40-Somethings & Women Leaders Agree: Career Wisdom For Life

Last week there was a great article published in The New Yorker on Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Ken Auletta’s in-depth article shared Sheryl’s experiences and views on working women as well as the debate between encouraging women to be more assertive vs. affirmative action for women in tech in particular. Check out The New Yorker article for more on the debate or tune into a live “Ask the Author” event today at 11am:
In either case, it got me thinking that much of the advice from women tech leaders applies to more than careers in technology…but also to career and life in general. In fact it mirrors much of  what 40-something women wish they had known when they were 20 AND is even more relevant today. For example, we felt the same pressure to know what we wanted to do right out of the college gates that many 20-something women tell me they struggle with today. 40-something women say…don’t worry about it….explore.  And as Facebook’s Sandberg points out, in today’s world it’s imperitive to not be tied to long term plans in our constantly changing world. Here is how the 40-something advice stacks up:

On doing things you are afraid of…

Find the courage to do things you are not ready to do. Marissa lists as examples four things that she was not ready for (going to college 2,000 miles away, choosing a major few people know about, going to Switzerland for a summer and working for a start up with 8 employee and a ridiculous name). Doing something you are not ready to do isn’t comfortable. But in pushing through this discomfort you will learn a lot more about yourself. You learn you can do something you did not think you could do, or you’ll learn where you’re limits are. Either is valuable.” – Marissa Mayer, VP, Google via the Huffington Post


“Do the things that you think you can’t do. It’s easy to dismiss it and say ‘Oh it doesn’t pay enough money or I can’t do that’ but you should. – 40-something, architect, Stamford, CT

On not knowing what you want to do in college/early 20s…

“If I decided what I was going to do in college—when there was no Internet, no Google, no Facebook … I don’t want to make that mistake. The reason I don’t have a plan is because if I have a plan I’m limited to today’s options.” -Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO


“Be open to the fact that what you want to do can change. I hire college graduates and some of them get so focused so young. I don’t think that they should know what they want to do for the rest of their life. Be open the idea that whatever you think you want to do may change 2 years, 5 years, 10 years down the road. Be okay with it and don’t get stuck. Go where life takes you.  – 40-something, executive, Los Angeles, CA


“You don’t have to decide what you are going to do for life when you go to college. If you do want to be a doctor and you have that clarity then you should follow that.  But for the 89% of us who don’t have that kind of clarity, it’s okay.”  – 40-something, fashion designer, Brooklyn, NY


On making decisions….

“The night before she ultimately accepted Google’s offer, Mayer spent more than four hours with her friend graphing and charting the pros and cons of the jobs. Frustrated, she eventually collapsed in tears. Her friend then gave her what she says is still the best advice she has ever received — advice that ultimately convinced her to pick the burgeoning search engine company over McKinsey.

‘You’re approaching this all wrong,’ she remembers him telling her. ‘You’re approaching this as though there’s one right answer and that’s just not what I’m seeing here. I’m seeing a bunch of really good choices and then there’s the one that you pick and that you commit to and that you make great. Go and sleep on it, and then just pick and commit to that.’


Sometimes indecision is okay. I don’t remember who said this, but big decisions are never made, they happen. I do believe that’s true. You can think about it and think about it but all of the sudden there will be a point where it just feels right. –40-something, media professional, San Francisco, CA


“You make the best decision you can make at the time and the situation you are in and just know that wherever it takes you, that decision is going to take you somewhere and it will be okay. – 40-something, sales rep and professional artist, Sierra Vista, AZ


On speaking up / stepping up…

“Women — even powerful women — tend to be lousy at self-promotion. We don’t know how to toot our own horns. If you don’t toot your own horn, toot another woman’s horn.” – Gerry Laybourne, Founder, Oxygen Media

“Women assume you will be noticed if you do the right things and that is not always the case.  You have to speak up for yourself. I work with groups of younger women who are intimidated. You want to be liked so you don’t want to tout your own accomplishments and then you get overlooked. Meanwhile the guy who sits next to you is like hey boss, I did this over the weekend. And people think, wow he is really a hard worker. He’s great. But If you really look at the work, the women’s work was probably a little better. Women are more team players. Which is great, but you also have to be your own advocate. You don’t have to be annoying about everything you do but you have to be your own advocate and you have to find a mentor who is going to speak up for you.” – 40-something, Investment Banker, Darien, CT



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