Power Woman


Had an odd thing happen at work today, something that gave me pause for several reasons. We have consultants doing an assessment for us over 13 weeks and it’s about halfway done. They’re conducting a series of interviews with personnel in different departments. I’ve participated in a few of the meetings, both as an interviewee and observer/contributor.

This young female attorney is part of the team. She’s whip smart, confident, stylish, and attractive. The whole package. Frankly the whole team is relatively young and incredibly sharp. Sigh. Reminds me of the days when I was younger, sitting on the other side of the table, flying around the country doing similar work. You learn a massive amount of knowledge in a short period of time working as a consultant, and I miss those days sometimes. What an incredible way to build a foundation for a career.

Notice I said “when I was younger” and not “when I was young”. I don’t care what my chronological age is, I’m not old. I may not be the youngest in the room, I may even be the oldest in the room, but I am not old. That’s the one of the beautiful things about being so intensely curious, you don’t have time to grow old in mind or spirit. Forever young.

Anyway this young woman seeks me out to grab a cup of coffee to continue talking about one of the matters that arose during the interviews, and I was happy to oblige. Part of me was surprised, because outreach from younger people rarely happens, so I wondered if there was more to the request.

Shortly after the conversation began, she confessed she sought me out deliberately. “Ever since law school, everywhere I go, I look around for the power women.” That’s who she wants to know and she’s taking the time in her consulting career right now to meet these women wherever they are across the country since our industry doesn’t have an influx of women in it. She wanted to understand how I got into my line of work, what my experience has been, how I balance career and life, and where I think our industry is going.

We talked for nearly two hours. Our chemistry was immediate, and frankly, it was incredibly cool. I learned about how she immigrated from western Asia as a pre-schooler in the mid-90s and how she was he first in her family to go to college, let alone law school. How the professional and personal path she is carving for herself is very different from her family of origin, and it is important to her to seek mentors. When she goes home, she has no one to guide or advise her because they don’t understand her career or lifestyle, nor do they always agree with her choices. Choices that look very smart to me, but nevertheless radically different than what her family knows.

I sat across from her, humbled, honored, and full of admiration for her initiative. I wished there were women mentors like that available to me when I was her age. When I was her age, my office had one woman partner who was strangely aloof toward the younger women staff. She finally softened up in her late 40s, only after she learned she was dying from cancer. She passed a few days after she turned 50. Back then I wished there was a thing called LinkedIn where I could easily remain in touch with the few women I did meet. I’ve been on LinkedIn since 2002 or 2003 but it seems like only now is this the day and age where staying professionally connected online is a thing. And good for my coffee date to have the foresight to network like a boss early on in her career.

Now part of what made today feel so good was the ego-stroking, I’ll admit. I admired my new friend from across the consulting table and the feeling was mutual? And even better: she called me a power woman.

Damn straight, I am.

I may not know everything there is to know in my line of work but no one does. I’m curious, bright, and a holistic and strategic thinker. I can figure things out. I’m resourceful enough to know who I need to collaborate with internally and externally to my company to make things happen and I have the initiative to do it, so I do. I see the sweet spot where company need, my skill set, and my interests all intersect and frankly, I am one of the only people I know who can pull it all together. Deep in my bones, I know that about me and I have total confidence in my ability to deliver.

But this is where the conversation felt odd and I wanted to be dismissive: I don’t claim the “power woman” label. Ever. I know I should own it, but part of me is too humble to go there. Part of me was looking over each shoulder to see who she was talking about. Did she actually mean me?

Now the crazy thing is, humility can be a good thing – and sometimes I hear overpowering Christian messages to be humble – but humility is not helpful when you’re eager to contribute and live a life of meaning. It often requires stepping far outside your comfort zone. And the Bible even guides us not to hide our talents under a bushel.

But back to humility: I mentally struggle with whether I have arrived at a place of enough significance in my own life and with my own accomplishments to own the “power woman” title. At what point have I actually “arrived”? I don’t know the answer to that question.

I come from such humble beginnings, the fact that I even went to college for an undergraduate degree was a big deal. The knowledge I’ve gained since then is enormous. And the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.

Take the case of some volunteer work I’ve agreed to do. I have reluctantly joined the finance committee of a non-profit. I say reluctantly because I struggle to think I’m the smartest financial mind to tackle the issues at hand. Surely there have to be others who are more qualified.  But there aren’t. It’s me. I have what it takes, and what it takes is someone to step up. And now that I have, I’m committed to solving the problems. I can’t just kick the can down the road when I know a better way to handle it. Part of me wants to blow everyone away with improvements (seriously, the running list in my head is already endless) but I also need to pace myself being that it is volunteer work after all and I don’t need to burn myself out. Nor should I drive changes at a pace that overwhelms everyone involved. So yeah, I am the power woman who can make it work.

