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A Reflection on American Businesswomen’s Day

Carolyn Lodge

Grit Perseverance ResolutionAmerican Business Women’s Day

Sometimes a day of acknowledgment brings me to a place where I step back and think about context. This is particularly true as we approach American Businesswomen’s Day, a day created “to bring together businesswomen of diverse occupations and to provide opportunities for them to help themselves and others grow personally and professionally through leadership, education, networking support, and national recognition”. The day itself sheds light on the influence of women in business and offers a time for the celebration of growth and accomplishments.

On Becoming a Businesswoman

I was fortunate to be raised in a family and community where I never questioned my position as a woman, nor did I self-censor my potential based on the perception of limited opportunity. I focused on my skillsets and my passion. Perhaps the reality is that the opportunity for women in the career I chose may have been greater than I realized when I embarked on my career. As I mentor new graduates, interns, and young colleagues, I’m often asked about my career, my experience and advice for career paths, switching jobs, pay, and personal development.

What I’ve realized more than anything is there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the equation. It’s not just about money or titles or how quickly you are promoted. It’s about experiences, opportunities, challenges, and passion. It’s dependent on your market, your industry, your business, and your position.

Committing to my Priorities

Our conversations are often prompted by a discussion about pay. There’s research showing how much more money you’ll make if you switch jobs. Every time I see that data, I’m struck by the reality that my experience is so drastically different. And then I remember my story, my priorities, and my desire to stick with that to which I commit. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to help build an agency and in return, the reward of growing both personally and professionally. From my positions to my salary to the experiences I’ve had, my professional life has been beyond anything I could have imagined. But I never would have realized that if I’d jumped ship to chase another opportunity.

There have been many times when I’ve been unsatisfied. I’ve had years when I wasn’t happy. I’ve turned down job offers and ignored recruiters. I’ve worked with people whom I did not respect, with challenging client requests, and on difficult projects. I’m not sure when the idea came about that work shouldn’t be difficult. Honestly, the challenge is what I enjoy. I love problem-solving. I love relationship-building, and I love looking back on a client we’ve worked with for many years and seeing how their brand has grown and how we’ve helped them meet their business goals.

When Opportunity Strikes

After interning in corporate communications for a utility company and working in account service/marketing for a financial institution, I was lucky enough to stumble into an opportunity with a small business that has created opportunities beyond anything I could have planned. I wasn’t there when the business opened or even for the first few years of bootstrapping, but I did enter at a pivotal time and found my place within the organization.

Over the next 10 years, I worked tirelessly to learn all I could about the industry and our clients, hone my skills, and show that I could be counted on and trusted. I worked late every night because I WANTED to. No one asked me to work extra hours. No one required this extra effort of me. But it was something I was passionate about, and I gave it everything I had. I didn’t ask for overtime pay or constantly ask for a raise because I was working so much. It was my choice, my decision, and my personal investment in my career. It wasn’t easy. I was stressed. I cried. Sometimes I wanted to quit. But I didn’t.

For me, that’s the biggest lesson. I wasn’t going to give up on something because it was difficult.

Growing with the Company

I’m often asked if I feel (or worry) that I have sold myself short by staying with one company so long. I look at my time and see all that I’ve learned, the peers I’ve learned from (both good and bad), the consultants who have guided me, the conferences I’ve attended, the courses I’ve completed, and the clients who welcomed me as an integral part of their business. I’ve literally worked with hundreds of organizations over the years as clients, partners, or beneficiaries. The variety of that experience has all been part of my tenure at one company, and yet, I know I still have much to learn. Who doesn’t?

I like to believe I’ve learned a lot about gratitude, commitment, and who and what you can count on. The pro bono work we’ve completed, the charity events I have personally conceived, implemented, and produced—that keeps me engaged. It keeps me hungry, and it keeps me motivated to find the next challenge.

Agency Life: Work Hard, Play Hard

I listened to a Ted Talk recently about grit and how passion and perseverance have been linked to success. There is no question that being in the agency business takes an extreme amount of grit. It is deadline-orientated, competitive, and emotional. What we deal with every day is far different than corporate communications or government work, and honestly, it isn’t for everyone. There is a lot of grey area, a requirement to be flexible with the process, and an overall need to work hard without drama. Does it pay the most? Maybe not. But money isn’t everything, and we all know that.

Just last month, we enjoyed a two-day retreat with our entire agency. It was literally a vacation designed to give us time to relax and enjoy each other’s company. AND WE GOT PAID our salary to be there. We got paid to go have fun for two days. How do you compare that experience and those relationships to a few more dollars in your paycheck?

I’ve learned that what is far more than the paycheck is the environment in which we work and the progress we are able to achieve as individuals and as members of a team. I’ve loved being a member of the 116 & West team and being supported in my desire to learn and grow.  As an agency, we place great importance on employee development and have made a concerted effort to foster an environment in which we cultivate the opportunities to enhance our team by nurturing progress.

The Bottom Line: Grit

The reality is that none of my story or what I consider the takeaways of my experience is based on being a woman. I am grateful to have never been held back by my gender and to have found a company that rewards hard work. My story is about being a professional, and I‘d like to think the advice I would give is relevant to anyone. I believe grit is the same way—it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, or what you are doing. Having grit can often be the thing that sets you apart.

When I’m asked about my career, I hope my story helps communicate a few things:

  1. Agency life is rewarding
  2. Agency life is challenging
  3. Agency life is not for everyone
  4. Passion trumps pay
  5. Especially in private business, GRIT will be rewarded
  6. Switching jobs every few years isn’t always the best

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