Randi Levin has helped hundreds of fledgling entrepreneurs avoid fear and overwhelm in their business lives throughout the years. She is a nationally recognized life strategist, author, keynote speaker, and reinvention expert. As an advocate for professional women, she coaches them through successful and powerful life transitions.
I recently interviewed Randi about the most common struggles women face when starting and managing a small business. Topics ranged from fear and overwhelm to productivity and time management to self-worth. I am confident you will be able to relate to this important discussion.
Life Wise Lady: When a woman wants to start a business or take an existing one to the next level, how can she get the ball rolling and skip feeling stuck?
Randi: We do tend to stop ourselves right at the door with a lot of excuses and reasons why not. The first thing you should think of doing is getting your feet wet. If you’re coming out of corporate and into private, that’s a very scary place. Ask a lot of questions. Is there someone you could shadow or a course you can take? You have to be able to see yourself in that new business.
Life Wise Lady: Sometimes an entrepreneur is intimidated because of her lack of experience with technology, social media, or some other process. How can she avoid getting caught up in anxiety and insecurity?
Randi: My favorite quote is “Say yes now and figure it out afterward.” We get in our own way. Nothing is ever really perfect. If we hang around waiting to launch the perfect product, business, or website, we are passing on developing ourselves and stepping into our business. Step into the thing that scares you the most. We all feel fear. Go! Trying things is so much more worth it than not.
“Step into the thing that scares you the most.”
Life Wise Lady: An overwhelmed businesswoman often experiences frustration and is tempted to multi-task. What tips do you have to help her stay focused and calm?
Randi: It goes back to that old issue of balance. It’s something I talk about all the time. The reality is we’re not balancing multiple things. We are balancing one thing – ourselves. What are we letting in our lives and what are we letting go of? We need to shift our view of balance and ask ourselves if we are fulfilled. We do have to pick and choose. Are the things we are working on and surrounding ourselves with the things we love? When you answer that truthfully, that’s when it all starts to fall into place.
Life Wise Lady: What time of day do you think a professional woman should take on her most challenging tasks and why?
Randi: I think it’s morning because we are refreshed. If you’re talking about business tasks, always go after the ones that deal with money first. If there is something that’s dealing with your service to a client, handle that task before the others.
Take a look at your to-do list. We are all guilty of adding small tasks so we can cross them off quickly. If you had three to five really key things to accomplish, you would have a better chance of actually doing them. Put in front of you what is doable.
Life Wise Lady: What strategies do you recommend to a woman who is overwhelmed in her professional life?
Randi: Give yourself some space. If you feel as though things are going south for you or you’re stressed, allow yourself to pause. And not necessarily for a moment. Break away from the stressors and regroup. We have so much coming at us. Take a lunch. Put the phone away.
The other piece is to stay connected. We are so connected by social media and through texts and phones. We have moved away from the in-person connections. So, bringing those back into our day takes away stress and allows us to be human.
“Break away from the stressors and regroup.”
Life Wise Lady: What causes the fear of failure and how can women overcome it?
Randi: People often won’t start something or won’t finish something unless it’s perfect. A lot of New Year’s resolutions stop because they seem like too big a mountain to climb. Reassess what you said. Who is the one who said they were going to lose weight or get three new clients? It was you.
I’m all about growth versus goals. Have the goals and the destination in mind, but what is the process? When you track your success it’s a little bit easier to get to the end result and failure seems a little less imminent.
Life Wise Lady: An entrepreneur might tend to feel like a fraud or have difficulty accepting praise or accolades. How can she move past these insecurities?
Randi: In business, people say, “Fake it until you make it.” There are certain times when we have to take a leap of faith. When we step into a relationship and get married, it’s all new. How do we know how to be married? We step into that and learn as we go. When we allow ourselves to feel like imposters, we are not giving ourselves credit for living and for all the things we know and have accomplished.
Maybe you don’t have the ten years of experience someone else has, but you have other skills that they don’t. There is something in your history that got you to do what you’re doing now. If we own our story a little bit more, all of it, we can project why we are doing what we are doing. Your experiences are to be celebrated and highlighted. The minute you take yourself seriously, people are going to take note of that.
Life Wise Lady: When should a businesswoman seriously consider hiring a coach like yourself to solve a problem or achieve a higher level of success?
Randi: The first thing is to be aware and understand when you feel stuck. Question yourself. Should I get some help? Is what I’m doing not working?
Sometimes, as women, we will go out with friends and unload our problems and our friends want to help us. So, they tell us what to do. If you do that, you’re probably going to wake up the next day and not take any of their advice. Even if you do, it may not work. The reason is that these solutions are not yours. They are your friends’ solutions.
Coaching allows you to come up with your own answers and solutions to the things that are going on in your life. We take actions on the stuff that is our own. If you’re getting at the right things, in a few months your perspectives are going to shift and you’re going to be taking action in your life. Having a coach is very rewarding. It’s a gift that you give yourself.