Still, it’s hard work to strip away the limits I put on myself. I can keep growing if I so choose, and I know this to be true because I’ve proven it over three decades of professional life.

I mentioned before that courage is my word for 2019, and I’ve challenged myself with a couple of quotes:

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

And this one:

There is no passion to be found in playing small and settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. – Nelson Mandela  

Both of those are meant to jolt me awake, especially the Mandela quote which truly speaks to me.

Still, I told my coffee date about how I don’t consider myself a power woman, and we laughed about it. We both knew the story of Oprah who was asked to give Harvard’s commencement speech, and she was nervous about it. She wondered if she was good enough to live up to the honor, it being Harvard after all.

But she’s OPRAH. She practically written the book on how to carve a life of meaning on your own terms.  

And my coffee date and I then laughed over the story of how Beyonce turned to Oprah on another occasion, and asked whether her performance was likewise “good enough”.

Queen Bey said what? 

Both of these women are powerhouses in their respective fields, frankly superstars who have transcended their original line of work to be true artists, and they’re asking the same question? The same question I’m asking? 

At least I’m in good company. 

I know you’re not supposed to care what other people think of you, but I do. I don’t want to look or be foolish or arrogant. There are plenty of men and women with titles higher than the one I hold right now, and frankly, you could easily argue that it is their responsibility to make the magic happen, not mine. But then I think of yet another quote: 

Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It’s about one life influencing another. – John C. Maxwell 

I also think of a friend of mine, this intoxicatingly strong woman, a power woman if ever I met one. She’s a surgeon, author, and pioneer in her chosen specialty. She tweets pictures of herself and her activities with the hashtag #Ilooklikeasurgeon to educate people what women do and how they succeed in the STEM fields. My admiration for her is through the roof. 

We had a recent conversation about self-worth which spawned another hashtag, this one called #knowyourworth, and I know this: my current title is no indication of my value. I know my value. I know my stuff, yet I am likewise savvy enough to recognize the need for expert advice to close the gaps on things I don’t know. I often think I need to own my worth to the same degree as I know it, taking my cue from my surgeon friend. 

But my coffee date? What a way to start a Monday.

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

An Introvert Speaks

Reprinted from a Facebook post two years ago today.

I had a pretty good day today and so many emotions are bubbling up inside. Bear with me while I sort through it all.

neonbrand-258972-unsplashSeveral weeks back I was invited to speak to a group of internal audit leaders from across the country as part of panel at a big bank in Cleveland. I won’t say the name of this bank because something tells me that the inner workings of Facebook are sneaky, as in, “Here’s what others are saying about XYZ…” and what you think is a private post to your friends somehow gets surfaced for public consumption. So if you happen guess the name of this particular bank in response, I will delete your post! lol Not that I’m saying anything truly private, sensitive or controversial here; these are just my reflections on the day and on my career relative to where I started out in life.

I was surprised to be asked to participate alongside chief audit executives from another sizeable bank and a major insurance company, entities you may very well know. My immediate gut reaction to being asked was excitement and “YES!” followed immediately by fear, genuine puzzlement, and “Wha? ME? Oh surely they don’t mean me. I mean, my department is relatively small and our audit work isn’t nearly as regulated and sophisticated as anything in the financial services industry, and yada yada yada. How could you possibly compare my audit department with this group of banks?! Why would they ask ME? Who thought to call me?”

And maybe they just called me because we represent a local, iconic American brand and it comes with the territory of working there. Or…. there are two influential people I work with today who have a strong connection to the bank, who could have suggested calling me and that is entirely plausible too. I don’t think I’ll learn how it came about but that’s ok. Not really the most important part of the story but definitely part of the story.

Seriously, three times in the weeks leading up to the event where I was coordinating logistics with them, I wanted to graciously bow out. I had to give myself the pep talk and restrain myself from cancelling. I was concerned I would let them down, that my perspective was small potatoes relative to what they deal with. Their coordinator so effusive and bubbly with anticipation about my visit and thought of every last detail. I wondered if I was out of my league, and whether I should put them in touch with an international conglomerate or two in town.

And then I kick myself for discounting who I am and what we do…and specifically what I have done in my career. Humility is a very good thing – and although you may think differently about me – I frequently let it consume me. However sometimes humility needs to get kicked to the curb so that confidence and leadership can reign in a world where both are desperately needed.

Yes, I know I can do this. I know I can knock it out of the park both in terms of content and delivery. Yet part of me likes sitting quietly in the corner without any visibility or notoriety. And part of me wonders if people think I’m full of hooey so what right do I have to speak up? What do I know? And yet another part of me wonders if there are people who are surprised that I even have this internal struggle. And I KNOW there are people who just don’t care at all and consider all of this to be mindless blither and drama. (And….you have a point there. I have amazing capacity to do just that.) And then I circle back to the part of me that thinks about how I know what to do and I love helping you figure out if what we do would help you too. After this exhausting analysis, I end up with that as the lingering thought.

