women -- especially women of color -- to own themselves, validate their own goals and chart their own course. We only live this one life. I'm not wasting mine building someone else's dream or watching others shutter their own.
Don't Shrink Or Diminish Your Achievements
Each of us is created to do something that no other person on this planet can do. Yes, there may be one million women in the arena you want to get into, but no one else will perceive, process or attack the problem the way you will.
My boldness is anchored in my faith and in the Word of God that says that He didn't give us a spirit of timidity. So I glorify my Creator when I share with others what I've been able to accomplish because of Him. I want to encourage as many women as possible to get that truth as well: it doesn't benefit anyone when we shrink or diminish our successes. It negatively impacts the lives of those attached to us, those watching us and those we're helping to groom. If fear holds you back from being bold, then do it to the glory of the One who created and purposed you. How can we influence a new generation of entrepreneurs, CEOs, thought leaders and game changers if we don't own our successes, accomplishments and advancements? How do we show to those coming up behind us what power they have if we don't model it for them? I want women of all ages and stations to see me -- loud, purple hair, bright clothes and joyfully declaring what I will and won't accept in my life and career -- and know that they can do and have the same and more.
Balance Humility With Confidence
It's imperative that we do two things in all of those scenarios. First, we enter the scenarios with a mission to hear and truly listen. Second, that we enter the scenarios strategically, knowing that we're a value-add and that we deserve good things. In networking situations, many women avoid strategically approaching and interacting with established, successful or celebrity folks because they don't want to be categorized as pushy, or they don't know what to say. Most often, if we'd make the first move - just approach, introduce ourselves and extend our hand for a handshake - what follows will flow naturally. We must get better with strategically growing our networks.
If we want to climb the ladder in the industry we're in, or jump into a new arena or land a new client, think about the people who are farther along than we are in the area and then set to the business of making them a part of our network. In interviewing and negotiating, we have to balance humility with confidence. Yes, we want potential employers to think we're a good catch, but we also have to have the mindset that we're evaluating whether a potential employer is good enough for us. Is that company good enough for your skill set? Will they complement your interests and talents and boundaries? Will they stretch you and develop you in the areas you need and want? Interviewing is a two-way street and negotiating is not giving away your skill set.
Perfect Your Elevator Pitch
Elevator pitches must be a few things: clear, compelling, concise and pithy. You literally have seconds to introduce yourself, explain what you're doing, and tell your audience why they should care. Talk confidently about who you are, what you're talented at, and how that/those talents could benefit your audience. I worked with an amazing coach, Suezette Robotham at Go Higher and Hire LLC, to craft mine because the language is so specific. I'm a huge fan of soliciting help with these types of things - résumés, cover letters, and LinkedIn pages as well - because first impressions are priceless!
Be Mindful Of Your Audience
I always tell the women at my Leap Luncheons and who I interact with in general to be discerning about with whom they discuss their ideas, wins and plans. Not everyone knows how to support us when we win, especially when our victories don't look like what everyone else is doing. Things like starting a new business, pursuing a second career or starting over in a new industry can look very scary to people for whom that is not their purpose. Very often it isn't that they aren't happy for us, but their fear -- founded in their desire that we succeed and their love for us -- ends up looking like disdain or even envy or judgement. Be thoughtful about who you share that information with and show grace to friends and family who don't respond in the way you expected.
Sometimes it isn't that they aren't happy for you, it's that they love you so much that they don't know how to show anything but concern.