Recently, one of my friends asked me to write an inspirational post for women, asking me to touch on “anything you learned that aspiring female leaders should know to be as successful as you.”
My first thought was, “Huh?”
You see, I’m not that successful, and I’m not a leader. I’m 25 years old, armed with a graduate degree, 4 years of professional experience, and mission to make a difference in the marketing profession. I don’t have awards, I’m not a keynote speaker, and I don’t have a special job title at a high-profile company. This is hardly the profile of someone you would look to for inspiration as an aspiring female leader.
One of my mentors reviewed Social Pollination, my book about social media marketing, and summed it up as “don’t be scared, just do it (and here are some check lists so you don’t fuck it up immediately/too bad).” I couldn’t help thinking that this probably also applies to the way I approach many things in my life.
Don’t ask for permission.
If there’s one thing I would tell women today, it would be that.
Don’t ask for permission.
You don’t need it, and let’s be honest – most guys know that. It’s us ladies that need to be reminded every once in awhile.
In my career, I tend not to ask permission.
You Can Graduate From a Top 5 Business School at 25
When I was applying to graduate schools for a business degree, I was only 22 years old. The top 10 business schools usually accepted students with no less than 5 years of experience. I could have given up – could have waited until I had more experience or better connections – but instead, I chose to apply anyway.
I got in, and graduated at a point in my career where most people are just considering applying to school. That was the first time I realized I didn’t need permission to succeed.
You Can Quit Your Boring Job to Pursue Something More Interesting
It happened again when I quit my cushy, yuppie job in downtown Chicago to work for start-ups and transition from an IT career to an entrepreneurial marketing career. Again, I could have looked at the facts – there were very few women working at start-ups and I had no experience in marketing from a Fortune 500. Most of my friends thought I was nuts. But here I am, two years later, and I have worked with 5 different start-ups and built my marketing expertise in the digital space.
You Can Bring Your Product to Market
Most recently, I wrote a book, Social Pollination. I knew that I couldn’t bring the book to market without a publisher who was willing to give me editorial control of the content, so I could easily make revisions as the digital space changed. Then I realized, “What if I just started my own publishing company?” I wrote the book and outsourced editing, design, and distribution through my own company, on my own terms.
Instead of waiting for someone to give me permission to write a book and publish it, I just did it and decided to let the market speak for itself.
It’s Not About Me
Sure, these things may sound impressive – but there is NOTHING special about me or my circumstances. In fact, there is nothing special about any of the people in the Untemplater community. The difference is that we don’t ask for permission to pursue the things we want. We look at the rules that we are taught and figure out which ones we can break without screwing up our lives. We experiment, ask for forgiveness when necessary, and move on quickly from failures.
Revisit the rules of life. Which rules are you clinging to unnecessarily?
Stop asking for permission to break them.
Financial Samurai says
Can you tell us more about your decision to apply to business school without work experience? What are the pros and cons of going your route?
I ask, b/c I took a decidedly different route and went to b-school part-time, using my professors as consultants for my job, which I found quite helpful.
Thanks for your thoughts.
Anita Lobo says
Excellent observation Monica.
Time and talent is wasted waiting for permission
My rule – first do, correct, do some more 🙂
And the great thing is, once we decide what we want to do, guides/ mentors appear, to open doors and hold up the light so that we can see some more.
Steve Spalding says
Clever, clever, clever.
Oh and here is a bit of off the cuff non-advice. Never underestimate the power of your story. You may not think that you are an inspiration, but you really, really are. Why because 1/2 of 1% of human beings have the brass to get out there and actually try something interesting (I made up that statistic). In the relatively short time you’ve been on the planet, you’ve managed to do it three times (and I’m sure you are not crediting yourself as much as you could). If that isn’t inspirational, then I don’t know what is.
I think entrepreneurial types tend to underestimate their achievements. It has something to do with the “journey not the destination” mindset that we tend to keep. Every so often I just like to point out that so few people actually start to journey, that sometimes just doing that is worth being proud of.
