We Are Not Alone

As you may have noticed from a previous post, I went to the Women Entrepreneurs Festival  last week. It was by far the most interesting, inclusive and interactive conference that I have been to in some time if not ever. I’ve definitely been to some interesting, creative and fun conferences in the past in throughout my career in advertising / strategic planning / cultural trends / consulting. But this was fun in a different way.

Perhaps it’s the fact that social media today connects you to people ahead of time so when you get to meet them in person you feel as if you already know them. But I think it’s more than that. I felt as if everyone there really wanted everyone to win and was willing to contribute in some way.

From college and graduate students starting their own businesses to grandmothers on their 3rd round, everybody was valued and everyone was approachable. The fact that it was a called a festival rather than a conference reflects an emphasis on the celebration of women “Making It” (the festival theme) – contributing to the economy while filling real needs. See the introductory speech by conference co-chair Joanne Wilson and the conference wrap up by co-chair Nancy Hechinger  to see what “Making It” is really all about.

My point today about is about this sense of inclusiveness. If ever you felt left out of the club, or afraid to speak your mind for fear of looking stupid, or nervous asking for the deal, the funding, the raise, the promotion, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  If you ever felt like crying, or didn’t know how to get back up and get out there, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you ever thought I’m not good enough upon facing another no, a hang up, a failure, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you thought you weren’t worthy to go right up to the front of the line of people wanting to speak to the key-note speaker, the boss, the investor, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you ever felt too tired or too intimidated to go to another networking event, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

It’s not you…it’s us. But we can overcome that. Whether it’s the messages you received growing up from society, or pattern recognition in business or a feminine instinct, or a combination of all three…I don’t know. But I do know, that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I heard story after story from amazing and confident women about feeling as sense of fear or embarrassment to take the next step; followed by, “But then I did it and it got better and better.” And we owe it to each other to do it. As Joanne Wilson said, “Confidence is a choice.” And as Arianna Huffington remarked in her keynote speech, “Women do need more encouragement.”

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t “feel it” everyday. Realize it’s not some deficit in you. And then go do it. As another woman said, ”You can throw up afterward”.

This line of thought mirrors what I hear from 40-something (and plus) women. After you push aside “those obnoxious roommates in your head”, as Arianna Huffington calls the negative thoughts we impose on ourselves, over and over again it gets easier. And then one day they are gone.

“If you want something, if you have the opportunity to ask for something, you have earned it. You deserve to be there. The doubtful voices that get into your head come from another place and time. Push them out of your mind. It has nothing to do with what you are about to say/ask for/do. If you tell it to shut up often enough, it will go away. Believe me.” – 50-something board member, ex CEO/COO

I will share one story from Pooja Sankar, founder of Piazza, a Q and A website that fosters learning between students.  Indian by birth, Pooja’s  family moved to North America when she was 2 and then back to India when she 11.  She always felt like a stranger in a strange land. She went on to find herself one of the few women in her chosen course of computer science, again an isolating environment.  Read more on her story here:

She spoke at the Knowledge Makers panel about how she had been shy, studied on her own and had little access to other people who spoke her own language – either culturally or technically.  She was afraid to ask questions in class because she thought people would think it was a dumb question and she would be judged.

At her first job she was assigned a mentor. She had to meet with him. She had to answer him.  So she finally opened up to him. She told him she didn’t know the meaning of some acronym. He was thrown off at first. Then she realized that she had never been exposed to this language/terminology (fill in the blank for whatever subject you feel stupid asking about.) before. When she expressed this, he was thrilled to explain.   This gave her confidence to continue asking and asking.

“All I have to do it say to myself, is there ever a reason why I should know this?  No? Then okay I can ask. I make it a point to never stop asking.”

She then went on to eventually found Piazza so no student had to feel alone and could ask and learn from other students…despite being alone studying in your dorm room or feeling isolated.

For many young women entrepreneurship, or simply being entrepreneurial and enterprising at work is new and scary. That’s okay. You’re not supposed to know it all yet.  Ask. Ask about what you don’t know. Ask for a mentor. Ask how they got there. Ask what it takes to get to the next step. Ask for the money when you get there.  Surround yourself with other women and allow yourself to be encouraged and to encourage others. Share your stories and get their stories.

Thanks once again to the conference and to all the women …the organizers, the panelists, the amazing moderators and the organizers and all the women I met. And thanks for the encouragement.

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