10 things I learned from reading the book “Nevertheless, She Persisted”
This summer I read several good books and one of them that inspired me a lot is the one “Nevertheless, She Persisted.” It’s written by Pratima (Rao) Gluckman, who’s the Engineering leader at Cloud Platform Business Unit at VMware, a subsidiary of Dell Technologies that provides cloud computing and platform virtualization software and services.
I heard of this book from a woman’s program at my company. Pratima made a presentation and shared us her brief personal and professional experience.
After reading the book, I felt it’s a great fortune to have read it. I have been so inspired by this book, which has 19 stories of high performing female leaders, including VPs, CEOs, and directors. Those stories were from interviews that were conducted by Pratima.
What are the secrets of their successes, what struggles did they have in their paths and what do they do to be effective senior leaders? I learned a lot from the book. However, I have listed the top 10 things I have learned from it and want to share them with my friends who wish to advance their careers and those who are interested in discovering some myths of how other people get their successes.
#1 Imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome is one of the frequent phrases mentioned in the book. To be honest, I am quite surprised to see that these successful female leaders have it, too.
According to Wikipedia, Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
Imposter syndrome means self-doubt and not confidence.
When I decided to go to school to take the MBA program in Vancouver as a new immigrant, I was always questioning myself if I would be able to graduate.
During a course called “Entrepreneurship,” the whole class was divided into 5 teams, and each team had 4-5 team members. In the beginning, each member needed to submit a business idea if he/she started a company. My business idea won the highest votes from my team, so the whole team only worked on my business. I always had that feeling of “Imposter syndrome.” I sometimes worried that one day my team would discover what a bad idea it was to select my approach to work on. I thought my plan would not get the investor’s approval and get the Angel Fund as a winning project.
Even at the end of the semester, my business was the only one, which won the Angel Fund and was approved by the investor. I was still thinking it might have been because our presentation was the best but not that my business idea was great.
After reading the book, I realized that I always have the feeling; although, I didn’t even know it often. In the book, it is said that most women will only apply for a job when they feel they have the 100% match with the job description, but men are confident to ask for it although they may just match 50%.
Imposter syndrome has two sides. One side is that people underestimate themselves and lack confidence, so they may sometimes lose opportunities because they are afraid they don’t have the ability; another side means people leave the comfort zone, so they will double or triple check and they are aware and have the potential motivation to grow themselves.
# 2 Mentor
It is beneficial for us to have a mentor (or mentors) in our career or even life. Mentors coach and give you career advice. They guide you when you need suggestions.
I have been lucky to have a lifetime mentor since 2012, after I came to Canada. In the beginning of my first while in Canada as a new immigrant, I felt insecure. At that time, I didn’t have many friends. The only one I knew in this new country, and the city was my husband’s schoolmate. I had the feeling that I was floating in the air and didn’t have my feet on the ground. I felt there were so many things I didn’t know and I even did not know what I didn’t know.
I received several tickets because of misreading parking signs. I did not know that asking questions and asking the right questions were part of the MBA’s scoring system. When I went to college in China, only the quality of homework and the exam results play a significant role in the grades.
After having my mentor, I became more confident as I can seek her advice when feeling unsure. She has been the person who has given me lots of guidance, suggestions or inspirations whenever I asked her for feedback.
# 3 Sponsor
According to the book, sponsors are senior-level people in an organization who have the reputation and credentials to put you forward for positions. They believe in your potential and advocate for your career; they risk their status when they back you.
While I was reading the book, I was reminded that I had several sponsors in my career. It revealed to me how important it is to have a sponsor in my job as they may see the strengths I did not realize I had, and they had confidence in me and gave me chances even when I didn’t ask for them.
When I worked at Cisco, after less than 1.5 years as a Marketing Specialist as a newbie in professional life, I was promoted to be the Marketing Manager; although I had not even thought about progressing my career that fast.
My sponsor was the Director of Sales, who I worked a lot with since my role was to support the sales team by running marketing events. He saw my potential for managing marketing events and strategic thinking, and he nominated me to get a promotion.
In my current company, I also have a sponsor who has been very important to bring me to the next level. I was a contractor who was supposed to be with the company for 1 year until a female staff member returned to work after her mat. leave.
Before my contract expired, the marketing director advocated my current manager and the executive team to transfer me to the department; although the majority of the group are located in the States, I am based in Vancouver. After one year, he nominated me to be promoted as the manager of the team to take an even more important responsibility.