Matt Wilson says
Awesome stuff Monica, it’s all about “putting yourself out there”. If you hadn’t than you would have never gotten this far… but guess what
YOU ARE A LEADER.
You lead by example–and you are broadcasting it for the world to see. Don’t discount yourself!
Wojciech Kulicki says
Funny, I’ve had a similar experience in the money space. People suddenly see me as some sort of “money guru” that has all the magic answers (or WordPress guru-NOT!). I feel oddly inadequate to help them a lot of the time. If I know about it, chances are I’ve already written about it…otherwise, I haven’t figured it out yet. 🙂
Your overall point is great, and it’s nice that the Internet is breaking down a lot of these “gatekeepers” and allowing us to stop asking for permission in more and more areas. I can’t wait to see how the world evolves next!
Yeah – I sometimes feel like I’m at a 5 out of 10 in areas that people think I’m an “expert” in. Have to remember that someone else might be at a 2 out of 10, in which case it makes perfect sense you might mentor them on a topic, even if you aren’t the expert.
Alexandre Guertin says
Actually that one sentence is really helpful! I forwarded your link and advice to my friend. Thanks a lot :).
Awesome! Thanks for forwarding it 🙂
Alexandre Guertin says
Congrats Monica! This is some inspiring stuff!
So what made you stand out to get accepted in a top MBA? My best friend has a Rotary International scholarship to apply for a MBA and he wants to do it in the best program in Europe without any work experience, what advice would you give him?
Looking forward to hear more about you on this blog! Good luck :).
I focused mostly on my essays and finding a good fit – matching my goals to what the school could offer.
That probably doesn’t sound helpful, so I also wrote this post: http://blog.monicaobrien.com/top-ten-mba-tips/
Alicia Kan says
First of all congratulations Monica! Really good site and excellent post.
I have to gently disagree with you on your statement ‘I’m not that successful and I’m not a leader’. Achievement comes in all shapes, sizes and forms and if I am understanding Untemplater’s philosophy correctly, we don’t need to use stereotypical (and often outdated) metrics to determine professional success. Awards, keynote speaking and special titles at high-profile companies are outward trappings. Having these boxes ticked is a one-dimensional definition of success.
Now someone who publishes her own book at 25, was accepted at graduate school without the requisite years of experience, found her marketing feet through start-ups and sans experience at a Fortune 500, and is now a respected blogger and digital marketing expert: Doesn’t that constitute success too? To me it sure as hell does. This is one gal who punches above her weight. Bravo. Let’s have more of her!
And that’s why I invited you to write a guest post for Things They Don’t Teach You In Business School. Aspiring female leaders should find out from people like you that there’s no one path to success or fulfillment. It’s the journey you design, the courage to set your own standards and yes — not asking permission to go after what you want — that ultimately matter. And that’s what makes a leader.
I still hope you write a guest post for Things They Don’t Teach You In Business. Even the seasoned professionals in the workplace could learn a thing or two from you. I know I could.
I appreciate the inspiration! I think you are right that Untemplater is all about not using outdated metrics to determine professional (or personal) success. Thanks for reminding me! I think your series sounds interesting and I’ll definitely be checking it out to see what I can learn!
Valerie M says
Hi, Monica! I laughed at the checklist bit (so you don’t eff up too hard). 🙂
The older I get, the more I agree that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for persmission.
When we look at the people we consider to be leaders today… when you think about it, there’s always someone who is more ‘qualified’ than they are. Does it make them any less of a leader? So I can get with what you’re saying (or what I think you’re trying to say): real leaders are people who aren’t afraid to bend/break a few rules and live by their own rules, regardless of whether they have the awards, money, or prestige to show for it.
I like that you wrote “there is always someone who is more ‘qualified'” – it’s something we definitely have to remember especially as young people trying to accelerate our careers, start our own businesses, and rack up our accomplishments to prove ourselves. We can teach as well as we can learn.
I do believe that you can’t put a price on experience, but I love that our generation has so many different ways to stack the deck. Thanks for the comment!