Within my small circle of friends and professional colleagues I am one of few that have worked for the same company since university graduation – nearly five years. As a representative of a generation that is notorious for busting the expectation of decades long company loyalty, I have been blessed to explore career paths within one company.
After four years in a hybrid role of Diversity & Inclusion, business development and compliance, my perfectionist imposter syndrome (this quiz basically summed up my unrealistic expectations for performance and always striving for more) indicated it was time to deepen my business acumen in order to effectively integrate Diversity & Inclusion into business operations. As a result, I intentionally fed my craving for business understanding. I began to inject business knowledge into my daily life by reading financial definitions from Investopedia.com or listening to Harvard Business Review podcasts. I also applied for MBA programs and finally approached my manager to support my pursuit of an internal exchange program.
After my manager’s approval and wholehearted support of my application (leadership makes SUCH a difference in one’s career), I applied and was selected as one of only two USA employees for the program.
My assignment is based in Washington, D.C. and is housed within an infrastructure development group that pursues projects ranging from $100 million to $2 billion+. Although my role focuses on embedding sustainability into public-private partnerships, I communicated to my interest in finance, accounting and other business aspects to my new leadership before arriving. Since moving to D.C. almost nine months ago I have experienced and embraced so much because of my mindset, which I divulge some of below:
While prepping for my move to DC I noticed how the process can produce so much anxiety for people. Although I was driving cross-country to a new city, I was genuinely calm and excited for the opportunity. I could have easily freaked out over moving logistics, driving over 20 hours, or stepping into a role I knew nothing about, but my past kept me grounded.
I created a Google doc entitled “God’s hand” that details life events that statistically should not have happened. Whether it was getting accepted to my magnet high school, surviving a car crash or earning a D&I position after university, appreciating what happened in my past is key to trusting the promise of my future. I find it comforting when one can smile in the midst of craziness, praise during the pain and trust in uncertainty. I dare you to try it.
Never get comfortable
I use comfort as a litmus test for my professional performance and growth. If I am comfortable, then it’s time to level up. However, the residual effects of pursuing greatness can actually leave one feeling dejected. The process includes continuous practice, hours of research, asking the “stupid” questions, receiving crazy looks in return, blunt answers and true vulnerability. BUT, you only live once, so why would you want to maintain the status quo? Pressing past your perceived comfort allows you to discover what you love, identify what you dislike and teaches you how to swim rather than sink.
During the five months since arriving in D.C. for my assignment I have been in rooms where I felt like my colleagues were speaking a foreign language. As a result I am forever taking copious amounts of notes and following up with internal experts for answers. By having the vulnerability to ask questions that might be common knowledge to some and pairing those questions with context in order to flex your critical thinking, the picture slowly begins to come together. I have an Excel workbook I created months before beginning my assignment. It includes tabs for my goals, industry knowledge, internal research, findings, and most importantly a long list of questions. When I return to the initial questions tab I tend to let out a smirk since I now can confidently speak to those questions. Never get comfortable. It is worth it.
Healthy debate works wonders
Practice vocalizing your thoughts in a confident manner. This has been challenging yet rewarding for me professionally. Since moving to DC I now work with a group of attorneys and financiers that have years of experience unapologetically vocalizing their perspective in order to produce a better outcome. After I witnessed my first set of meetings and saw how comfortable my colleagues were with healthy debate, it inspired me to do the same.
However, I have to be honest with myself about two characteristics that are both strengths but can easily transform into weaknesses if not harnessed correctly. As an introvert I analyze my thoughts before speaking, marinate on information, and often have my “aha” moments 15 minutes to two days after an opportune time. As the only non-administrative Black woman in the office I contribute a different and needed cultural perspective to conversations but am always conscious of how I am perceived (see academic study/article here, here and here if you need to read/understand approximately .5 percent of how Black women struggle in their careers).
As a result, I have forced myself to practice vocalizing my thoughts, whether in meetings or by myself. I owe it to myself and other Black women striving to be in a space that doesn’t look and feel like them. The more I practice, the more authenticity and confidence will peek through and the more I can represent a community that needs to be valued in decision making. Remember…practice makes permanent.