When people ask me my age, I have stopped saying that I am 48, and instead, I now say that I am almost 50. My husband recently asked me why I am doing this, because most women tend to round down, and although I have not yet told him the reason, I have a good one. It is because of something a dear, wonderful and exceptional in every way 60-year-old friend recently shared with me about the transformation that occurred for her when she turned 50. It is a transformation for which I can't wait.
To put her words in a greater context, you need to understand that this woman is everything I aspire to be, and therefore her words stick to me like glue. She was an incredibly successful entrepreneur who built a business that created and sold products for women, but more importantly, she built this business the 'right way.' She is a shining example of how to run a successful big business while caring about the well-being of your staff, your customers and the world at large. I am a believer in moral capitalism, and this woman has proven this to be attainable. Should I ever start a for-profit company (I am currently running a non-profit), she will be the first person I ask to join my board. She is a businessperson who gets it in a world where not enough people do.
I also admire and value the fact that while running her business, she also raised three children. I am a mother of two teenagers and I often find myself banging my head against a wall. This woman is always quick to state that raising kids while working full-time is "bloody hard," and her willingness to share her story of being a less-than-perfect parent, but doing the best that she can, has given me so much relief. I often wonder if I am screwing up my kids because of how committed I am to my work, but she has always been my voice of reason who asks: "Are you doing the best you can while still honoring who you are? Do you feel you are a good wife and mother?" Thankfully, my answer to both of these questions is yes, and I love that her way of giving advice is to first ask me what I think and how I feel.
After decades of running a successful business, this woman sold it and committed her time to primarily philanthropic pursuits while serving on several corporate boards. This was how we met. She, like myself, is a member of Women Moving Millions (WMM), and we, together with almost 200 WMM members, have given gifts of a million or more to organizations of our choice that work on behalf of women and girls. In working closely with her to transform Women Moving Millions from a one-off campaign to an ongoing philanthropic effort, I have watched and admired her style of leadership; one that deeply honors collaboration while always speaking her personal truth. She will be lenient if need be, but never at the expense of what she believes to be the right thing to do. She trusts herself completely, which allows others to easily trust her as well. The word that most often comes to mind to describe this woman is 'authentic.'
I love that most of my time is now spent working with people like her; people who care much more about making a difference than making more money. This woman and I often lament the abysmal statistics on women running Fortune 500 Companies or managing hedge funds, and although huge barriers still exist for women's advancement in these areas, I have also come to see women defining success differently. So many of the women I know, myself included, at some point said, "enough." They were successful, they "had it all," only to realize that the "all" was a moving target. "All" changed as we matured, and when money ceased to be the primary motivator, other things elevated in importance. This woman truly showed me that defining success was up to me and was not in the hands of others.
In describing this woman, I hope it is obvious why I always go to her for advice, and it is evident that she can be counted on for wise council no matter what the need. As such, it was not long ago that I went to her with this question: How can I stop caring so much about what other people think so I can continue to do what I believe is right?
The context for this question was multi-fold. First, because I am in the position of not having to work for money, but still choose to work, I get a lot of people judging me for not 'opting-out' to spend more time with my kids. It is frustrating that men in similar positions are celebrated, while we women are chastised. If you listen to Fox News, you might hear that working mothers are destroying our way of life. Second, over the past few years, but recently with more frequency, I have written many opinion pieces and put myself and my personal views out into the world, and in doing so, I have become much more public. Though the vast majority of comments are positive, which is lovely, I receive my fair share of respectful disagreement, which I truly appreciate. However, when the attacks are so personal in nature that they attack my very character, it really hurts. It takes every ounce of self-control not to engage in defending myself and launching a counter-attack, even though I know that will just fuel the fire. Often I am left wondering if it is all worth it.
It was at a particular low point that I went to my friend for her advice on how to stop caring so much about what other people think. Given all the past advice she had given me about trusting myself and knowing myself, you might have thought I could have figured this one out on my own, but no. This was her answer: "When you turn 50 you enter the "Fu*k You Fifties" zone. You will come to trust yourself and in doing so you will become the woman you were always destined to be. You will let go of what everyone else thinks and fall into your instinct. A nice soft landing." So clear and simple, and how amazing to know that this transformation is waiting for me just around the corner. So yes, I can't wait to be 50, and I don't care who knows it.
Jacki Zehner was in 1996 the youngest woman and first female trader to be made partner at Goldman Sachs. She now serves as CEO of Women Moving Millions whose mission is to mobilize unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.