Michelle Obama, Billie Jean King, Selina Tabaccowala, Brené Brown, Issa Rae, Brit Marling; these are just a few of the incredible and inspirational women that spoke at INBOUND 2017. They are now (if they weren’t already) on my list of Sheroes.
What’s a shero?
She + Hero = Shero. I cannot take credit for this word, but Billie Jean King used it during her speaking session, and it stuck with me, so I’ve adopted into my own lexicon.
Everybody needs heroes that they look up to and admire. People who inspire them to go after their goals and ambitions. I am lucky to have plenty of such inspirations, men and women alike. Some of them I know personally, and they have directly impacted my life. Others, I can only dream of meeting (looking at you, Michelle Obama). Having inspiration in your life is crucial to envisioning success for yourself.
As a businesswoman, particularly in an industry that often feels dominated by men, I think it’s equally important to find your sheroes. Find the women who have gone before you and inspire you to reach the next level. What is it about these women that inspire you? What do they embody that you want to embody?
Chances are, there will be a connection between those answers and your own goals. But this connection doesn’t have to apply directly to what you do for a living either. For instance, I have no ambitions to become FLOTUS one day, but that doesn’t mean Michelle Obama doesn’t inspire me in a million other ways. In fact, she inspires me so much that I woke up at 5 am during a weeklong conference and stood for over 2 hours in very high heels to be one of the first in line to hear her speak. My feet and I regret nothing.
Mrs. Obama is one of my sheroes because I believe her to be a strong, graceful, kind, and intelligent woman. She leads by example. She is empathetic and she’s grounded. These are traits I try to embody. Applying that to my professional life, I don’t have to look too far into the future to be that type of person. There are things I can do in my everyday life right now to exemplify those attributes, and positively inspire those around me. Using her, and others like her, as my inspiration drives me to be a better person, friend, and employee.
Looking to the future, however, leads me back to goals. If you have not defined goals for yourself, that’s a great place to start. I’m not talking about sales quotas or project management. I’m talking about personal goals – what does personal growth look like to you? Who do you aspire to be?
Billie Jean King talked about her goal to be the best tennis player in the world. But that wasn’t her only goal. She also wanted equality for everyone. You may have heard of a movie recently released, called “Battle of the Sexes,” starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell. Yes, the story is based on the epic tennis showdown between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs back in 1973. But to hear Billie Jean tell you about it, that match was about more than just winning a title and a trophy. Winning that match was about winning equality for women. Equality for everyone. This is what she has spent her entire life fighting for, and continues to do today.She + Hero = Shero. It’s not enough to find them. You have to be one. Click To Tweet
Billie Jean King is one of my sheroes because of her powerful and inspiring message. She reminds us all, especially women, to aim higher, to find our voice, and to use it. Here are a few of my key takeaways from her session:
“Ask! Ask for the raise, for the promotion, for a seat at the table, for a position on the board. Women don’t ask, but we have to.” This means taking credit and advocating for yourself. As women, we wait for others to advocate on our behalf. We think to ourselves, “If I just do my work, keep my head down, and quietly show my value, eventually someone will notice it.” Sorry ladies, but this simply isn’t the whole story. Do the work. Show the value that you bring. Show them what you’re made of. And then, ASK for what you want, and go after it.
“If you get turned down, don’t have self-doubt. Figure out what you have to do to get to the next level. Take control of that path yourself.” This spoke volumes to me. Conceptually, it’s easy to understand. In practice, it can be very difficult to do. When rejection hits us, in any capacity, it is so easy to automatically assume that we just aren’t good enough, and retreat into a thick cloud of self-pity. This is the opposite of what we should do. Go back to the drawing board and figure it out. Envision where you want to go or what you want to be, and propose how to get there for yourself. Say you got turned down for a promotion. Instead of waiting a whole year to see if you get it during your next annual review, make a plan, and propose it. Have the conversation with your boss: “This is what I want to do; this is what I see in that role. Here’s what I think I need to do to get there – what am I missing?” Also, speak up! Make your ambitions known. People, including your boss, are not mind-readers. No one will know you want that promotion unless you tell them.
“It’s not failure – it’s feedback.” One piece of advice that Billie Jean King and Selina Tobaccowala gave was, “Work hard to get your weaknesses competent. Work on your strengths, and then surround yourself with people that do your weaknesses well.” Remember that you don’t have to do everything alone. One person cannot have all the answers. We all need support and new perspectives from the people around us. Your strengths are what makes you valuable. Bring that to the table, and keep surrounding yourself with others that bring theirs as well.
“Title IX isn’t just a women’s thing. It’s an everyone thing. But it’s a women’s thing because we’re so far behind.” Equality for women does not fall solely on women’s shoulders. It takes everyone. Billie Jean emphasized that men need to believe in women. They can make a huge difference. Fathers need to believe in daughters. Brothers need to believe in sisters. Everyone’s an influencer. We must all have the guts to drive change.
One last thought about sheroes. It’s not enough to find them. You have to be one.
Be a shero to someone else. As Kevin Spacey says, “if you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” In other words, take any and every opportunity you can to build up other women around you – personally and professionally. Become a mentor or a coach. Give advice. Empower and inspire other women in your life. Women connecting with other women is a powerful thing.
Lastly, and most importantly, be a shero to yourself. I can guarantee there will be a time in your life when you have to be your own inspiration. Use that to your advantage! Remember what you have accomplished so far, and look forward to where you want to go. Love yourself. Use your voice. Ask. Speak up. Be a shero.