So there I was today, part of me just thrilled to participate as this is the first in a long while – 7 or 8 years – that I’ve had a public speaking gig. Granted, it was a relatively small but national audience but they were a bright and engaged group and it was fun. I even got to use my line in response to “how’s business?”, which is, “we’re jamming”. (My company makes jam and jelly among other food items.) And they all laughed…..”Thank you, you’ve been a great audience, be sure to tip your waitstaff!”

True to style, I didn’t go in with a boring Powerpoint, either. I introduced some flair. Not exactly Steve Jobs-slick but commendable nevertheless. Ha! Flair and internal audit don’t really go together, but honey that’s part of the bling I bring to the profession.  I told you this was a GIANT nerd alert. But you’re still reading, so we’re good!

I didn’t know what to expect but it was a very cool morning. It was interesting to go through the security process. Nothing like pulling into a parking garage under the careful watch of a machine-gun armed guard. You could either be really nervous or feel pretty good about that. I didn’t even see the entrance to the garage, and here the wall opens up and the on ramp into the building unfurls like a rug. Who knew? At least I had a parking space among all the downtown St. Patrick’s Day revelers, and I’m comfortable that my car isn’t laced with a bomb unbeknownst to me.

As soon as the session ended, a couple of people approached me immediately to talk further, and then some of the women in the bathroom made a point to say they really enjoyed my remarks. That was gratifying, I’m not gonna lie.

The organizers liked what I had to say enough that one of them approached me about speaking at a sister bank location in Dallas later this year, if schedules align. The speakers they’ve invited in the past were chief audit executives at a major airline and a major home improvement store, the very people who were among the keynote speakers at the 1,300+ conference I attended last week, kind of the “stars” of the audit world. So while that was one guy’s opinion, he placed me in the company of some very talented people. Even if a follow-up gig doesn’t happen, I’ll say my thanks as that was a very nice compliment!

I think I would enjoy more speaking gigs. I have a lot to say – practically and academically – on the topic of audit, risk, and control. Perhaps the time has come to grow my career that way. God knows if it’s a way to network, abandon the safe route of sitting in my quiet little office, and let my career move in directions I never could have imagined, then so be it. I always wanted to be a teacher…and clinging to what is safe can be foolish as I’ve already learned the hard way.

Like Liz Gilbert says, fear should be acknowledged and it is allowed to have a seat on the bus but it isn’t allowed to drive. I am trying to treat fear just like that. Who knows where the scenic route leads?

As icing on the cake today, we panelists got a tour of the facility which was loaded with amazing architecture, art, and other features such as a three-story marble lobby with all kinds of architectural symbolism, Warhols with the silk screen dollar signs, the largest albeit no-longer-operating vault in the world protecting 9′ thick walls which was an incredible sight to see, a $100,000 bill, and all kinds of beautiful old currency. I wondered if I looked like a geek gawking at all of it…and if the financial services guys were going to be all Joe Cool about what we were seeing because they’ve seen stuff like this before. Yet they were geeking out over how cool all of it was too, so I felt pretty good about being in the club, so to speak.

So why am I sharing all of this? 1) There are so few people that I ever open up to about this sort of thing. Yet this is Facebook, you know, my online diary, haha, and you’re my friends. And if you hung on and read this to the end, I appreciate it. 2) Guys just don’t even debate this kind of stuff. They just do it and they don’t give it a second thought. They’re probably wondering why the hell I am dissecting this situation to this degree. But I do. 3) To know that I grew up unable to carry on a coherent conversation with people I KNEW let alone speak publicly on a professional topic to a bunch of people I don’t know….well, it still blows me away what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it. And every step along the way, you chop away at the fear so that you can, for example, progress from where I was to where I am. Maybe that’s being a bit too vulnerable for all of you to see but it’s true. 4) I like to write. This is what struck me today.

I had a pretty good day today.

PS…A few times over the years, people find out where I work and then they ask if I brought any free samples, as they did today. I good naturedly shrugged it off like a “my bad” oversight. I should have asked them if they had any free money to hand out as samples. Darn it. What a missed opportunity! That only seems fair, right? I can just imagine the scene unfold:

“BRR…BRR: security? We have a suspect identified. 5’4″, a brunette/blondish wannabe…we’re not really sure what hair color she was shooting for as it doesn’t appear in nature…with a deer-caught-in-headlights look on her face. She swears she was joking…”

Image courtesy of Neonbrand on Unsplash.com