Not too long ago, I found myself listening to Jessica Alba, actress and founder of Honest, a successful company that has brought transparency to the retail world. Her company promises to tell customers the truth about where its home and baby products come from, what’s in them, and what their impact on the environment is. During her talk, she made a comment that stuck with me. She said, “I didn’t think I was smart for a really long time.” It resonated because I, too, always considered myself ‘less than’ in the intelligence category. I realized many women suffer the same misconception — that they aren’t smart, so they’d better be funny, pretty, friendly, wealthy, or something more to compensate. Why do so many women in business feel like they need to overcompensate?
The current environment is complicated by conflicting expectations. On the one hand, it tells us that we’re plenty brilliant enough to perform in whatever field strikes our fancy. On the other hand, it tells us we’ve got to be fashionable, in shape, friendly and helpful. It can be difficult to navigate all of these expectations and determine which to try to exceed, and which to ignore.
Some of us navigate all of these factors and find ourselves in a position where we feel fully realized as entrepreneurs. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re out of goals — but we’re able to look in the mirror and greet the powerful forces we are. We can see, concretely, that we have succeeded: we are successful businesswomen. That’s a crucial moment for us to feel proud of ourselves and reflect on the steps we took to get here.
So here’s some practical advice to women climbing up the ladder — or creating their own ladder to climb — who may be feeling ‘less than.’
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Nicole Smartt is the owner of Star Staffing. She was awarded the Forty Under 40 award, recognizing business leaders under the age of 40. In addition, Nicole co-founded the Petaluma Young Professionals Network, an organization dedicated to helping young professionals strive in the business world. For advice on advancing in your career, go to www.nicolesmartt.com.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.