Nuggets of Wisdom Learned at the JHU Women in Business Leadership Conference

Krasi Shapkarova

Krasi is Carey the Torch's Editor-in-Chief and also represents the Career Development Office in Washington, D.C., working with students on career exploration and development. Krasi holds a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from the University of Houston-Clear Lake and a Master of Arts in International Human Rights from the University of Denver.

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Whether your transformation happens through trauma, surprise, or intention, the process begins because of a growing need for change.

Suzy Ross

This past Friday, I attended the 5th Annual JHU Women in Business Affinity Women’s Leadership Conference in Washington, DC along with some of my colleagues and several Carey students. The theme of the conference was Remarkable Women: The Art of Reinvention. While outside it was rainy and gloomy, at the conference venue, the day was packed with inspirational speakers, motivational sessions, and thought-provoking discussions on the topics of reinvention, transitions, and finding a new you. Each presenter opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the world as an aspiring female leader and encouraged me to reflect on the idea of reinvention as it applies to me. And yes, the conference also inspired me to write this post.

Among the many nuggets of wisdom, I’ll highlight the 5 that resonated most with me.

1. Embrace fear: By sharing her personal story of learning how to jump off of planes, the philanthropist, fundraiser, public speaker, lawyer, and musician Paula Boggs (‘81) emphasized: “It’s ok to be afraid. Many times fear is rational. What’s more important is what you do with the fear. Do you let it consume you or do you find the tools to persevere?” Trying to get out of your comfort zone, challenge the status quo, and seek change is scary, and the accompanying uncertainty threatening. Succumbing to the fear, however, is counter-productive. It may feel as if you are safe by staying where you are but often, you aren’t. Instead, you lose the opportunity to live a full life.

One way to face fear and become an expert at reinventing yourself is to learn to be what Paula called “a master of understanding and reading culture.” Being able to adapt to an increasingly global world, in which we are more likely to interact with people of different backgrounds, is essential to finding out who we are and how to become successful.

2. Learn to look like yourself: Mindy G. Farber (‘74), one of the first women to attend and graduate from Johns Hopkins and a nationally respected employment and labor law attorney, highlighted that women should not seek to be like the people who don’t look like them, specifically referring to male leaders. Instead, female leaders need to set their own rules and look like themselves. While adaptability ensures growth and professional development, it doesn’t translate into literally becoming those we see in power. As the number of women going to business school increases, it is more than ever important for those future leaders to find their own styles instead of trying to emulate others’.

3. Pursue your vision with discipline: A highlight of the conference for me was the panel of women who successfully overcame fear and discovered their life’s purpose. One of those panelists was Julie Pittman, a Holistic Life Coach, who reminded us that if we want our vision, whatever it is, to become a reality, we must put in the work. In other words, we must put in the same amount of discipline to the vision we have of an ideal career as we do to someone else’s vision (through a job that might not allow our best). Julie’s words resonated with me particularly because I recently reflected on my students’ desire for ideal careers but lack of patience when it comes to doing what’s necessary to make the dream a reality. It is clear that for professional growth to happen the right way, we must have the discipline to pursue our dreams persistently, every day.

4. Believe in yourself: Julie’s co-panelist Kiki Ramsey, an author and executive coach, pointed out that even when the discipline is there, if the person is not fully committed to their dream, making that dream a reality will be almost impossible. Or as she put it, “It’s not strategy; it’s you.” There are tons of strategies to get you to your goal but if you are not motivated, if you don’t 100% believe it is a possibility, it won’t happen. A person must first overcome the thought that she can’t do something before she is able to achieve that something.

I for one am definitely going to remind my students of that. Many of the students I meet put the effort, polish their brands, draft effective documents, utilize LinkedIn, reach out to potential contacts, and do anything else necessary to pursue their career goals. Often, however, I hear the doubt when they speak of job search strategies. I must remind them they are smart and ambitious and they absolutely can achieve career success.

5. Let go of what holds you behind: I’ll end with a quote from Diana R. Ramsey, the author of Butterfly Transition: A Step-by-Step Guide to Transitioning Your Hair While Growing Through Life’s Changes: “You have to let go of what’s holding on to you.” As we pursue dreams and seek career success, we are sometimes blind to what’s keeping us behind. For transition and reinvention to take place, we have to part with certain thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Not because they are wrong (although they might be) but because they are what prevents us from moving forward.

Transitions evoke fear but as the speakers at the conference highlighted, they are often necessary for a person to reach her full potential.

What’s holding you back? What do you need to do today to ensure you are successfully moving forward? 

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