Women: How to Sustain Your Ambition in the Trump Era

02/10/2017 12:23 pm ET

They deemed Hillary too nasty.

They told Elizabeth - and in effect, Coretta - to shut up and sit down.

So why on earth would I expect the world to treat me, an emerging woman leader on the rise, any differently? Why even bother? Who am I to think I can do any better?

These are the doubts and anxieties that I’m ashamed to admit have been rolling around in my mind since Election Day, magnified by the increasing frequency of sexist and racists acts we’re witnessing in the news every single day.

But no! I counter in my mind. She got more votes! Michelle said we go high! The Women’s March broke world records! She persisted!

I try hard to silence the creeping doubt in the back of my mind, chipping away at my sense of what’s possible for women in the world, but it doesn’t always work.

And I’m supposed to be a pro at this. After all, I already overcame my own bout with burnout once before, and went on to start a company where my whole purpose is to help women get and stay bossed up. Aim high! Dream big! Work your plan! And join our community of courage!

It’s literally what I live and breathe every day.

So please forgive me for sounding uncharacteristically deflated and defeated. I know I’m indulging in a public pout that we don’t have time for, but I want to give voice to those of us who find it hard to happily co-opt the phrase “nasty woman” in a world that actually put the person behind that quote in The White House.

I honestly hope I’m the only one who feels this way. I hope everyone and their mother (quite literally) is filing to run for office, donating like mad to Planned Parenthood, and is activated and engaged and ready for the fights ahead.

But I fear I’m not alone. Here at Bossed Up, we’ve seen a dramatic and clear decrease in women investing in their own leadership development since Election Day. Multiple Fortune 500 companies with whom we’ve been planning diversity and inclusion programs for the better part of a year have suddenly pulled out, hearing from their higher-ups that no, they’re actually not moving forward with programming for Women’s History Month after all.

What I’m sensing is something like second-hand burnout. It’s not even that we women are necessarily being attacked for our ambition, per se, it’s that we’re witnessing the disrespect and demise of our most resilient “sheroes.” I’m exhausted for Hillary. I’m cynical for Elizabeth. I’m insulted for Coretta.

I want to raise my hand and shout at the teacher “But that’s not FAIR!” When I remember that this isn’t a classroom. These are the adults in charge.

The injustice makes me think maybe we really do have to be twice as good to go half as far, a frustration likely still fresh for most of my white peers, but far more familiar for men and women of color. But here’s the reality: we’re likely to experience more losses than wins in the months and (dare I say) years ahead.

And though Dr. King’s words are a helpful reminder, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” isn’t a mantra that’s going to ring true while we’re on this temporary journey in the way back machine with Donald Trump at the helm.

So fellow ladies struggling to hold onto your big dreams and fearless ambition like me, here’s how all of us together can keep our confidence intact in these troubled times:

1. Know that your identity is subject to an iterative process.

Not feeling like a boss lately? There’s something you can do about that.

Our leadership identity - or sense of agency and ownership in our own lives - is something that can wax or wane based on our actions, and how they’re received by others.

Concerned about how a new construction project is going to affect the residents in your neighborhood? Organize a neighborhood meeting amongst your neighbors. If people show, your own sense of identity as a leader is reinforced. If everyone blows you off and you’re stuck in a room with nothing but empty chairs (every organizer’s been there, by the way), you feel like a flop and you start to question your capabilities.

That’s part of the reason why it hurts when we see women we admire get thwarted. Her loss feels like our loss. It makes the risk of speaking up and standing out feel too high. It feels far less risky to stay stagnant.

But it’s not. Doing nothing has a high cost, too. Which is why we must continue to act. Even if it means taking teeny-tiny steps towards your long-term vision, take them! Aren’t sure how to move forward? Ask for help. Talk about and write about what you’re struggling with. Do whatever you need to do to move forward. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis - keep acting like a boss, and soon you’ll feel like one, too.

2. Failure shouldn’t always be internalized.

You know those “inspiring” quotes floating around on Instagram...

“It’s not win or lose, it’s win or learn.” Or put another way: “Life’s too short to learn from your own mistakes. Learn from the mistakes of other, too.”

I’m calling BS.

Know why? Because sometimes in an unjust world, there’s not much to learn about how to improve from your mistakes or the mistakes of others. Sometimes you’re doing the right thing, but the judge and jury are blind to their own prejudice.

Still getting paid 20% less than your male colleagues? Got passed over for a promotion...again?

I make my living by helping women hack into the behavioral science behind unconscious bias in the workplace to strategically advance their careers, and I’m here to say: sometimes you’ll do everything right, and you’ll still lose.

It’s not your fault. There aren’t “lessons” for you to “learn” and then use to adapt your approach.

