What You Can Learn From Real-Life Wonder Women
These female role models can teach you how to excel in business and life.
When I was a child, my mother placed a plaque above my bed that read, “Don’t tell your daughter to marry a doctor or lawyer. Tell her to be one.”
I grew up to be a CPA instead of a doctor or lawyer, but Mom's message stayed with me my entire childhood and beyond: I can be anyone or do anything I want. Of course, mothers are often their daughters' first female inspirational figures. But I’ve also followed the advice of other women I admire, many of whom were not only great leaders and visionaries, but also strong role models.
All have helped shape my career and made me a better business person -- and a better person overall. Here are three of the most important lessons I have learned from them, and you may too.
1. Roll with it.
One of the realities of business (and life) is that there are bad times as well as good times and you need to know how to deal with both. As Maya Angelou wrote in her classic book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, one should be "hoping for the best, prepared for the worst and unsurprised by anything in between." This poetic mantra rings true for me and many women entrepreneurs.
While there is no easy way to get through a crisis, I find that practicing mindfulness helps me to not react too quickly and to take time to put the chaos into perspective. To do this, I try to regularly meditate from five to 15 minutes a day by following my breath and saying in my head "in ..." with each inhale and "out..." with each exhalation. This daily ritual helps me develop the mental strength for the days when I need it most.
2. Do it your way.
When I was in middle school, I read The Fountainhead and Atlas, Shrugged by Ayn Rand. She often wrote about powerful women breaking through the male-dominated business world of the 1940s. And, from a young age, I was inspired by how these books showed it was possible for women to accomplish anything with a clear vision, dedication and the will to carve out their own path.
I have used these inspirations in my adult life as an entrepreneur. Many times, I have stuck with a vision that only I could see. I have had to break through doubt, but I have also been open to listening to other people’s suggestions, in order to succeed. I have learned to trust my gut, rather than data, because I just felt that it could work.
I also have found that the key to innovating in the businesses I have started was surrounding myself with top-notch people who trusted my ability to see opportunity, had the skill set to help get my business to where I want it to go and were willing to take a risk.
3. Find the right friends.
Oprah Winfrey is a role model for many businesswomen, and she has offered much sage advice over the years. One of my favorite messages from her is to “surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” And that resonates with me, because there are times in everyone’s life when we need our friends to help us work through problems, offer advice and pick us up when we are down.
So, make sure to choose your company wisely. As Oprah said, you want people who will build you up -- not bring you down. I’ve made an effort to cultivate my tribe of women from various backgrounds and interests as well as to foster friendships with women in my business and industry.
In fact, a Randstad Work Watch survey found that work friends can greatly increase workplace happiness and productivity. Both groups --my friends and business associates -- are invaluable to me, as they each provide their own perspective and insight when I need help getting through career issues and a bad case of self-doubt.
4. Create adequate “me” space.
In her book, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert discussed how easily a person can quickly fall apart from too much work, too much stress or too much pressure. Her message was that you always need to take time for yourself. Only then can you begin to balance your business life with your home and family life.
I have followed Gilbert's lead, by always blocking out time on my daily calendar for just me, whether that might be for a short meditation, a longer workout or dedicated time to spend time on my hobbies, like playing the guitar and reading. Many women feel guilty taking time for themselves because it takes time away from home or work. But I have found, as Gilbert did, that it is beneficial not only for me, but for everyone around me, that I take time to feed my soul so I can be the best version of myself for them.
We all need support at some point in our lives, but sometimes the best way is to surround yourself with people whose wisdom truly motivates you to do better and be better. For me, these women have always offered me the best guidance. Following their lead has shaped who I am today and who I hope to be tomorrow.