Power Woman

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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

Authenticity Matters

wim-van-t-einde-589443-unsplashI’ve never been one to toot my own horn. But a couple of times in my career, I found it necessary to hire someone to help me rethink how I present myself and how my body of work and accomplishments are shared with others. I hired a consultant, a business coach, to help me with it. In plain English, that means I hired a resume writer. I’m not actively looking for a job, but I need the sort of independent critique of my career that I can’t really get from people vested in my day job. 

She gave me a self-assessment that took over five hours to complete. We then spent an hour talking about it and how I want my career to progress from here on. One of the keystone questions she asked me is what I am known for and what I want to be known for.

After considerable thought, authentic is one of the words that came to mind. Let me tell you what this means to me.

I take my day job and professional career very seriously. My reputation, integrity, and ethics have always mattered. Thanks to an enormously influential undergraduate college professor in an honors accounting program, I learned early on that if we lose people’s trust in us as professional accountants – if we give them any reason to doubt our ethics – we were done. He taught us that unquestionable ethics, trust, and integrity were foundational elements in the field of public accounting and auditing where he coached all of us to start our careers. While I can’t say that I was naturally drawn to public accounting and auditing from an early age, this call toward high ethical standards was something that resonated quite well with me because that is fundamentally who I am.  

Fast forward, I began my professional career with one of the Big Eight world-wide accounting firms. Not one to want to screw things up, I was a pretty serious chick in my early work life. Always the arm’s length professional, always formal, and frankly, always a little bit stiff because I thought that’s who I needed to be. I didn’t want to ever destroy someone’s trust in me. But the real me is witty, and likes to use humor. It was exhausting to always be totally on guard, pleasant, and formal, because the real me is not overly formal at all times. 

At one point, I picked up an awesome client, my favorite place to work of all the places I had advised over the prior 20 years, and that’s saying a lot. One of the blessed things about that place was how much their culture values a sense of humor. To this day, the company hangs plaques on the wall to remind employees of what they value, but the thing is, it isn’t just words on a page, or a plaque in their case. Leadership, and therefore the employees, lived it and showed it, every single day.

It was there that I learned how to integrate the real me with the professional me. Totally,  authentically me. I found I could credibly be both trustworthy and light-hearted, yet fully able to deliver the gravitas that is needed whenever it is needed. All of these things are important because as an auditor, you are sometimes required to deal with some pretty heavy stuff, very serious business issues, and you need an outlet to laugh or you’d go mad.

What surprised me is how well people responded to the authentic me. Authenticity feeds integrity, something my husband and I try to teach our kids. What you see from me is what you get at work, at home, at church, with friends, wherever. I am the same person.

If you’ve paid attention to my posts, you may have learned that it drives me crazy to hear a leader say one thing but do another, or talk a lot of fluff or nonsense just to obfuscate a lack of substance. Our country has a dearth of leadership in that regard, and it’s something I can deliver, certainly on a smaller scale, so it’s time I talk about that.

What’s is your “brand”? What do you want to be known for and are you delivering it now? Is it coming across clearly in the ways you network, in the work you produce, and in the life you lead? What steps have you taken to hone what you present about yourself to the world? And how well-aligned are your work and personal lives? Do you want them to be?

Photo by Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash

Alone Time in Sin City

jonathan-petersson-607955-unsplashSitting here in my hotel room in Las Vegas, contemplating my professional life. I know how funny that sounds. A personally know several dozen people who would tell me my priorities are screwed up and I ought to be out right now, enjoying the night life here.

Eh. Vegas isn’t my favorite city in the world. The incessant ding-ding-ding of the slot machines the minute you get off the plane, the faint but lingering scent of stale cigarette smoke, the couples pushing baby strollers at 2 am, the cost of you-name-it here, the sparkling pasties attached to DDs on the Strip?  Eh.

I mean, God love Donnie and Marie, Celine, and everybody else here who has or ever once had a show.  The shows are pretty good. And I do love me some Cirque du Soleil. I make a point to catch at least one of those every time I come. But that was Sunday night upon arrival.

Now it’s Tuesday.  Tonight I need a little me time.

Besides, we may be back in the spring with the kids in tow! This is not a place I would normally prioritize bringing them, but the hubs is in conversations about teaching a master class at a university here so we all might tag along since his portion of the travel is a work expense. We do try to show the kids every little thing about the US so I guess it’s time to open their eyes to Vegas.

I’m sure the pasties will make an impression. Good thing we are up front and talk to the kids about everything. We don’t hide too much from them. We try to explain what the world is really like so they’re prepared for what they’ll see and encounter when they’re on their own.


Enough of that.

I came for a three-day conference on, get this: ethics and compliance. In Vegas. Isn’t that funny? It’s not really a town known for….ethics.

The conference is good stuff. Hearing the speakers lit a spark in me. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but honestly I could have spoken on a few of the topics. I’ve known that about myself for a while, 20-30 years at least. I used to teach our consultants, a few clients, and fellow auditors in the region when I worked at Protiviti and PricewaterhouseCoopers, so this isn’t an epiphany.

It’s simply been a while since I’ve done it and being here reminds me that not only should I teach classes again, but also I should do it on a national level. Besides, speakers often get comped for the conference fee and lodging, so why not? It’s a quick way to get known nationally for your work, and that is incredibly helpful especially during recessions and times like now when whole industries are being disrupted.

And so far, the blog is fun but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Besides, our CFO told me I would make for an awesome college professor because I can take an esoteric topic and make it tangible. Yes. Yes, I can.

Forget for a moment whether I’m doing that in this blog. I’m just sitting here typing tonight, stream-of-consciousness style, because this stuff is on my mind and I needed a little alone time in Sin City.

Sigh….the thing is, it’s been far too easy to just sit back, learn a few things, and passively collect my continuing education credits at these conferences but I get incredibly antsy if the speaker is bad. Or if they pull a bait-and-switch on the topic, like the one session that was supposed to be about artificial intelligence but turned out to be a 101-level class on data analytics for compliance purposes.

I can’t just sit there and listen to drivel. Nor can I just walk out all that easily. Truly, I’m there to learn (ethics and all….) but by the time I get up and try to find another worthwhile session, I’ll miss the crux of the conversation, so I stay put.

Sometimes you can get a nugget or two out of the talk. But sometimes you can’t. It’s situations like that when I start making a personal list of what groceries we need, what tasks I need to tackle for the kids if only I was home, what updates I should make to my LinkedIn profile, what work emails I need to send, and what I should be doing to market myself better.

And that leads me to my final point of the day.  One of the interesting tidbits that came up this week, echoed in recent conversations at work too, is how valuable authenticity is, especially to Millenials. And let’s face it….the torch is passing right now from the Boomers straight to the Millenials so it behooves a “middle-child” GenXer like me to pay attention to what Millenials need since they’re the economy of the future.

Millenials don’t want posturing. They don’t want fluff. They want people to be real with them. And I think I’m a pretty down-to-earth realist. I don’t try to sugarcoat. I DO try to be positive, though. So why shouldn’t I be me, and use humor to teach people the business concepts I work with every day? Why shouldn’t I share the knowledge I’ve gained? I’m a woman who understands technology, risk, and ethics, and I have a knack for communication. Why shouldn’t I give that a go?

Doesn’t this world need new leaders to step up? I’m not a new leader but it is time to step up. Time to roll the dice.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash