Over 50? Have an MBA? The New World of Work: Get Over Yourself.

James Janega of ChicagoBlueSky, part of the Chicago Tribune,  posed this question with a subsequent article, “What predicts success at a startup?” Education? An MBA?

Not really. Or so he determined through various interviews of founders. Even better, he coined a great term: “humble agility.” In my opinion, Janega nailed it.  What exactly IS the value of an MBA? More importantly, though, what does it take in this day and age to have success at a startup – or better yet – be a successful worker? I just turned 50 – so I am gearing this post to my age group.

For what it’s worth, I have segued in and out of the workplace as my husband and I raise our kids. I have had many roles over the years from co-founding a start-up to working in traditional, Fortune 1000-type to venture-backed fast-paced startups. I also have always worn a business development and sales hat in each role I have undertaken. I prosper in growth mode.

Today there is a new world order. In my experience, these are the rules:

New rule:

  • Be Humble. No one really cares whether you have fancy credentials (e.g. an MBA or Ivy League diploma). What employers really care about is your willingness to roll up your sleeves and do whatever it takes to get the job done. The days of having a secretary or analyst or even office space seem to be gone; as in not returning. For the startup world, anyways.
    • My experience: I have a Kellogg MBA for which I am forever grateful. That being said, the best preparation one can get for the ability to roll up one’s sleeves  is good, old-fashioned sales experience. If you’ve ever had to sell/work on commission in order to pay your rent, then you will understand. Why? It’s humbling. As for rolling up your sleeves? If you are a parent you might have an advantage. Why? It, too, is humbling. I’ve spent years rolling up my sleeves. That’s what moms do. As for the MBA? It does come in handy for a mom who segues in and out of the workforce as I have over the last 25 years. I view it as my insurance policy or certificate of authenticity. My conclusion: sales experience + parent  (+MBA as a bonus)= good combo for long-term employability.
  • Be Agile. Be willing to roll with the punches – (and they’re moving really fast.) Stretch yourself.
    • My experience: The world is moving fast. You have a choice to either watch it speed by or try to hop on board and learn along the way. Read. Practice. Our children will have +/- 13 careers in their lifetime. We cannot sit around with an old-fashioned mindset.
  • Continuously learn.
    • As Michael Moe often cites in his GSVCapital reports, “people need to continuously hone their skills to evolve with market demand. We describe this trend as ‘KaizenEDU’, drawing on the Japanese term for ‘continuous improvement’.” Try new tools. If I hear one more person tell me that they “don’t do social media”?! Really? How will you ever know the right questions to ask if you don’t have any first-hand experience??
  • Embrace youth. Be willing to work with employees much younger than you are, whetherGenx’ers,Millennials, or even teens – embrace it!
    • My experience: whether helping my college-grad daughter’s friends secure employment or working for a boss 15 years my junior – forget about the ‘experience-is-better’ adage. Sure, in life I have plenty of experience. In work I have plenty of experience. I also had assistants and analysts complete tasks for me in my “old life”; today, the younger kids are digital natives. They have good ideas, great technical skills and quite often – very disruptive and new ways of looking at old problems. Do not begrudge them; rather celebrate their youth!

In summary – and this is tough to swallow:

Get over yourself.

Go to school on me: once you do, it’s an awful lot of fun..PLUS You’ll be able to keep up with the Joneses in a whole new way!

 

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21 Years of Love in a Banker Box

 BirthdayBoxTHIS is a photo of our daughter’s 21-year-old birthday present. She LOVED it. Even better? I loved giving it to her!

Total cost: 21 years of love + $18.99 for the box and file folders.

For 21 years I have been diligent about keeping file folders with notes, photos, mementos, etc. One file each year for each child. If it sounds fancy or complicated, it is not.  Basically, I keep a folder under my bed into which I place “memories”: perhaps a concert program, a block party invite, a golf scorecard of a child’s best round, a cute letter received from a teacher, a class photo, etc. I’ll also jot down funny stories as they occur  – the kind that you say to yourself as a parent: “oh my gosh – I must remember how hilarious this is so that some day I can use it in a wedding toast!” [Like the time my then 4-year-old saw a tour group from India in the airport and without missing a beat opened his backpack and took out a red circle-shaped file folder sticker and stuck it on his forehead so he could be like the Indians and use a bindi!]

Every few months I  take a few hours and sit near my banker boxes and sort out the memories and photos per child and place them into  manila folders. After reviewing all of the little tidbits in the manila envelope, I’ll jot down a list of other day-to-day details in that child’s life (e.g.who his friends are, favorite foods, basketball teammates, sibling rivalries, family vacations, etc.) as well as activities the child has done or passions he may have  (e.g.choir, drawing, sports teams). For the child(ren) who has most recently had a birthday I write a “birthday letter” incorporating details from the year.

