Let’s face it: the professional arena can be challenging for anyone to navigate, most especially for women. From overcoming gender biases and stereotypes to the art of balancing work and personal life, women face many different hurdles in their professional journeys.
No matter where you are in your career path, how you overcome these obstacles and the lessons you take away from them will define your professional success. Do not let these challenges discourage or limit you; instead, use them as motivation to grow and adapt throughout your journey.
The honest, harsh truths
Sometimes life is difficult and unfair; this is just as true in the workplace as in your personal life. By acknowledging these harsh truths and challenging the status quo where it matters to you, you can influence change.
Sexism, racism, and other biases exist in the workplace
As much as society advocates for equality within the workplace, the sad truth is that unfounded biases and inequality still exist in the workforce. Many companies advertise their initiatives to put more women and minorities in leadership roles. Yet, the numbers still indicate that white men make up approximately 70% of the executive leaders in America.
The efforts to diversify the senior leadership workforce and the statistics do indicate improvement over the past few decades. But despite Corporate America’s best efforts, social biases persist within the workplace and will continue for the foreseeable future. Individuals have their own preconceived notions, which they carry with them into their companies. And it is individuals who influence the hiring, firing, and advancement of personnel.
If these numbers and statistics don’t sit well with you, then do something to change them. Go for that job or promotion, or use your connections to get your foot in the door for a role at a new company. Don’t let the numbers stop you from trying. Change doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by action.
You are just a number
You know the phrase “It’s not personal, it’s business”? Well, as personal as your career feels to you, it all boils down to the business for your employer.
The “business is business” stance continues to be proven with the current flux of hiring freezes and layoffs occurring within multiple industries. As hard as I worked to ensure that this mantra would never apply to me, I learned its accuracy through my own hard lessons.
A sort of freedom comes along once you can acknowledge this truth. With a clear delineation between personal and business in your job, you can free yourself from the moral responsibilities you may have otherwise added to your professional obligations. Why sacrifice your mental health and personal life for a company that would ultimately not do the same for you?
Which brings me to the last hard truth …
Your boundaries are your responsibility
Only you can create the work/life balance you need and deserve.
Boundaries at work are essential. They allow you to accomplish your goals, both personal and professional, while also ensuring you can be the best version of yourself. Your mind and body need rest and time to decompress for optimal performance.
Set yourself up for success by setting your priorities and establishing a schedule. Block your calendar to focus on work during a specified time so you can focus on your family and personal life outside of this time. Then stick to your plan. By prioritizing your objectives and planning for them, you can fight off professional worries outside of work hours.
If you are unable to disconnect from work (or thinking about work), do some self-reflection and try to find a solution. Stressed about a big project that is running behind? Ask for support from your manager to get some assistance or a deadline extension. Constantly getting texts and emails during your off hours on work-related communication? Turn on your do not disturb function or set an out-of-office reply that you will respond during working hours. Dreading going to work every day? While this is a normal reaction occasionally, if this trend continues you should evaluate if it’s time to move on to something better suited to your life goals.
Boundaries have never been my strong suit. From day one in my career, I gave 110%, working long hours and taking on additional responsibilities to avoid disappointing anyone (including myself). It was never about the money or titles, yet the harder I worked, the more assignments and opportunities came my way. Did it pay off with a successful career for a long while? Yes. Did I burn myself out, ending up lost and unfulfilled in my job by 40? Also yes.
Set your boundaries early. Stick to them. Make sure you have a well-rounded life outside of work. Don’t lose yourself in your career. Your physical and mental health is never worth any promotion or paycheck.
Stay true to yourself along the way
It’s easy to get caught up trying to fit into a certain mold or meet society’s expectations of success. You may feel steered towards specific paths or convinced there’s only one “right” way to climb the corporate ladder.
We’ve all been there, desperately searching for that perfect balance between passion and practicality. But here’s a little secret: staying true to yourself is the key to career success (and your sanity).
Consider what you want
Every once in a while, schedule a professional wellness checkup with the expert — yourself. Take inventory of your accomplishments, your failures, and lessons learned. Imagine what you want long-term in your career. Set goals for one year out, five years, and then set a plan for the legacy you want to leave behind whenever you decide to retire someday.
Doing these honest periodic checks with yourself is crucial to ensure you are headed in the right direction. Because so often in life …
Your path will change — and that is okay
The best things in life are usually not what we had anticipated. This would be a frustrating statement if there weren’t something true and beautiful about accepting change in your life.
When you’re fresh out of school and eager to take on the professional world, you probably have a career path in mind and goals on how to navigate yourself there. But as you continue your career, you will be exposed to new knowledge and options. You will acquire more skills and have new experiences. Somewhere along the way, you may find something new and completely different that lights you up in a way you couldn’t have imagined when you started.
Life is too short to spend 40+ hours a week doing something that doesn’t light a fire in your soul (or at least keep you mildly entertained). Don’t hold yourself to a path or a goal you’ve outgrown. Allow yourself the chance to try something different, even if it’s scary. You’ll never know if you don’t try.
Success in life is not defined by your title or paycheck
Looking back at my nearly two decades in the corporate world, I can barely recognize the naive 22-year-old young woman who first stepped foot in that office building many years ago. What would I tell that young woman before her first day in 2004 if I had the chance? Well, so many things — not that I would have listened to a middle-aged woman anyway.
I would tell her the years and experiences of my career molded me into a very different person than I had thought I would be. Through many triumphs and many, many painful lessons, I evolved to appreciate a very different version of success than I had in my original life plan. And even after all the mistakes, inequalities, and obstacles I’ve faced in this journey, I wouldn’t trade any of them.
Enjoy the journey
“Life is a journey, not a destination.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
The one resounding piece of advice in all of this — enjoy the journey. Keep your eye on the prize (whatever that may be) but don’t be afraid to pivot if you’re called in a different direction. Embrace your failures with open arms as the lessons they can be. Work hard, but never so hard that you forget to live your life along the way.
Enjoy the journey because it’s the only one you get. Within the journey is where your true success will be defined.
Was there a harsh career truth you didn’t want to believe? How do you feel about it now? Has your definition of success changed over the years? Share below in the comments!