Last week has been quite a hectic and busy one for me. I tried to juggle all my projects, had meetings and managed to squeeze in all my social activities as well. Before I started writing this post, I was sitting in front of my laptop, holding my coffee mug and suffering from major writers’ block. So many things happened last week and I was unable to pin down the topic I was thinking about most.
I decided to surf online and read some newspaper articles for some inspiration. And there she was again: Kylie Jenner on the Forbes list. I am still not sure what I should think about it. On the one hand, I do not appreciate for what Kylie and her sisters are standing for: an image of women capitalizing on their outward appearance, sexualizing themselves for financial success. (Note: this is my very personal opinion without meaning to offend anyone). I find it worrying that young girls might aim for these values. On the other hand, we have to admit that she has made it. Even if we use arguments like “she came from money already”. She (or a very smart team of advisors she hired) multiplied her wealth by capitalizing on the superficial world transported in social media.
Because of Kylie Jenner, I got curious and looked into the list of women being on the Forbes list. I discovered some very inspiring stories of women I had frankly never heard of before – from scientists, to real estate magnates or media business owners. I do think that women need to see women on those lists. If we never see them at the top, we will never aspire to make it. However, recently, I have started questioning the concept of lists and comparisons.
When I finished my PhD and looked for a job, I was always asked about three life goals. Aged 25 my answer was: being on the cover of Forbes, having an airport named after me and having my own Barbie doll. As you see, I have always had big goals. 😉 And to a certain extent, I really was motivated by these goals. I studied Business and we were always being compared at university. Therefore, external recognition was something which we were told to aspire.
But my answer already reflected something which was boiling inside me: I was actually getting annoyed with being compared and being asked standard questions during interviews. I found them absurd; hence, they got absurd answers.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What are your strengths/weaknesses?
Bla bla bla.
And we all carefully prepared our answers which will not cast a bad light on us. My favourite: “My weakness is that I set high standards to my own performance and demand the same from my team.” I even read books about how to answer those questions – and I am sure I was not the only one.
How can we strive to achieve our best if not even the interview questions are genuine? Would the recruiters really want to hear our honest opinion? Furthermore, as a 25-year-old graduate, I had not yet experienced sexism at work, approaching the glass ceiling, or the hard time young mothers get for juggling their jobs and family while men are still taken out of that equation. I really did believe that there were equal chances for everyone.
The older I got, the more I saw things differently. As you see from this post, I still follow the Forbes lists. However, I think all these lists and competitions are overrated. I recently talked to a friend of mine, also a female founder, about the Forbes “30 under 30” list. Why is there always outside pressure on us no matter what we do? At university, we need to have the best grades and be in the best clubs, at work we strive for climbing up the hierarchical ladder – very often a better job title does not automatically mean a more interesting job – and even as entrepreneurs we have journalists ranking us according to revenue our capital raised? Who defines the measures for success? Should we all be ranked solely on the money we make? What about a list for people who – whilst achieving financial success – stand for further values as well? What about a list for mums who manage to not feel guilty anymore when they go leave their kid at day care while working? What about the dads taking paternity leave? What about a great boss who motivates their team to achieve their best? What about those who volunteer at NGOs in their free time?
I am lucky to have met a bunch of inspiring personalities who have never made it on any of the lists. They would be considered underdogs. However, they are all very accomplished professionally, love what they do and managed to also have a family and social life. Therefore, every year when the lists come out and this competitive feeling starts creeping in: “Why am I not on any of those lists?”, I think: “Good for them”. But I also think good for every one of us. Because as Oprah says: “It is good to be underestimated.” If you are an underdog, you can focus on what is important to you. No spotlight also means less pressure.
The only pressure you should have is the one driving you and making you happy – whether it is your motivation to make it onto a certain list, contribute to change in our societies or have a family. Have a great week ahead!