A few weeks ago, I conducted a workshop for the members of the New York Women in Communications community. NYWICI represents women who work in the media industries: publishing, advertising, PR, and related professions, and many of the women in attendance were in transition because of downsizing, job threats and other challenges. But in that room, they were empowered and enthusiastic! It was proof positive for me that a group ideation session is so much more powerful than individual brainstorming.
What a fascinating evening, working with a group of such strong, dynamic women, and given the chaotic state of the media industries – and I mean that in the plural! Opening the workshop, I shared some of my story, and the many roadblocks that led me to pursue an MBA late in my career. Many of the attendees related to the “been there, done that” element of my career choices and events, and shared their similar experiences with me at the breaks and following the workshop.
Many of the women were surprised to learn that the leadership case histories in business school are mostly about men, written by men, for men. While studying leadership, I realized there was an appalling lack of female representation in the hundreds of case studies about men, so chose to focus on women’s leadership for my master’s thesis, inspired by women who reinvented themselves, later in life.
Going on to write Get DARE from Here!, “12 Principles and Practices for Women Over 40 to Take Stock, Take Action and Take Charge of the Rest of their Lives, was not only a catharsis for me but has become an area of expertise I am pleased to pay forward for men and women over 40. The book, which has been described as an “empowerment guide,” provides insights, techniques and tactics for developing a personal strategy and career plan. So many of the women I researched are now inspiration for the women I am meeting in career workshops, college courses, online and at all sorts of sponsored events in various venues.
Here are just a few of the women I researched, whose careers inspired the book, and the modern lessons they can teach us.
- Juliette Gordon Low, who formed the Girl Scouts when she was 52 years old
Juliette was deaf in one ear in her 20s and in an accident at her own wedding became deaf in her other ear. Twenty years later and divorced, she formed the Girl Scouts, which now has 3.2 million members. Modern lesson: You are NEVER too old to start something new!
- Jean Nidetch, who formed Weight Watchers in her 40s
Jean was an overweight Long Island housewife, who realized having a support group to help her lose weight was better than doing it alone – which leads me to one of my favorite quotes, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much,” ~ Helen Keller. Modern lesson: Never underestimate the power of one determined women to cajole her friends into losing weight, saving money, introducing them to their next job, love interest, fantastic apartment, whatever!
- Mary Kay Ash, who formed Mary Kay Cosmetics at 45
Mary Kay was divorced and pissed when passed over for a promotion. She quit in order to start her own company, with her new husband. One month before the launch he died of a heart attack. Then one month after his death, she went ahead with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Modern Lesson: When life gives you lemons, squeeze them in other people’s eyes; then sell them some mascara!
- Julia Child, who wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking when she was 49 years old. Ms. Child became famous for her rule of the culinary world, a second career she began in earnest over the age of 50, after enduring punishing treatment by male chefs who wouldn’t take her seriously in the kitchen. Modern Lesson: Do what you love, the money will follow, and you’ll leave others in the dust.
During the workshop, I split the room into small groups where everyone was encouraged to discuss a career challenge. Then I asked them to discuss where and how they could take action against that challenge in the next 90 days. By the end of the brainstorm, they all had their own 90-day plans.
Here are the 10 key points I made in my workshop, which I always recommend for all executives over 40:
- Even if you think you’re in a permanent job, you’re really not. These days we are all consultants.
- We all think about what we want to do next – think about looking back to the future, as it were – what do you want to say when you look back on your career 10, 20 years from now?
- Think about hurdles that are stopping you from doing what you want and what the actions you can take to start advancing you towards your goal.
- Only women would think that asking for something like a raise, promotion or transfer means they’re being too aggressive.
- Because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you should keep doing it – think about your strengths and what you like doing. Think about how that could lead to your next job.
- The biggest thing holding us back is the ‘F’ word – Fear – fear of change, the unknown, failure, success – the key is to reach through the fear and make the time to make it happen.
- Figure out how to be just the right amount of aggressive.
- Getting out of your office can help you in the office – as you can bring back new ideas and a new perspective.
- Go toward “the other” – people who are different than you. For example, other age groups, other cities, other ethnic groups, other industries, other faiths – to learn more about the world as it is really is today: uber-connected in more ways that we ever thought possible.
- We all need a plan B: think of the “B” as the Business of YOU… Figure out a way to have something that only belongs to you, that is uniquely yours, that will become your brand as well as your stock portfolio, even if you never launch or sell any other product or service but yourself. That’s your most valuable asset.
All in all, I hope that listening to me during a workshop is not unlike listening to your best friend or older sister, a woman who isn’t afraid to “tell you like it is,” and to “get up, get off it and get moving!” Well, OK, it’s more like having Joan Rivers yammering in one ear while Mother Teresa is consoling you in the other.
The best part was that I made a whole new batch of friends, as I heard from many of the women who attended, and of course, LinkedIn with them online and in coffee shops around the city we all love. As I said at the top of this blog: I could brainstorm or email all day from my laptop but there’s nothing more powerful than real connections made in a group discussion about something so powerful, energizing and motivating about taking stock, taking action and taking charge of the rest of our lives! Go DARE!
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© The DARE-Force Corporation, 2013.
Check out Liz Weinmann’s book, Get DARE from Here™! – 12 Principles and Practices for Women Over 40 to Take Stock, Take Action and Take Charge of the Rest of Their Lives, by Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA. All rights reserved.
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