30 Working Women Share Things They Wish They Had Known When They Were Younger
People tend to daydream about the same things. About how we’d heroically protect our friends if a zombie apocalypse broke out. About how awesome it would be to have magical powers. And about how much better our lives would be if we could send our past selves some darn good advice.
Just in case you discover your secret magical powers let you time travel, it’s probably wise to know what you’d tell yourself in the past. Entrepreneur, founder of The Riveter, and mother-of-four Amy Nelson asked her Twitter followers what advice they’d give their working younger selves.
We’ve collected some of the most eye-opening pieces of advice, so scroll down and soak up the knowledge. Upvote the tips you found useful and share your own advice in the comments!
Bored Panda spoke to Nelson, Paige Hewlett, the CEO of Call Margo, as well as Megan K. Stack, journalist and author of Women’s Work, about the challenges that women still face in the 21st century, as well as the advice they'd give to their younger self. “There is a lot of advice I'd give my younger self if I could!” Stack told us. Scroll down for our triple interview!
According to Nelson, she created the thread because she thinks it provides an opportunity for women to share advice with each other: "There is so much power in women sharing their stories with one another. We live through a lot of the same experiences at work, but we don’t often have the chance to give advice to one another. We need more opportunity to do this."
"I think the biggest hurdle facing women in the workplace is a long outdated bias that we are somehow less committed than men to our work," she told Bored Panda. "It leads to the pay gap, to a world where we are less likely to be promoted, and to a place where the American economy isn’t getting the full benefit of women’s leadership and creativity," Nelson said.
"The best way to get past wasted opportunities of the past is to keep moving forward. To take the advice we hear from one another, use our voices, and make ourselves be heard at work —and beyond."
According to Hewlett, "one of the biggest lessons to learn as a working woman (and for me, a working mother) is that taking care of yourself and protecting your mental and physical wellbeing is as critical to your success in work as it is in how you feel on a day to day basis. Identifying ways to invest in yourself and your future lets you create building blocks for the experiences you want to have—small but intentional steps today have a compounding effect that pay off in the long run—which we see in careers, relationships, investing (401k, etc), and our well being."
"The advice I gave was indicative of the areas I’ve found that are good investments based on my lifestyle and my goals—and help me be the most productive, engaged, happiest version of myself."
Hewlett pointed out that there are plenty of challenges for working women in 2020. "And we can categorize a lot of them as effects of a patriarchal society. At the end of the day, we are our own greatest champions and our own greatest saboteurs. You don’t see men apologizing for wanting greatness—whatever that could be on their terms—and why should women? Let’s stop asking if it’s okay if we want something, and instead just go after it. The anguish is wasted energy and time—take up space, advocate for what you believe, be the most you you can be—and don’t apologize for it."
"I really believe that we should reject the idea of working woman guilt," she told Bored Panda. "Beyond that, guilt is a manifestation of regret or misalignment in belief and action. I think quite simply, if you do the best you can with the information and resources you have—and do better when you can—there’s no reason to have that guilt."
"Acknowledge the areas where your resources, lifestyle, experience aren’t going to align and move on—focus your energy, time, and resources on the work that you can do now and the small steps that will get you toward your goals. What could have been, will never be. Focus on how you can move forward and take action that aligns with where you want to go."
Hewlett continued: "As Samuel Beckett said, 'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.' Reflect on your past experiences, but ever forward. When you can do or be better, acknowledge that and act accordingly."
Meanwhile, Stack elaborated about her own point of view. “I was remembering my early years in the journalism business and how things were for me— people were always pointing out my age or saying, flat-out, that I was too young to have the jobs I had,” Stack explained her comment on Nelson’s thread about people viewing women as either too young or too old. “This began when I was a national correspondent for the LA Times a few years after college, and it intensified when I started covering the war on terror and got posted overseas later that year.”
“I heard about my age all the time. Of course, on the one hand, it can be a compliment. But more often, the fact of my age was used against me by colleagues, competing journalists from other organizations, and even sources, at times. People who tried to push me aside or bully me off a story would imply that this was appropriate because I was younger and therefore didn't really know what I was doing.”
“She continued: “Some people would even go so far as to question how I got my job or my stories—implying that perhaps I'd charmed somebody or even seduced somebody. And (because I was indeed young!) I took all of this very hard. I couldn't wait to turn 30. I imagined that once I was 30 I would never hear about my age again. And that was very briefly true— VERY briefly,” Stack told Bored Panda about the twists and turns of her career.
