Having interviewed countless business women and female entrepreneurs across the globe for the Iris Lillian Interview Series, I have heard firsthand how some very impressive women managed to make their way to the top, and how they got there and what the view is like.
The overwhelming message I’ve taken from these women is that they are not superwomen. Each of them admit that achieving (their own definitions of) success has not been easy. In fact, it’s exhausting. It takes sacrifice, focus, a helluva lot of late nights, ruthless prioritisation, self-reflection, help and support from a wide network of family and friends and, of course, luck.
Here I have taken some of the best pearls of wisdom these women shared with me about making it to the top of their chosen field.
Deal with imposter syndrome like a pro
When that familiar doubt starts to creep in, Marisa Drew, chief executive of Credit Suisse’s new Impact Advisory and Finance department (and one of the most powerful women in finance) says you need to go easy on number one – yourself.
“Cut yourself some slack,” Drew says. “Assume that you are in the role for a reason and that you deserve to be there every bit as much as your male colleagues. Allow yourself to believe that. That’s a big head start.”
Sarah Agbantou, an entrepreneur from Benin, says sometimes you need to look at a problem from a new perspective. “Stop fixating on one aspect of a project if it isn’t going to plan. I find if you change your focus it can help you look at an old problem with a fresh perspective and get things unstuck.”
Live a life by design, not default
Australian surfing legend Layne Beachley says her secret to success is leaving nothing to chance.
“Living a life by design, not by default. Getting up every day and being excited by the opportunities. It doesn’t have to be a job, but do something that you love every day. For me, it’s surfing, of course.”’
Build your own path
Allison Baum, Managing Director of Fresco Capital and most likely the youngest venture capitalist manager in the world, says there is no roadmap. “Both my greatest career challenge and success has been making my own path,” Baum says. “There’s no ladder I’m trying to climb, I’m building the steps as I go along, and that’s both thrilling and terrifying at the same time.”
Success looks different to everyone
When asked what success means for her Allison Baum says: “Freedom, growth, connection and impact. I don’t think money is the goal of success but it certainly helps with all of those things, so I do think that’s part of it.”
Resilience is key to making your way to the top.
“To be a successful entrepreneur and businesswoman you have to have a good work ethic. Be fearless and brave because there will be set backs and put downs. You need to be able to brush yourself of,” says Jane Lewis, Founder of British fashion brand, Goat London (adored by the Duchess of Cambridge).
Give yourself the sack. That’s the advice from Anya Hindmarch, the woman behind a multi-million-dollar fashion and accessories empire. “As you leave the office at night, fire yourself mentally and come back the next day as your successor,” Hindmarch says. “Persist and don’t forget to enjoy the journey. It’s fantastically hard work but worth every second.”
Love what you do
“Be organised, be committed and love it. Because if you don’t [love it] you won’t stay up until 2am every night doing it,” says Rosie Fortescue of reality TV show, Made In Chelsea and the founder of Rosie Fortescue Jewellery. “Whatever you do, just be committed. If you love what you do it’s not going to be a chore.”
“I don’t have all the answers”
When talking about the traits of being a kickass leader, Olivia Ruello CEO of Business Chicks Australia says there is nothing wrong with admitting vulnerability.
“It’s important to be real, vulnerable and authentic in the workplace,” Ruello says. “Your people feel inspired when you stand up and admit that you don’t have all the answers and explain, for example, that, ‘I’m having a really tough day because this hasn’t worked out the way we wanted but I’m doing everything I possibly can, with your help, to fix it.’”
TV commentator, columnist and Contributing Editor for Women’s Agenda Georgina Dent, offered this sage advice when I asked what she would tell her younger self;
“Worry less,” was her tip. “There is a line between striving to do your best and striving because you feel like you have to. You don’t have to be a certain thing or achieve a particular way. It is very liberating to remember that this is your life, your path. Remember, you call the shots. I don’t think I really gave myself permission to do that until I was older.”
Have you landed on your own definition of career success? We would love to hear about it in the comments, below.