Here’s an idea of an item I might save (that would be a note from my 21-year-old when she was 7 stating in her beautiful cursive, “Mom, I wanted to tell you I think I’m not being paid enough attention right now. So maybe we could work that out”!! )

Letter from Grace age 7

WHY I decided to write a letter to my daughter 21 years ago I’ll never know. HOW I decided to keep files on each child every year and write a heartfelt letter incorporating funny, sad, truthful parts of his or her life I’ll never know. But I do know one thing: my 21-year-old LOVED her gift. I loved giving it. I had dreamed about giving the gift when my child turned 21 and the hours we spent going through the various folders was priceless. We laughed. We cried. We were amazed at how some of her  traits from  youth  developed  and really formed who she is now as a 21-year-old [read above – what child asks her mom with such respect?! She still is that way!] It was a joy to share a review of the past 21 years with her.  My banker boxes and birthday letter files are the ONE thing as a parent about which I can honestly say I am proud.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery: copy this and give the gift of a banker box birthday!!

Grace reading birthday letter

Dear Women: Do What You Do and Do Not Ask for Permission, Ask for Forgiveness

Dear Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Anne-Marie Slaughter and even Susan Patton:

Thank you.

Each of you is “right.” Whether it’s: “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” (Slaughter, who returned to a manageable professor life at Princeton after a stint in foreign policy at the State Department); the importance of “leaning in” to your career and taking a seat at the table (Sandberg, COO of Facebook on the importance of speaking up); eliminating tele-commuters (Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and new mother, who recognized that innovation occurs at a central location; productivity works for telecommuting, but less so for innovation); or encouraging Princeton women students to find a husband while in college (Patton, professional, mother and Princeton grad). Perhaps each of you is trying to say something similar? Let me sum it up the way my mom does: YOU DO WHAT YOU DO. Yes. Just like that. YOU DO WHAT YOU DO. In other words, we all make choices.

Over the last few years I have really tried to grasp the whole working mom thing. Every mother – parent for that matter – is trying his or her best. Make your decisions and make them with confidence!  Perhaps I am an anomaly? I have played sports my entire life. I competed with boys and men at a time when many girls and women weren’t into sports..so perhaps I had a confidence that most women didn’t have? I have never felt slighted by men. I’ve always chosen to speak up when I thought it necessary, lean in at the table when I wanted to lean in, and request a promotion/raise when I deemed it earned. I’ve never had a problem rolling up my sleeves to make cold calls, knock on doors to sell, or simply “put myself out there”..because I believe in myself. Moreover, I’ll do whatever it takes to go the extra mile.

I struggle with the same balance that every mother struggles with: what is the right blend of work and family? I’ve worked full-time, part-time, corporate HQ, telecommute, Fortune 1000, ecommerce Kleiner-Perkins funded digital-startup, WAHM, etc. I had my first child ten days after being graduated from business school, worked full-time until my fourth, left for a while and had a fifth. I returned a few years ago to a job that on paper was “below” my qualifications. Why? Because it was a fast growing company in ecommerce and the potential for personal and professional growth in a rapidly scaling industry and the company was amazing (my employer was competing against Groupon.) I chose not to worry about career level but rather focus  on potential experience to be gained and value to be added. As Eric Schmidt had told Sheryl before she took the Google job,”When companies grow quickly there are more things to do than there are people to do them.” Very true. And today? I’ve shifted, and  have founded my own small start-up which I’ll manage on my own schedule. I am on the “career jungle gym”, not the linear  corporate ladder (a reference to Fortune’s Patricia Sellers who said, “Think of your career as a jungle gym, sharpen your peripheral vision, and look for opportunities all around.”);  With five kids (all athletes) in four schools – I am just like any other mom in the world: trying to figure it out.

Let’s take it one step further: How about we women DO WHAT WE DO and then take a line from  most men’s playbook: DO NOT ASK FOR PERMISSION rather ASK FOR FORGIVENESS. Perhaps that’s what each of the aforementioned formidable women is trying to say? DO WHAT YOU DO..WITH CONFIDENCE! It’s what Marissa Mayer did when she changed the option of a remote workforce for Yahoo: she’s doing what she’s doing with confidence. She thinks it’s the right thing for Yahoo. (For what it’s worth, I must agree with her: she is trying to turn around a sinking ship and needs innovation.) It’s what Sheryl Sandberg is doing by speaking up and encouraging women to “lean in” to career advancement and not “leave before you leave.” She’s doing what she thinks is the right thing and using her power with confidence to remind women to speak up and lean into their careers. (For what it’s worth, I think it is brave of Sheryl to speak up; I reluctantly read her book and was pleasantly surprised by the nuggets of raw truths she was willing to share with the reader.) It’s what Anne-Marie Slaughter did by going back to Princeton as a professor of politics and international affairs: she’s doing what she’s doing with confidence – doing it HER way. (For what it’s worth, I have two daughters, one of whom happens to be at Princeton; I found Anne-Marie’s article to be brave and spot-on: we make choices in life.) And lastly, Susan Patton is doing what she’s doing: speaking up to the young women at Princeton. Maybe I do not agree with her but I commend her for DOING WHAT SHE’S DOING and NOT ASKING FOR PERMISSION..but forgiveness. (For the record, I do not agree at all with Patton but commend her for speaking up.  With CONFIDENCE!)