Erica. The Final Chapter. Wisdom, Inspiration and Advice

posted April 8th, 2009 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

In Erica’s opinion, the best advice she was ever given was about having children, specifically, when you have children take the time to bring them up because you have a lot more time than you think you have.

In Erica’s opinion, we are programmed to think that we only have the years between age 25 and 40 to be successful in our careers but she believes we have much more time than that. And she thinks you can do it all, but you will regret it if you don’t take the time with your family when your children are young. She had women come to her to specifically tell her that when she had her first child; they made sure she knew there was lots of time. They wanted her to know because it was their biggest regret. And she certainly has regrets about the times she didn’t listen to their advice, but by and large she actually took it.

She says she has been given a lot of advice, really great advice which she didn’t take. Perhaps, she didn’t take it because the advice wasn’t right for her and she admits to being pretty stubborn. And sometimes when she didn’t take the advice, she went ahead and learned things the hard way. And she learned a lot from this type of experience. It was painful but it strengthened her for follow on challenges.

In her mind, the best advice, she could give a young woman today is that in general, you have a lot more time than you think you do. Erica says she still fights against it, being judged against the clock. She says the clock is male oriented and knowing it is not legitimate and doesn’t apply to her; she still fights against it in her head.

When asked whether she would advise a young woman to form alliances with other women, she says: “Definitely!! It will help you.”

In Erica’s words: “Life is really about friendships. That’s really what it comes down to. It’s not about money. Friendships with your family or friendships with your friends.
Female friendships will last a lot longer than any friendships with men, of course, you don’t realize this until you are in your thirties. Friendships with men are complicated by the fact that they are men and there are other issues!!”

Erica would encourage women to establish alliances with women (and men) in the same company and outside it. In her mind, it doesn’t matter. She would advise a woman to make sure she has alliances with women (and men) in her company, however, have as many alliances as she can; it makes everything a lot more fun.

Erica says she finds the concept of having a best friend at work an important one. The times she has most enjoyed her work were when she had a best friend at work, someone she could phone and talk to about things that someone outside the company couldn’t relate to. For example, she could determine whether she was fairly treated on her salary/bonus, how she should approach this negotiation or that situation. Again, she emphasizes, it means you will have a lot more fun.

She says most times she had a best friend at work and she definitely had lots of alliances with other women and felt very supported. She met a lot of women at work through a women’s network which was originally sponsored by her employer. It was through this network that she met many of the women in the bank. It was the formalized structure which resulted in this network and her feeling supported. It was not an informal thing that came together. It was organized and supported by the institution and when it was no longer supported, the women kept it going. And she believes it is probably still needed.

At one point, she formed a strong connection with a woman in a similar function and they talked about “everything” eg how they were going to negotiate their raises, how they were going to do everything. She believes this type of information was very helpful and that men share this type of information with one another, even though they are not supposed to do so. Sharing information helped Erica and her colleague increase their salaries to quite a good level, the same level as the men doing the same jobs. She thinks it helped them in their negotiations because they knew the facts going in. Erica’s colleague gathered the same information from the men, so they were always in a strong negotiating position.

She says she wouldn’t advise a young woman to pursue technical skills over management skills or vice versa. She believes a woman can be successful no matter what she does, as long as she is interested by it. She would advise a young woman not to be too influenced by what other people tell them they need to do, to stick to, as much as they can, who they are, to try not to change too much because people tell you that is what you need to do.

“Don’t let the outside world manage your career. You will be different than the person at the next desk and what someone sees as a weakness someone else will see as a strength. If you are not technical, find someone who really likes your management skills and if you aren’t a good manager, find someone who really likes your technical skills. Don’t try to be someone you’re not!”

When I asked Erica what else she would want a young woman to know, she said to keep her options open. Don’t be afraid to get fired or have a bad time or get into trouble. It’s very important to learn to roll with it. One time Erica was telling her Dad about the trouble one of her bosses had got himself into. He had gotten the external auditors and the CEO so riled up that they were calling for his head on a platter. Her Dad said: “Well, for most of us it would be the end of the world, but for him it’s just a bad day.” While Erica would not have wanted to emulate his relationship skills, she did see a lot to admire in her boss’s attitude. And no, he didn’t get fired.

Erica told me her proudest work accomplishments were developing the program for her own company and having someone actually buy it which was a huge leap for her. Starting something from absolutely nothing and going out and selling it and seeing that people liked it and having them refer other people who bought it too really gave her a sense of accomplishment.

In the corporate world, her feeling of greatest accomplishment came from completing similar projects, three really big projects at the Schedule A bank where she worked. Two of these projects became the standard for the bank, the accepted way and one of them got canned during a reorganization which she is still mad about today and still thinks is a really great idea.

