Dear Younger Self,
Always speak up. And yes, you already do this but do it more. Don’t quiet your voice because the teacher yelled at you. She is coddling the boys. You, Younger Self, have every right to shout out the answer just as the boys do and not get into trouble for being ‘out of turn’, ‘loud’, or ‘bossy’. And keep it up, all through university and after…
Speak up. Ask for what you want. Ask for justification of a questionable grade. Ask for justification of not being included in a meeting that you should have participated in. Ask for what you want. Never take the first offer and always negotiate - hard. You will have done the job of three people by the time you leave your second job. And you (and they) may not have even noticed.
Don’t put up and shut up with paternal pats on the head, office gossip and other nonsense. Again, speak up. Your excellent work performances will remain invisible unless you broadcast it in that macho manner of how great your work is, how happy the client is, and how much you contributed to the company. If you don’t you’ll always be the woman who does the work of three men for that stagnant, lower salary.
So play the game but play it carefully. Play it like a Woman. Join the guys for after work drinks but do not share too much of your personal stories. Have one drink, never get tipsy. Talk to everyone, never spend the whole evening talking to just one. Never work through your lunch and never eat lunch at your desk. The work is not personal so don’t let it take away your personal time. Don’t take on someone else’s work unless it contributes to your overall goals and objectives. Business is not personal. It is professional courtesy. You may not be thanked. You may not be rewarded. And your overly generous professional courtesy may even be taken advantage of again.
Find an ally one or two levels above you who you can trust, who is kind, who knows you are smart and can do great things. Look to this person for strategic advice and not as a friend or therapist. If you do that the lines will blur and he or she will not be an asset to your career. Treat everyone around you, above and below you with dignity and respect – the role if it is not possible to respect the person – and give everyone the benefit of the doubt just once. Remember that business is not personal so when your instincts tells you someone is off, believe who you think they are and don’t take it personally.
You will be doubted all along the way of your career by many people you meet. You will find that you will have to prove your talent over and over again. You’ll get tired and annoyed. So don’t wait until your 30s to find hot yoga. Start it in your 20s. And journal. Journal often so that you’ve vented enough to sleep well, look forward to the next day, and can face your next obstacle. "Leaning in" has its limits, so know that you have other options. Life is short so if you try and try and you still cannot get a seat at that damn table - walk away. And create your own table. Entrepreneurship is not overrated.
Know that not everyone is 'out to get you'. So smile and make work-friends. And you will meet one, or a couple, or a few kindred spirits along the way. They won’t look and sound like you but they will enrich your career experience beyond your expectations. Don’t forget to appreciate them. And one day, return the favour to another.
Sabrina…. Your Older (Wiser and Still Learning) Self
Loretto Abbey Toronto. Class of 1992.