Imagine, if you will, you have about ten years remaining on this Earth. It could actually be a few months more or less. The point is, you know with absolute certainty you have approximately a decade to look forward to before you pass on.
This leaves too much time and not enough money to indulgently submit your two-week notice or cash out and sell your business. Although, the thought of retiring and traveling the world crosses your mind more than once. Alas, there are bills to pay and family members to feed.
The situation is distressing. You always assumed you would have ample opportunity to begin a midlife reinvention when it felt right. But you don’t have the luxury of time anymore. The inevitable truth sinks in and tears fall as you grieve. Eventually, you accept your destiny and your focus narrows on quality rather than quantity. Serious decisions about how to spend the balance of your life need to be made.
find a more satisfying job in your current field?
go back to school for a new career in a different industry?
switch to a part-time position and spend more time with family?
sign up for more volunteer or charity work?
start the business you have always dreamed about?
revamp your existing business to better reflect your interests and values?
stop working with difficult clients or stop taking on impossible assignments?
Clarity comes quickly to those on a deadline. You discover making these life-altering choices is both terrifying and liberating. The constraints that held you in unsatisfying situations seem to loosen and fall away. You are suddenly less willing to tolerate toxic people and negative environments. “Life is too short,” you tell yourself.
Alright, time to come back to reality. The truth is, you probably have more than ten years to live. You likely have plenty of time to plan and implement a midlife reinvention, should you want to. However, think deeply about how you will spend your remaining days no matter what your age. Not to be morose, but they ARE numbered. Nobody knows when they have reached the half way point.
Acknowledging this, what profound changes do you want to make in your professional life? Are you ready to make a plan and take the first step? Tell me about your career goals in the comment section below. Putting your ambitions in writing might help get the ball rolling. Remember, you are the author of your own story.
Life is better when we lift each other up.
I can be a decent listener, capable of encouragement and guidance. But, sometimes, it becomes evident that my role in a conversation is not that of a problem solver, but of a sounding board. Uh-oh! That’s when my thoughts drift, and I must mentally resist the urge to retreat to my ‘happy place.’ It’s not a lack of compassion that compels me to disengage, but an unclear understanding of the other person’s expectations. What’s my role in this situation? Admittedly, I’m more comfortable rolling up my sleeves and finding a solution than offering comfort or lending an ear. I’d have made a lousy bartender.
This familiar scenario played out for me recently. A young career woman confided to me her professional woes, and I began to cringe mentally. As she spoke of office politics and dilemmas, I realized she was committing the same work-related sins I had in years past. Her penance will likely be fewer opportunities for advancement and less money than her peers. Was I supposed to offer counsel or merely listen? Perhaps I should have posed that question, but I didn’t. She didn’t solicit input and I didn’t volunteer it.
Now I can’t help but wonder if I let her down. As a more mature person, I could have offered to mentor her. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but it was clear she needed assistance and might have learned from my years in business. Although, in my defense, nothing is more eye-roll worthy than unsolicited advice. I didn’t want to be that person.
Still, I do want to pass on what I have learned through experience, research, and advice from the older career women in my life. Missteps can be avoided if a person is made aware of sins that can halt her career or trap her in the purgatory of middle management. By the way, my use of the word sins is soaked in sarcasm, if you hadn’t noticed. I don’t believe women are behaving immorally or poorly at work! Saying that, it’s time to get on with it. These are, in my judgment, 7 of the deadliest sins of the struggling career woman:
1. Perfectionism: Can I Have Another Eraser?
Ah, my Achilles’ heel. I regularly fight the overwhelming temptation to commit this sin. You can read more about my epic struggles with perfection and anxiety here. I am a master at consistently tweaking or delaying projects because they need to be precise.
I used to consider this trait a virtue. As if it were noble and I should highlight it on my resume as one of my top skills. More often, it has worn me down and stressed me out. You can’t receive a negative review if your work is flawless, right? Exhausting.
Perfectionism is ultimately a productivity killer and results in procrastination. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, says, “Trying to do it all and expecting that it can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment. Perfection is the enemy.” Accept your flaws and move forward in spite of them.
2. Humility: Aw, Shucks
Let’s face it; females are taught to be nurturing and supportive from the time they can crawl. Society encourages cooperation and teamwork from little girls while flaunting and exhibitionism are discouraged. As a result, women have difficulty boasting or taking credit for achievements.
For example, the college diploma I worked so hard to attain is mounted, not so prominently, on the wall behind my office door. Why? I didn’t want to seem like a braggart. Palm meet forehead! Maybe it’s time to display that diploma on my front door with flashing arrows pointing to it. Okay, maybe I’ll hang it above my desk where everyone can see it. Yeah, I earned that.
Not surprisingly, women often claim to have been lucky in their careers rather than duly rewarded for performance. This is the exact opposite of how men feel about their success. Recently, the American Political Science Association released the results of a study called Gender Inequality and Deliberative Participation. In it, the authors asserted, “Women, who tend not to be as self-promoting or even as boastful as men will, are often promoted for past and proven experience rather than the belief in their potential.”