The first two projects, she is proud of because they were good sustainable ideas which have worked in one case for more than 20 years and in the other case for more than 10 years. Conceptually, that is very satisfying, to have created something which has lasted in spite of all of the obstacles.

She created her company from scratch too! Erica likes to start with a blank sheet of paper and end by looking back and saying: “See what happenend!!”

She believes the major obstacles she faced were more internal than external, a matter of confidence. She didn’t realize how good she actually was compared to others and as a result she had a lot more leverage than she realized. It was an era where she didn’t receive compliments; her managers had to be sent on training courses to learn to say thank you. She really didn’t know she was valued.

She says, when she started out, she had so much nerve. Often, she didn’t know what she was getting into but it didn’t hold her back, she would just go out there and go for it. She remembers saying to a potential employer while being interviewed for a job, you need a marketing manager and being hired having never been a marketing manager in her life. She looks back and admires having done “stuff like that”

When she had a lot of nerve and just went out there and did stuff it has worked a lot better for her than when she second guessed herself and worried too much!!!

When I asked Erica where did you turn for support when facing obstacles? And what did you learn from the experience? She said without a moment’s hesitation: “To my friends and family. I don’t isolate myself. It helps you dust yourself off and get on with the next thing. You don’t spend your life avoiding bad things but you do have to have a good support network when you fall off the horse and have to get back on it.”

Looking at her career in its entirety, the thing she says she would have done differently is to have started down the entrepreneurial path at the beginning of her career. She thought she was taking the safer approach by going the corporate route and getting experience before going out and starting her own company. She thought she would learn a lot on someone else’s dime and she says she certainly made a lot of money and that was probably a good thing, however, she thinks she could have done just as well taking the entrepreneurial route from day one. And she thinks she would have had a more enjoyable time, more peak times than in a corporate world where much of your time is spent slogging away and you are so dependent on the approval of a very few people and even great ideas can be thrown out because someone doesn’t feel like reading a report. When you are an entrepreneur, you can keep an idea going longer, so her one regret is not having gone out on her own earlier.

Erica considers her greatest success at work to be “figuring it out”. It became fun for her. She stopped getting involved in the politics to the point that she got angry. She could see how it was people trying to get stuff done and doing stuff to each other but she could laugh at is as opposed to being outraged by it. She could step back and she could pull the strings. She says she got very, very good at pulling all of the strings, at figuring out how to get people to get stuff done. She really enjoyed it then. It wasn’t personal.

Erica established her own business when she left the corporate world. And she acknowledges she hasn’t gotten as far with her business as she got in the corporate world, in terms of her perspective. It’s not that she takes it personally but she is still looking at what strings to pull. She has in mind what she has to find out. She knows that she has to find the strings she needs to pull and acknowledges it will take her a while to figure it out.

And I must say, I am totally confident she will discover whatever it is she needs to do to take this business to whatever level she desires. She is in the prime of her life and the one word I would use to describe her is indomitable. And it has been a pleasure to spend this time with Erica and a privilege to tell you her story.

Although, we did not discuss it during our interview, I feel I would be remiss not to mention that Erica and her children suffered a great tragedy this past year when she lost her gentle, kind and loving husband and her children lost their father. And I was honoured and deeply moved to witness their daughter, a young, beautiful, gutsy freshman give a loving tribute at his funeral, a few short days later. I was profoundly moved to see before me the strength of this young woman, who despite having suffered such a loss had the courage and desire to pay tribute to a parent who she had loved deeply and respected greatly. This young woman was so obviously well and truly loved and her courageous spirit so apparent, I understood before Erica said it to me months later, this was a child whose parents regarded their children and their family to be their work of greatest significance and they had so very much to be proud of.

What else strikes me?

We learn a lot from learning things the hard way. It can be painful but it strengthens us for follow on challengses.

When you have children take the time to bring them up because you have a lot more time than you think you have.

Life is really about friendships. It’s not about money.

Female friendships last longer than friendships with men. Friendships with men are complicated by the fact that they are men.

Having a best friend at work makes everything a lot more fun.

When faced with a challenge, don’t isolate yourself.

Don’t spend your life avoiding bad things, simply ensure you have a good support network

In our early years, say 20 to 35, it seems the obstacles we face are externally imposed and when we get older, we may face the same obstacles, however, our ability to cope and capacity to handle things are significantly impacted by our internal limitations.

The female career challenge is learning and growing enough in our early years, to have the confidence and maturity in later years to play the game and win, without taking everything personally, assessing the situation and doing whatever it takes to gain advantage and win.

What strikes you?

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