However, remember that sponsorship is earned by your passion, your ability, and your reputation. It’s not a good idea to ask for support before you are ready and have the passion for doing it. It’s earned through mutual understanding and your showcasing what you can do.
# 4 Leave your comfort zone and keep learning
I would say, “always stay away from the comfort zone.” If one day you go to work and feel everything is so routine and familiar, you think everything is under control and you don’t feel there’s any pressure, or something new you can foresee. It’s a type of comfort zone most people like to reside in, but it’s dangerous!
Last year I saw a high performing senior engineer got laid off after almost 20 years of working at a company. The reason he got laid off was the skill he has specialized in does not exist anymore, 20 years later.
Nowadays, new knowledge gets refreshed much more frequently and faster than before, and lots of new technologies are fostered every year. Had people heard about machine learning 5 years ago? How about auto-driving? Is there one job you can work on for 20 years, with the same skills? There’s not anymore. I took lots of digital marketing courses, and some of the certificates expire after 1 year, as there are constant product updates or changes.
I would suggest to always keep learning and make yourself a newbie in the area you are not secure about until little by little, the uncomfortable feeling goes away. It needs discipline to do so. So anytime when there’s something new happening, it’s much easier for people to be adaptable since your mindset is already switched to coping with changes and getting used to something new.
# 5 Passion, persistence, personal motivation (how badly you want something?), commitment, drive, and curiosity to learn
An essential factor for people to learn something starts with passion and personal motivation. How badly do you want something? The more you want it, the more passion and persistence you have.
I have an excellent female friend, Vanessa, who has not stopped surprising me after she started to learn Chinese drawing, last December.
She mentioned to me that she wanted to learn drawing one day last year. Then I introduced her to a painter, as I happened to know one neighbor who teaches drawing.
In less than 3 months, she told me she was asked to participate in an exhibition. Although I was doubtful what she could exhibit since she had just started to learn less than 3 months before. She was invited to show 3 pieces of the peacock (130cmx70cm) and 3 pieces of Chinese flower (mu dan) in April. She had in total 4 months as a student to start from zero to go to an exhibition show.
She is a very hard working student. She always finishes her homework several times better than the teacher expects. She works very hard on drawing, and she forgets about everything when she concentrates on her creations.
Four months later, when she took her work to the exhibition. Her five pieces were, in fact, some of the most shining examples of the show and actually, lots of people came to ask to buy them. Each of them was willing to pay at least $2000 per piece!
Vanessa has the passion, the drive, and a persistent nature to turn her learning path into a skyrocketing experience.
She was told that although she has learned drawing for less than 1 year till now, her pieces are like masterpieces which are like from professional painters.
I can’t agree with the author more on her saying: “one thing they all have in common is that they have the remarkable ability to persist despite whatever hurdles are thrown their way. No app keeps them focused on their goals. It is the power of determination in their minds.”
# 6 Don’t be afraid of asking for help
There’s one story mentioned that is about never being scared of asking for help. It resonates with me a lot.
My husband is the type of person who generally does not bother to ask for help. I always joke that if he can open his mouth and speak, that will be a significant positive change.
One winter night when our son fell asleep in the car, he asked me to stay in the car and accompany our boy, and he volunteered to buy the dairy for tomorrow’s breakfast.
I waited and waited, after almost 15 minutes he returned with a bottle of milk. I asked him why it had taken so long as the grocery store was not that big and it should not be that hard to find the dairy aisle.
He said he had looked around and finally found where it was. I asked him why he didn’t ask the staff, who would point him in the right direction right away. He said he didn’t want to ask.
Another time, one of my friends arranged an info session with her friend who’s knowledgeable about applying for school, as we wanted to use a private school for our boy. My husband went to the meeting.
Later I heard from the friend that in that meeting, she had wanted to share a lot of information with my husband, if he had just asked. Since my husband does not ask any questions, the friend thought my husband already knew everything, so she was afraid to share things that he already knew. The truth is he doesn’t!
Lots of people are afraid of asking questions because they don’t want people to see them as dumb or not smart.
# 7 Honing public speaking skills is an essential way for a leader to be visible;
It will be beneficial if a person has excellent public speaking skills. Public speaking is a significant way not only to convey your message but also to influence people.
