Of course I’m neurotic. In that “you remind me of a female Woody Allen” kind of way. Brooklyn. Jewish. Nasal. Born to wear glasses only so I can see the next pogrom coming around the corner.
I blame my father. Which is pretty unusual, since I typically blame my mother. For everything. It was when he gleefully told me: “If I like one of your blogs I keep quiet. If I say something, then you know it’s not so good.”
My son, in his inimitable millennial way, has his own style when it comes to the non-compliment compliment. With the full frontal sneer of adolescent disdain, he dismissed me as a “try harder”, the apex of uncool, a pathetic creature spelled m-o-t-h-e-r. Of course it was actually a defensive play – j’accuse! – while being lectured about unacceptable grades.
For all those years I thought it was a really good thing to try harder – earning all those A+s for effort in elementary school. Little did I know that it was shorthand for something else. That trying – over and over again – was a response to bait being dangled in front of us, even if we never get to take it.
How did I get this so wrong? Don’t we live in a country that celebrates the try harder? From Puritans, to immigrants, to intrepid Western settlers land hungry and adventure starved, to Neil Armstrong just strolling on the moon – I thought striving was celebrated. As if we could never tire of testing ourselves, assuming that if our grasp exceeded our reach all it took was more grit and effort. Sure recognition might be slow, but that just kept us going, because daring us to fail made us want success even more.
Watch out!! Here we come!
- Black women are the most educated and entrepreneurial group in the U.S., yet they receive less than 1% of VC funding. And even when they do get funded, they get the short end of the stick, with the average round for black women totaling just $36,000 (the average white male startup founder gets an average of $1.3 million).
Call it sexism. Call it racism. Call it women making up just 7 percent of decision-making spots in venture capital firms. Call it anything you want. And I know what the “sage advice” is going to be for all those women – they just have to try harder.
Really? That’s it? We’re going to have to just keep at it? I refuse to accept that my decades of not stopping, of trying all the time can be boiled down to the cover of a women’s magazine:whatever you’ve are, whatever you’ve done, it isn’t enough.
I’m sick of it. And you should be too.
I’m still a cheerleader for hard work, commitment and keeping the faith, but I’m also a fan of being politically savvy, fearless and calling b.s. when you see it. Here are some ways to do all those things and still keep your day job:
- Find a boss you love. They can be more important to your well being than spouses. Make it someone you respect, someone you can learn from, someone who has your back. If you really are blocked and can’t make it work, find someone better.
- Find your type not your tribe. I hate the current business buzz word “tribe.” The Visigoths were a tribe – they went on raids and slit throats. Instead, seek out people who want to swap ideas, share tips and extend helping hands.
- Be ruthless with your time. It is an unreplenishable asset. Don’t give it to projects with no hope of success. Don’t invest it in folks who aren’t excited, engaged and intellectually curious. Learn to say “no” without guilt or apology.
- Ask for advice. Life would have been easier if I had asked for help more often. A false sense of pride kept me thinking that it showed weakness. Getting over that broadened me in a hundred ways, and cemented relationships of great mutuality.
- Be of service. None of the above means that you should devolve into a self-centered harridan. I’ve mentored asylum seekers, veterans and recently released felons. Success is in the eyes of the beholder as well as the hands of the achiever. I knew things that they wanted to know too – and I gave it away.
- Buy great shoes. No really! Cause nothing says “I can kick ass” like great shoes. And it doesn’t matter if you’re channeling your inner witch or not, push back against the big boys. And yes – keep trying. Because it means that you haven’t lost hope.