“But now I've gone through more of the career arc, and I realize that middle-aged women have to fight their own perception battles in the workplace, and very quickly start to get passed over professionally because—why? I'm not sure,” she mused.
“It's almost like, once you enter the age where you remind people of a mother, then again you struggle to be regarded and treated as a full-fledged professional. This is reality. These are social-professional dynamics that women have to face. It's not fair, but the truth is, youth in a woman is seen as evidence of incompetence whereas when young men show up, they are often regarded as prodigies. And at the other end, older men are seen as wise and experienced, whereas older women are treated as if they have little to contribute. It's infuriating.”
Stack said that, in her opinion, women of any age ought to push through all of that. “You owe it to yourself and you owe it to other women, too. Instead of letting it get in your head, instead of letting other people's perceptions define you, it's important to stay strong and perform well and force those perceptions to change. So I wish I could tell my younger self—don't sweat it. This is going to go on your whole life. Instead of thinking that, if you can just hang on, it will go away—work on getting better at ignoring it.”
We also wanted to know what challenges in Stack’s opinion women still face today.”Beyond the above, there are also concrete and systemic challenges that women have to contend with: childcare, unequal burdens at home, pay gap, perception gap.”
“Women are more likely to step away from their careers or education for their children, and then struggle to find a way back in. Women are more likely to be single parents. Now we've had #MeToo, which has certainly brought about some positive change for women in the workplace, but on the other hand, I've seen emerging studies indicating that now men don't want to work with women anymore,” she said.
“That's a huge slap in the face: we're trying to deal with a very real landscape of sexual harassment and assault, and the reward is that now men don't even want us in the workplace? What a statement that makes!”
“I don't feel guilty about wasted opportunities in the past. It's not really my style! I can recognize times when I could've done things better, but life truly is about making mistakes and staging comebacks,” Stack told Bored Panda that she has an optimistic and growth-focused mindset.
“That's the whole fun of it, really. I feel very lucky because despite many false starts and ups and downs, I've wound up with a beautiful family and work that I'm proud of. That's not to say I'm satisfied—I'm not. I think my best work is still in front of me.”
“But another thing I've learned, life is long! If your career isn't exactly what you want early in life, you can turn it around later. Likewise, if you haven't found happiness in your family or personal life so far, that doesn't mean you won't. I look back at my friends in high school—when we were teenagers, a friend got pregnant and had the baby, living with her parents. Another friend got arrested for drug dealing and she went to prison for a few years. At the time, we all thought—oh, their lives are ruined. It's all over for them. But you know what, they're both fine now. They both have college educations and families; one of them has a PhD.”
The writer continued. “It wasn't easy for them, of course, but that's life—there is usually time to come back. Nobody should regard their current situation as permanent. Maybe I have this view to excess because there is some part of my brain that still thinks—oh, one day I'll get around to becoming a lawyer, one day I'll be a professor, one day I'll be a park ranger. I know that I'll run out of time at some point. I feel like I will never retire. It's really impossible for me to imagine wanting to do that.”
The idea that women need to come together to have a voice in the corporate world is nothing new to Nelson. In August 2019, she met with Phyllis Campbell of JPMorgan Chase and they discussed exactly that, sharing their insights with everyone. Campbell highlighted that resilience, persistence, and discipline are three virtues that lead to financial (and other types of) success.
“There are going to be those tough times, when you ask, ‘What are we doing? And why are we doing this?’ And people telling you, ‘You can’t do it.’ There are all kinds of setbacks and roadblocks, but I think the most important thing I learned is you’re going to make mistakes. Pick yourself up. Don’t beat yourself up. And say, ‘What did I learn?’” The Riveter reports Campbell saying.
Campbell told the story of how she got her first job in banking by literally calling the bank every day for over 2 months. She was so persistent that she got hired. Campbell also noted the importance of developing financial discipline early on in life: “Don’t spend what you don’t have, and if you have extra, start putting it away.” Honestly, that’s solid advice that everyone should hear periodically. Preferably, once a day via phone, until we start following it.
Meanwhile, Nelson explained the need to balance out discipline with risk-taking: “We also need to take some risks, particularly as women, because the barriers to entry are harder.” Both women noted that having confidence is a great character feature; however, it should be balanced out with a willingness to improve, to listen to others, as well as to learn from mistakes. It’s great advice for working women. But it’s also amazing advice for people from all walks of life in all stages of their journeys.
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