Have you ever watched a movie and wanted to shout at the person on the screen and tell them not to go into the basement because you can see who's hiding there? Did the female lead ever dismiss the good guy early in the movie in favor of the bad boy whose faults are revealed to the viewer but not to her? Don't you want to yell, “Don't fall for him. He's lying."?
Well, that's kind of how I sometimes feel when I talk with my much younger friends. As a woman in my 60's, I've become a sort of elder spokesperson to these fledglings. While life is not a movie, hindsight can imitate it. But just as I did in my 20's and 30's, they listen to well-meant advice with a little “you really don't know what it's like nowadays" echoing in their heads. But some important basics don't change and will help make life a little better in the future. Here goes:
THE most important thing to remember is your future just doesn't happen to you, at least if you take part in its shaping. Sounds simple, right? Somehow, it's always easier to say, “I'm too young to think about that now."
Try incorporating some of these key points in both your personal and professional lives and you'll have your hands on the wheel:
1.The media are the message—social media that is.
Keep yourself up to date on all sites, both professional and personal. Know the difference and make sure you don't over share on the personal ones. This is something I've never been guilty of, but I often wonder why some of you post so much on your sites. Prospective employers don't need to know how you look in a bikini or how fast you can chug a beer. Nor do new boyfriends need to see a history of you and your ex.
2.Have a go-to interview outfit, and invest heavily in it.
If there's anything I've learned, it's that you are what you wear. If you walk into an interview and the first thing your potential boss sees is the 50 wrinkles in your cheap white blouse, they're already too distracted to listen to what you have to say. Buy a good blouse and a power outfit. Spend the money. You will feel better, more comfortable and at ease, and you won't be worried about your clothes while delivering your best interview version of yourself.
3.Keep your LinkedIn and other professional sites current.
Your resume should be updated whenever there are any status changes. I wish someone had warned me about this. Trying to piece together 14 years of job history with my firm when another company bought it was a monumental task. I wish I had kept a “job diary."
4.Don't be pressured to find a mate/husband.
You've time for that. Get to know yourself. Speaking as a single woman, let me clue you in: there are a lot of perks to the unmarried status. While singlehood isn't for everyone, neither is marriage. Going solo can be fun too.
Don't settle for the wrong guy just to have a guy. Don't sell yourself short--you deserve someone you're thrilled to be with, not someone who'll just be "better than nothing." (That's what my friend's father named the husband she quickly divorced.)
5.Don't envy anyone because they look so perfect online.
It's easy to portray a false image for the public. I remember having dinner with a friend I hadn't seen in years. On her Facebook page she looked happy and popular. She told quite a different tale; those “friends" were co-workers she was forced to socialize with for business. She currently was looking for a new job because she was miserable.
6.Be careful not to get involved in office drama.
I had a boss who was always telling me all the details of her marital problems and when she and her husband smoothed things over, I was resented for knowing their secrets. I had to transfer to another department. Also, don't get involved in office gossip. You can't anticipate who will hold what position in the future.
7.Don't box yourself in - be open to possibilities.
You never know where your current career might lead you. This is an area where I definitely could have been more open. I was once offered a job as an assistant manager of a famous antiques shop and turned it down without considering it because I felt I didn't have the knowledge. The owner was willing to train me, and it might have been interesting and certainly fun, but I was too timid to try it.
8.Don't take yourself so seriously that you burden yourself with critical timelines!
Dip your toes in different waters. Remember Gaugin was a stockbroker before he became well known for his painting. Now I'm not suggesting you dump your current endeavors and hightail it to Tahiti, but hey, you never know!
9.Financial health is important no matter your age.
Save the maximum. Bank your raises. Sure you can and should splurge now and then. Just be aware the future is closer than you believe. I wish someone had twisted my arm to get me to follow this crucial advice. I felt the future was so far away that I should enjoy now and save later. Unfortunately, I'm now retired and still paying a mortgage.
10.Pay attention to politics.
Maybe you needn't get into a dispute over your candidate while at work, but stay informed and be active on issues that speak to you. Now is the time to begin to make statements through your actions. Being involved in current events can help shape the future of this country.
11.Take care of yourself both physically and mentally is another investment in the future.
Careful eating and exercising can go a long way to making you a happier, healthier person both now and in the future. I was always interested in nutrition and took courses on the subject in college, but now there is so much information just a click away. Also, don't be afraid to seek emotional support when you need it.
12.Don't be afraid to rock it. You've got youth on your side.
While age no longer makes a difference in fashion, the really wild outfits usually benefit from a bit of young blood. No, you won't see me in dowdy clothes, and my blue toenail polish is anything but dowdy, but I think I'll leave the short jumpsuits to you.
13.Be sure you know the difference between a friend with a problem and a problem friend.
People that are always negative can drag you down with them. I was once in a situation where a friend of mine would have problem after problem, many of them of her own making and would talk about nothing else. She never wanted any advice and would just continue to dwell in misery. After a time, I had to minimize my contact with her. The relief I felt was amazing.
14.Never compare yourself with anyone.
I believe that has been one of the most important principles I have followed. As long as I'm doing the best I can, I only judge myself on my own merits—not in comparison with anyone. That has given me an amazing sense of peace and acceptance.
15.Live your passion.
There's a saying that if you work at what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. When you can combine your work with your passion, you are indeed fortunate. While I can't say that I had a passion for my work, I can say I have always enjoyed it. I could never understand people that complain about their jobs and how they hate them. I have never worked at a job for any length of time unless I truly enjoyed it.
16.Be sure to embrace your talents.
Don't be so critical of yourself that you don't see your own assets. Trust me, you'll encounter lots of people who will be more than happy to lend a hand in pointing out your shortcomings. A little self love is a good thing, although too much is definitely not!
17.Your success can breed success for others.
Share your knowledge, networks and experience with others. I love keeping a file of information if my head and linking people I believe can be of benefit to one another.
18.Invest in social capital.
Friends and acquaintances should be positive additions to your life. Friends can be part of a network, both professionally and personally. Housecleaning friendships can be liberating, and nurturing good friendships can add to your well-being. At this stage in my life, I realize the friends I have had the longest are those with common interests and values. Choosing friends as thoughtfully as you do jobs and mates should be the norm.
19.Don't be afraid to listen to your inner voice.
It may tell you something important. I once had an interview and had a bad vibe about the prospective boss, but I ignored it and took the job. It didn't take too long to find out he was difficult and condescending, and in a one on one situation, it was impossible. I quit within a month.
20.Listen to the voices of experience.
This might be the most important one. Listen to those who are older and wiser. They might actually know something!
Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses
Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.
I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.
The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony
The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.
I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.
I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.
I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke
I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.
I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.
From Paper to Digital
We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.
The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.
I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.
I second guessed myself all the time.
A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.
I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.