“I will make the money and you can raise the children,” I told my boyfriend during graduate school.
I was obsessed with work. So confident that it was all that I wanted to do. I figured that I could just keep working, whatever.
Fast-forward five years. My graduate school boyfriend and I are now married, and he makes more money than I ever have. I have had my heart broken so many times -- not once by him, but several times by my career.
Was it inevitable?
Here are three things that I know now about being a woman in business that I didn’t know when I was 25.
In business, perfection is a red herring
I loved perfecting my work. I loved zoning in for hours, making sure that everything was just right. I thought picking up slack for my teammates meant I was an A-player.
It made me so happy, to make things perfect. Actually, no one cared that it was perfect except for me.
With most jobs, being sloppy is fine, as long as you’re on good terms with the right people. This is so important, that I am going to say it again: Being sloppy is fine, as long as you’re on good terms with the right people. For whatever reason, I think that males tend to get this more than females do.
I still love doing things perfectly. I’m probably still the only person who cares.
Use your natural talents, or face competing while at a disadvantage against naturals
I majored in finance during business school to challenge myself and develop my math skills. I thought they could use some pushing. As a generally confident person, I figured that I was going to fix a weakness. To a certain extent, I did.
However. There is one thing that I can’t do that people who are naturally oriented towards numbers can do, and that is do complex numerical calculations quickly in my head. This was made painfully aware to me during one of those killer, four hour interviews where a bunch of people act really supercilious while asking you tough questions and you try to answer them correctly while not visibly breaking into a sweat.
I bungled a mental math problem during one of those horrific interviews that a natural quant probably would have aced. It wasn’t the only thing I messed up. An interviewer grilled me relentlessly with one foot propped up on the interview table.
“Tell me your weaknesses… another weakness… ANOTHER WEAKNESS!”
Flabbergasted and unable to tear my eyes away from his hairy ankle, I broke into a sweat. “I’m… nice?”
The only real strength is the ability to judge accurately
Being nice is not a weakness. It just is. Like being mean just is.
Whether or not your niceness or meanness appears to be a weakness or a strength is determined is how judiciously you wield it.
There’s a whole book written about how nice girls don’t get the corner office. This is only partially true. The more complete truth is that most girls don’t get the corner office.
The way that you handle this information is how you show your strength.
Conclusion to Part I
I guess if I had to sum up what I didn’t know about being a woman in business when I was 25, it would be that you really are who you are, and you have to make the most of it.
That means doing the best you can with the bare facts rather than attempting to create a perfect world.
I was probably wrong when I thought that I would be the clear breadwinner in my family, but you never know. It could still happen. It's not important, however.
The world doesn’t work according to any one person’s schedule. Opportunities present themselves at unpredictable intervals, and our ability to exploit any given opportunity varies throughout our lives.
I don’t think that people should ever stop building, even when it might have looked like things have stalled. There is always love to grow, creativity to release, and talent to use.
Sometimes, the right move to make is just to keep paddling while keeping your eyes peeled.