That makes climbing the corporate ladder tougher for us. If you are going to successfully compete for the top jobs, be bold. Get comfy with tooting your own horn.
3. Immobility: Your Tree Roots are Showing
Nobody expects to work for an employer for decades anymore. Corporations are sold, layoffs happen, companies move. Some people do manage to keep their jobs in spite of all the changes. But what are they sacrificing?
The reluctance to leave a stable position for a new one every few years could be hurting women in certain work environments. If you look up after thirty-six months on the job and there aren’t more women in middle and upper management than the day you started, it might be time to exit, stage left.
According to a LinkedIn survey of over 4,000 women who recently changed jobs, their top reasons for leaving were “concern for the lack of advancement opportunity” and “dissatisfaction with the work environment/culture.” These women were demanding opportunity and voting with their feet. Don’t be afraid to move on.
4. Inauthenticity: You Big Phony!
This sin drives me crazy. Are we supposed to be real or fake it till we make it? Either way, many of us frequently feel like frauds and fear we will be found out at any moment. I can just picture the blogger police barging in and seizing my laptop right now.
This prevalent anxiety has a name. Back in the late 70s, it was dubbed the Imposter Phenomenon by psychology Professor Pauline Rose Clance. The premise was that women suffered from this so-called syndrome because they could not easily accept praise or compliments and thought themselves unworthy of status and position.
It may offer some comfort to know, recent studies have shown that men often endure this same insecurity. They simply don’t talk about it as frequently. Women seem far more likely to acknowledge and discuss their feelings of self-doubt. But, just how much that openness damages women’s careers in comparison to men’s is not yet known. As a precaution, be careful who you confess your fears to at work. They could be seen as weaknesses.
5. Autonomy: I’ll Do it Myself, Thank You
What has feminism taught us over the years? I’m not talking about bra burning. That’s a bad thing. I’m referring to self-reliance. That’s a good thing. We are every bit as capable as men, after all. But, are we sacrificing the critical skills of asking for help and delegating tasks all for the sake of independence?
Martine Van den Poel, executive coach at INSEAD Global Leadership Centre, surveyed fifty-one certified executive coaches to determine if women had a more difficult time delegating than men. She also asked what ‘blocking factors’ kept women from assigning responsibilities to subordinates.
While 51% of these coaches felt men and women had similar challenges with delegating, 41% felt women had a ‘bigger’ or even ‘much bigger’ struggle with appointing duties to others. Based on their experiences, the experts determined men and women had different reasons for resisting the task. A high sense of personal responsibility and a fear of failure were the top two blocking factors for women. A need for control and the feeling they could perform a task more quickly were the leading reasons men avoided delegation.
The bottom line is, poor leaders micromanage. Great leaders reduce overload and empower others by entrusting important duties to them. Learn to let go.
6. Apprehensiveness: Wallflower Syndrome
Even when women are involved in high-level decision making, we don’t speak up enough. In part, because we are often outnumbered by men. Researchers at BYU and Princeton found women speak 25% less than men do when they are in a collaborative group assigned to solving a problem. Interestingly, this divide was virtually eliminated when the group was instructed to vote on a solution based on a unanimous decision rather than majority rule.
Companies could change how they come to big decisions by making it a consensus-building process and not an up or down vote. I’ll just drop in a reference to ‘when pigs fly’ or ‘a snowball’s chance’ on that happening soon. Cindy Gallop, a former ad exec and brazen advocate for women in business points out, “You can’t be satisfied with just a seat at the table; you have to actively participate in the conversation.” You must be willing to speak up, even when you are in the minority.
7. Complacency: Curb Your Enthusiasm, Please
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Women are not complacent! How can I suggest otherwise? While it’s true they typically start a new position with the same level of excitement and career expectations as men; women can experience a drop in aspirations by more than sixty percent in as little as two years.
According to a study of over 1000 men and women conducted by Bain & Company, the professional ambition of males examined held steady after twenty-four months while it plummeted for females. Why the erosion of enthusiasm? The ladies questioned didn’t feel their bosses supported or were aware of their goals.
The solution to this problem is two-fold. First, management must make more of an effort to engage female employees and acknowledge their ambitions. Honestly, though, no woman in her right mind would expect corporate change to come quick enough. By the time your boss gets around to asking you where you see yourself in five years, your answer might be “In a retirement village in Miami.”
Second, and more importantly, you must be vocal about your short and long-term goals. Schedule a sit down with a supervisor or discuss your aspirations during an annual review. It could open new doors.
So, that’s my list of the 7 deadliest sins of the struggling career woman. Obviously, corporate America has to implement major changes to level the playing field for us. However, my hope is that these tips compel you to evaluate your work situation and perhaps, alter the behaviors that could be holding you back from an amazing professional life. What sins did I leave off the list? Let me know in the comment section below.
Life is better when we lift each other up.