Every time she walks into the room I notice her. She’s taller, prettier, a better mom, and more successful. She follows me everywhere I go, to parties and playdates, to conferences and groups, to PTO meetings and volunteer board rooms.
She lives inside my head.
It started in college. After surviving the drama of high school, I walked onto my university campus sure that this, this was the time girls would start acting like women and we could leave the comparisons and the competition at the registration office. But 18 turned out to be just as full of insecurity as grade school and I watched as my roommates fought over the dibs on boys and rated their competition on a scale of 1-10.
I entered motherhood convinced that now we women were on a level playing field. Hadn’t we all just pushed a flaming log out of our vaginas and weren’t we still recovering from the same deflated balloon that used to be our stomachs? How could we not give our fellow warriors grace and trade secrets on under-eye concealers? But in my twenty-some years of femaledom, that first year of parenting was quite possibly the worst of all. Mom-shaming topics on vaccinations, co-sleeping, and the choice to work or stay at home filled my Facebook feed. We all willingly pitted each other against each other.
I launched my first business when my children were the ages of 3, 2, and 1. At that point, I was determined to avoid complicating my relationships by not talking about anything that might breed controversy or competition. So instead of doing what I should have done in building my company around a network of people, I did everything myself.
I soon discovered that flying solo was not the answer I was looking for. The issue stemmed from something deeper: we women had all believed the long-standing lie that there wasn’t enough room for all of us. That in order to rise, we needed to put someone else down. I started asking the question, “Is there another way?”
Four kids later and on my third startup, here is what I’ve learned to do differently as an entrepreneur:
1. Surround Yourself With A Supportive Village
Jim Rohn has been widely quoted for saying, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” When I let that really sink in, and noticed direct correlations between who was speaking into my life and how I then treated my own life, I began changing the way I looked for my village. Before choosing my close friends I started asking myself a series of questions:
- Was their outlook on life positive?
- Did they seem to be secure in who they were?
- Were they pointing out the good qualities in others, and skipping the criticisms?
- Did they seem happy for others’ success?
If the answer was yes, I knew that chances were high that they’d be the type of person to support me, and not dive into a tailspin any time I had a hint of success. And believe me, to not feel like I had to apologize for anything good that came from my hard work was a complete game changer.
2. Find Others Who are Strong Where You are Weak
As Bill Wagner states, “The most successful entrepreneurs know that the greatest knowledge is self-knowledge.” Being capable of identifying and leveraging your strengths, while also working towards improving your weaknesses, will propel non-judgmental communication not only in your personal life, but also in your career. When we admit our shortcomings and humbly ask for help, we dispel the image that says we’re perfect and therefore do not need assistance.
Strengthen the muscle of pinpointing where others excel in areas you are lacking. Genuinely compliment people on their gifts and abilities. Be humble. Bridge the gap between yourself and others. Before long, you will find you’ve organically cultivated a network of people around you with whom you can share ideas, mentor, or contact when you need some advice.
3. Become a Cheerleader
Want to know the most effective way to counteract those twinges of jealousy, competition, and insecurity that inevitably creep up from time to time when you see another woman achieve success? Cheer for her. When we take the focus off of ourselves and admire the best in others we squash feelings of self-doubt and become, as a whole, happier, says Gretchen Rubin in her book, The Happiness Project. Studies also show that how we talk about others are how people, in turn, perceive us. So dish out the praises, what goes around comes around.
4. Live Between Clusters
We tend to form clusters of relationships through shared experiences and common interests, says Drake Baer on Why Successful People Have So Many Groups of Friends. The problem is that as these groups become tighter we are less likely to intermingle with other clusters because we value the feeling of acceptance and predictability (think cliques in high school, but they actually exist in adulthood too). A wise entrepreneur, however, intentionally lives between groups of people so that she can expose herself to new ideas and schools of thought. It’s uncomfortable, but well worth the effort.
I once left my newborn baby at home with my husband for a couple of hours to attend a coffee meet-up of mutual friends – some I knew, some I didn’t. While there, I met an actress who mentioned she was having a baby product manufactured for a new business she was starting. Although I was on a long maternity leave and at the time not interested in beginning another startup, I got her contact info. A year later, I needed a manufacturer and guess who I emailed? The actress. We’ve now merged our clusters and meet once every couple of months to share what we’re learning about textiles and e-commerce.
5. Offer Help
We have moved 10 times in 9 years and it has taught me that the quickest way to get my businesses up and running in each new location, is to offer my help. I once supplied my professional photography skills (free of charge) to a mom entrepreneur who had just had a baby. The images were then posted on her blog, which led to consistent photo credits on her social media, which led to new connections with her followers and business friends. Do you see the trickle effect? One thing leads to another, which leads to a bingo moment where you’ve found a partner to collaborate with.
While some may be tempted to attribute these “chance” connections to a stroke of luck and being somewhere at the right place and at the right time, I think it is more intentional than that. Sheryl Sandberg talks about this in her book Lean In, and says, “The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results.” Offer help, ask for help. It could go much further than you think.
At 28, I am still discovering how to walk into a room with confidence and security in who I am. But one thing is for sure, I’m not going to put my fellow women down to lift myself up. I’m going to pull up a chair and tell her that we need each other. We need the creative, the analytical, the detailed, the big-picture, the leader, the follower. We’re stronger together.
Let’s make room in the room, and build something great.