This article of mine got published almost five years ago. I remember sitting in burnout hell, (but at a beach so it balances out!) and in true Sabba fashion, committing to submitting it during the first two days of my vacation. It got published a few months later. After closing off the article by summarizing my career achievements, they noted: “She is among a handful of women to have such an accomplishment in her field of work.” It sounds crazy, but at that moment, the burnout was worth it.
Glass Ceilings and Hard Heads
Glass ceilings are meant to be shattered. Otherwise they would be made of concrete. Here’s some insight into how you too can defy the odds.
It is a man’s World. I’m not telling you this to be antifeminist. But the sooner you wrap your head around the concept, the sooner you can get to real work. I landed my dream job, against all odds, three years ago. You’re not ready. You’re too young. You’re green. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. Translation: This is a men’s club. We will chew you up and spit you out. There was a very low glass ceiling set over my head, industry wide, and I’ve never wanted to shatter anything more in my life.
Malcolm Gladwell once said “You must have the strength, the resolve and the courage to pursue an idea, even if the rest of the world thinks you’re insane.” Insanity can be a beautiful thing. There are no limits, no boundaries, no fear. It is destructive behaviour that in some context is terrifying, but when it comes to business, it is refreshing and often, coming from a woman, completely unexpected. To be strategically destructive, you must have a clear, unbiased understanding of the very thing you are trying to tear down. You must be able to navigate through with a clear understanding of the peaks and valleys of your environment. We all have the urge to immediately go to war and execute knee-jerk strategies that will likely have an immediate impact. But what goes up fast often falls down just as quickly. This is important. The only way to gain short term momentum, truly, is to outspend. It is predictable. Predictable doesn’t break glass ceilings.
Patience is Not My Gig.
That, is the predicament of a very impatient woman. I want what I want and when I want it. But I forced myself to adjust and be patient. The first few weeks were awful. I would look at my reports and think “they were right. I don’t know what I got myself into. This isn’t turning fast enough”, all the while a little (manly) voice in my head saying “just put it all on sale. Why else would people buy your stuff?” Immediate gratification. Bragging rights today, right now, the high of success – they are hard to pass up. But in that moment I decided, I’m not just after a pat on the back. I want to be talked about. I have to be remembered. You’re either Blink 182 or you’re The Beatles. It won’t happen overnight, and it shouldn’t take you decades. There will be dust and there will be smoke, but when all that settles, you need to still be standing. That takes patience.
“We’re creative. We’re resourceful. And Goddammit we are desperate!”
Those are the words my co-worker and I tweeted at my first ever International expo. I secretly live by that line to this day. The World is a much more colourful place when you’re a little desperate. You do not get the privilege of being an underdog very often. And it is a privilege. I love nothing more than being an underdog. When you’re resources are completely limited, you are forced out of familiar ways. You have no choice but to think differently. Even today, as one of the fastest growing brands in my space, I knock myself off the pedestal very regularly. There is a certain level of arrogance that naturally comes with doing something well. Did you ever see Michael Jordan do the same play over and over again? Or make a slam dunk and then stand there and admire himself? I didn’t think so. The “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality is no longer acceptable. You better believe there are people, like me, looking at your perfect strategy trying to tear it apart and beat you at your own game. (I told you I’m destructive!) Wins are meant to be celebrated, but they are lessons just as much as any failure will be. Take notes, go back to the start line as a poorer version of yourself and figure out how you’re going to win again knowing what you know today. It is a frustrating exercise and people will question your sanity, but when you figure it out, it is as beautiful as any moment in business can ever be.
Arrogance and Ignorance. That is All.
I’m a big believer of Humility. It is an incredible concept and it doesn’t exist nearly as much as it should. I’m about as competitive as they get and when I come out on top, I can’t help but make a sly remark. Nothing disrespectful, just more along the lines of “you’re right. My plan really isn’t good at all!” (as I kiss my trophy for the #1 product in the category, for the 3rd year in a row). We all think it. I just put it out there from time to time. Humility isn’t just about how you handle wins and losses. It is being self-aware enough to know that you cannot possibly know everything there is to know. Things evolve quickly and most industries, thanks to technology advancements, are becoming fast paced. Information you knew a few months ago is almost archaic today.
One of the many questions I often get asked, is how do you have time to read? I flew 190 thousand miles last year. To say there is no routine to my life, outside of getting on and off planes, is an understatement. But there are two things that are a guarantee. I get on the bike every morning, and I read 20 pages. I cannot imagine any other way of starting my day. If it’s important to you, you will make time. If you’re a know it all, then “there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to read”. Nothing will ever be a good excuse for ignorance and arrogance. They are fatal flaws and we are all suffering from them on some level. Nobody expects you to read “Wooden, A Coach’s Life” by Seth Davis (which is probably some of the best 624 pages you will read by the way), but at the very least, read a couple of articles, in and out of your field. Some of the best strategies I have used are based on things I learned outside of my field. There is nothing related to your business that should be perceived as beneath you. I work every expo in my markets – every single one. While the people that set those glass ceilings for me are sitting in the hotel lobby or sending their minions to run expos, I get out there and get insight that no book or article can ever give them. These interactions are gold. Some will tell you your time is better spent doing something else. You tell me – what else you would be doing on a Saturday or a Sunday that is this insightful?
See You At the Finish Line.
Having a good support system is important. But nothing trumps having the vision for where you want to be and your relentless (and I mean relentless) pursuit for that goal. I started my career at 21. I moved away from my family and friends to live in a basement apartment, for a job that barely covered my rent and student loans. I told myself, the day I started, that I will be a VP by the time I’m 30. I will make the decisions. I will be the boss. And everything from now until then is a step in that journey. I understand there are sacrifices but I believe when I have reached my destination, I will look back and see without those sacrifices, I would not be here. As Steve Job famously said, “Connect the dots”. I believe I can have it all, but they will come one after the other, not all at once, and that’s ok. Is it unfair that women have to sacrifice part of their lives to get ahead while men seemingly breeze through? Maybe. But you can either waste your precious energy obsessing over it, or accept it for what it is, tell yourself and the World that you will make it, and get out there and be an absolute badass. This is not a race to the “Have it All” finish line. It is the Iron Man World Championships. You just have to make it through, one (thoughtful) step at a time.
In the end, I did it make it to VP, and I didn’t have to compromise my values and morals to get there. What started out as a single country launch led to a global takeover just over a year later. It is a dream, but it was a lot of work. I watched all my friends get married, have babies and move into the suburbs with their cute families. I missed the birth of my best friend’s baby, one of the most heartbreaking misses of my career. It took a lot of sweat, and yes, sometimes frustrated tears. In public. In front of my boss. Twice.
It is a man’s world, but you don’t have to stop being a woman to get in it. We are beautiful, delicate creatures, but we are also fierce (I would like to see a man live through menstrual cramps. That’s all I’m saying). Set your priorities, accept what it takes to move forward, and know that should you choose to aim for that glass, you will have challenges physically, emotionally and mentally. The sweet smell of victory makes it all worthwhile, and hopefully you are surrounded by people who will help you make up for what you missed out on in the process when your journey has reached its glorious end.