Instead, sometimes all that’s left to do is channel the late great Aaliyah and “brush yourself off and try it again,” but elsewhere.

3. Take care of yourself.

I can’t overstate the importance of this, my martyr-inclined friends. It’s impossible to sustain your big dreams and ambition when you’re struggling to just get through the day.

The road ahead is a long one, filled with peaks and valleys we’re going to need to get through together. Our patience and sanity will be tested. We need to be physically, mentally, and emotionally strong to keep hope and ambition alive.

The current political climate is already disrupting our focus at work, so we must think critically about our information diet and how what we consume impacts our basic ability to function. Unplug. Draw healthy boundaries. We have a “no politics after dinner” rule in my house, and when I break it (which, I’ll admit, I often do), it inevitably results in my lying awake for hours in bed, the dim glow of my iPhone inches from my face, becoming more and more horrified before I finally give way to exhausted, anxious sleep. It’s not good for me.

Do what you must to balance your brain out. Take a walk. Unplug. Listen to more music. Watch a “dogumentary” about puppies on Netflix, as I did last night in an attempt to improve my own mood. Get your heart rate up with a sweat session. Call your loved ones. Read a fiction book. Go watch Hidden Figures if you’ve somehow missed the opportunity thus far.

It sounds obvious, but make sure you’re eating, drinking water, and getting enough sleep on the regular.

4. Surround yourself with people who encourage and inspire you.

Jim Rohn says we’re the average of the 5 people we spend the most amount of time with, and I’m here to say, we can spend metaphysical time with whoever we please.

So perhaps I can’t “be friends with” Rosa Parks, Gloria Steinem, Nicki Minaj, Hermione Granger, and Beyonce, per se, but I can surround myself with their words and their stories and their images that inspire me to channel that same attitude and fearlessness I admire in each of them.

Surround yourself with the queens who inspire you, real or fictional, living or dead. And seriously, have you seen Hidden Figures yet? If not, why the hell are you still reading this - go buy your tickets now.

Of course, we need to consider our real-life actual friends and loved ones, too. Do the people you hang with fuel your ambition? Or your anxiety? Do they encourage you to dream big, or caution you with their own special form of well-intentioned fear-mongering?

If you want to aim high, spend time with people who believe in you even more than you believe in yourself. It’s a game-changer.

5. Remember, it’s resilience that counts.

Maintaining your ambition is especially challenging because it requires playing the long game. It requires overcoming short-term setbacks and challenges that we experience ourselves and those we perceive happening to other prominent women we admire.

The good news is, research shows that grit is a stronger determinant of long-term success than intelligence alone. Angela Lee Duckworth explains the essence of grit in her incredible TED Talk as follows:

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like a marathon, not a sprint.”

And according to Carol Dweck, another pioneer in research related to resilience, you can learn to get gritty with it throughout the course of your life. By adopting a growth mindset, you’re able to see your traits and characteristics as fluid and open to improvement and learning through effort and practice - not as fixed traits you’re born with or without.

Dive into Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset and Angela Lee Duckworth’s Grit, for way more research and real-life applications to help us all sustain our motivation for our long-term goals.

6. Finally, a killer playlist doesn’t hurt.

When the drumbeat of devastation on cable news and NPR becomes too much to bear, art is my antidote. At the risk of sounding trite, music is my salvation in these challenging times - especially hip hop.

Why hip hop? Because the come-up story at the core of this genre is just the inspiration-in-the-face-of-injustice theme I want as a reminder. Some of my favorites are Janelle Monáe, Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and even the broadway musical soundtrack to Hamilton.

And yes, we have black artists to thank for this entire genre, for the record.

Make listening to whatever inspires you to “rise up” a priority right now. Music reminds us of our power, it reminds us that we have a choice. Right now, in the face of uncertainty and unfairness, we can choose to persevere or to power down. We can chose to stay awake and engaged, or numb out.

As the brilliant Janelle Monáe put it perfectly:

March to the streets 'cuz I'm willing and I'm able /

Categorize me, I defy every label /

And while you're selling dope, we're gonna keep selling hope /

We rising up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope /

Will you be electric sheep? Electric ladies, will you sleep? /

Or will you preach? /


Don’t sleep, electric ladies. Don’t hit the snooze button on your big dreams and ambition.

We need you to shape the future. We need you at the helm, calling the shots and forging a path forward for progress.

Join me and join our community of courage at Bossed Up to rise up together, confront our fears, make our voices heard, and inspire each other to persevere in the face of uncertainty. I promise your doubts and anxieties will always be welcome in the same way your successes and wins will be celebrated.

We won’t win every battle ahead, but if we stick together, support one another, and invest in our own personal sustainability, we’ll win the war for true and lasting equality.

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