A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a brown bag lunch session with the VP of Development at the institution I work for. I have been spending some time thinking about all those fun questions, you know, the “what am I doing with my life?” kind and having a chance to meet with her was just a super fun perk from my super fun job.
The session was intended for new employees as of a year ago, so I shared lunch with 12 women, all under 25. When our host arrived, her first remark had to do with the overwhelming amount of women working in the field which gave way to a discussion about women in the workforce and what about development attracts or retains more women than men. She mentioned that when she started working for a very prestigious, east coast higher education institution in the 70s, the situation was reversed and it was something that she found extremely boggling. She had (and continues to have) strong feelings about how unjust the work force was for women and she felt it was her responsibility to surpass expectations and work to obtain a leadership role in a fundraising organization like the one she now has.
So of course all 13 women were simultaneously curious and interested in asking, “how did you do it?” The following is her advice.
Start somewhere where the goals and the mission of the institution is something you believe in. The position you first take is less important than being part of an organization you genuienly believe in and can see yourself invested in for a long time.
Ask yourself (repeatedly) what you want to gain, learn, or achieve with the experience and check in with yourself to see how you are doing. It doesn’t have to be a 6 month timeline- the questions you ask could be the ones you will need eight or more years to answer, but it is important to work with a goal in mind. And this she emphasized time and time again. Know what skills you are trying to gain, remain aware of where you are trying to go and have a check list where you can keep track of your progress. If you can visualize it and if you can evaluate yourself, you will remain perpetually aware of the skills you have which helps your confidence, and of the skills you have yet to gain which keeps you motivated.
Find someone in the work place who you find inspiring; someone you want to be like and learn from them. Try to connect with them, observe them, converse with them and analyze what about them you like and want to immitate and why. There will always be someone at any organization you work for that is really good at what they do and they will most likely love what they do. If you have the aspirations to be really great at something, you need someone to teach you the craft and to guide you on your next steps.
Find someone you don’t want to be like and learn from them as well. Observe, converse, take note. There will always be someone difficult to work with or someone you will find hard to understand and it is just as important to learn from him or her as it is to learn from the people you look up to.
That is it, that is how she did it (I mean, I am sure it isn’t it, but this is definitely at the core of what she believes determined her success). It is nothing enlightening per say, it is stuff we hear all the time, but I really liked hearing that it actually works. Especially for the current d-sipers, who I am sure hear it time and time again, you are in an incredibly priveleged position to be interning at Michigan and it is vital that you make the most of this opportunity because like me, you never know where it is going to lead.
As for me, the emphasis on being methodical in your actions to get to where you want to go and of doing some self analyzing is something that really works. It might seem obvious and sensible, but I do think it is really easy to stop thinking about the “little” goals one has to stay focused on in order to reach the “big” goals, the “dreams”. I liked being reminded of its importance and just wanted to share.