Years ago, as beginner on the stage, I dared not to look at anyone and looked down at the ground; I was too nervous, so my voice was too low to be heard.
Think about this scenario, you are a leader, and your team is looking to you for guidance to make the team a success. Your voice is weak and can’t show your confidence in front of them; you are conveying a message that you are not sure is correct. Or you can’t inspire them with a vision why the team should work on this. Is this the type of leader people get inspiration from?
Lots of people may have watched at least one Tedtalk in the past. Do you remember the feeling that your mind gets totally blow away after listening to a great speech by the professional speakers?
# 8 Taking care of yourself first
As a woman, after we have children, we always put children and family first. If we put ourselves first, people will think we are selfish.
In fact, when on a plane, the security demo always says before helping others, please ensure you wear the oxygen mask first. If you can’t take care of yourself and stay in a good state, how can you love and take care of your family?
“Working full-time and being a parent for the past couple of years has been incredibly draining. You feel as if you are always running and you experience stress from both sides. As a working mother, you often end up feeling like you are not doing a good job in either role. “ The story from the book hit me there as I sometimes feel I am too stressed to take care of my family as well as be a high performer at my work.
Until I read that the author says: “Placing your own needs first isn’t selfish. It helps you to service and thrive, and by doing so, it gives you more of an opportunity to help others”. I felt relieved and reflected.
I have one female friend who is always busy like a bee around her children and family but has no time to take care of her own needs. She used to like hiking, reading or going shopping. She became relaxed after doing what she wanted. After becoming a working mom, she put herself last and put her children and family’s needs first. She totally ignored her own needs, but she felt frustrated very often as she always thought she didn’t do well as a professional or a mom. Last year, she was still feeling sad and upset; then she started to feel depressed. She told me she always dreamed of sitting on a spinning wheel and felt dizzy. I told her to offload some tasks from her list and her calendar and have some time for herself.
She happily accepted my suggestion, and she now gives herself a break when she feels her needs. It turned out she is more satisfied with her life and work.
# 9 Three non-negotiable: sleep, spiritual life, and exercise.
Our time is very limited, so we need to spend it wisely. The priorities in your life which you need to put first are sleep, spiritual growth, and exercise.
In the busy world, there are lots of things buzzing around us and capturing our attention. It’s said that an average person spends 3+ hours on electronic devices every day. Although lots of people are not aware of that. However, mobiles phones are taking away lots of time from our lives, How many hours can we use every day?
I did a rough calculation, from Monday to Friday; I only have 2 hours each day after deducting my 8 hours of sleep, 9 hours of work and commute, 1 hour on having 3 meals plus 1.5 hours of cooking two meals. And I need 2.5 hours for my child, housework etc.
If I spend 1 hour on my mobile on looking at friends’ posts, reading the news, and Googling things, I don’t have anything for myself.
After I adjusted my schedule and prioritized things, I found that I will always benefit greatly if I spend my time sleeping to ensure my energy level is high; having a spiritual life such as reading, listening to audiobooks or enjoying family time to stay happy and fulfilled; doing exercises to stay healthy and stay in a good state.
# 10 Expand a network within your company, understand how all the pieces in your organization fit together
It usually happens to us that even though you’ve worked for a mid-sized or big company for a couple of years, you still don’t know the person who’s sitting in another area of the same floor.
It’s natural for you to mingle and to network with people on your own team since you would like to develop a better working relationship and better productivity.
But how can you be a leader if you only know people in your own team as you even don’t know what other teams are working on? So you only see one piece of the whole business?
A good leader needs to have a bigger picture, and then the leader will know what resources there are and how to make not just your team a success but your organization a success.
In summary, the top 10 things I learned from the book “Nevertheless, She Persisted” are:
It’s not a bad thing to be aware of your Imposter Syndrome and understand even most successful people have it; find a mentor and earn a sponsor and make sure you have the right people to provide guidance for your career; jump out of your comfort zone to stretch yourself to stay more competitive; passion, curiosity to learn, persistence and drive really matter; always feel comfortable to ask for help; public speaking skills are essential; taking care of yourself first before taking care of others is necessary; If you have too many priorities in your life and feel you don’t have enough time, try to put three non-negotiable things as your priority: sleep, spiritual growth, and exercise to stay mentally happy, fulfilling and physically healthy and energetic; the last one is to expand your network in the organization instead of staying only in your small zone to have a bigger picture of how the business is running.