This past week, I had the pleasure of attending a panel themed “Mastering the Pivot.” The panel featured alumni from my alma mater, Stanford University, who had made dramatic shifts in their personal and professional lives, some by choice and others by necessity. One woman told her story of having her first child half-way through business school. Another panelist described how she completely restructured her life after a career ending injury in her final year of medical school. One of the audience members shared her experience transitioning back into an established company after years of self-employment. Across all of the stories told that evening, there were a few common themes – some inspiring and some validating – that I would love to share with you.
1) Unconscious bias can play a role in any transition
In all of the stories, unconscious bias certainly played a part but it came in many forms. It might have manifested as lack of acceptance in a male-dominated finance department, outright discrimination in funding opportunities, or simply assumptions around working preferences. What these stories highlighted for me was that the impactful part of our unconscious bias story is not the specific barrier encountered, but the perseverance and ingenuity used to conquer it. For me it drove home, just how inspiring our mentors and peers can be in sharing their experiences. Moreover, the discussion made me even more excited for our upcoming Breaking the Mold conference, where we will focus on tools to break down unconscious bias.
2) Community can pull us through a crisis
With most pivots, there is a moment of crisis. It is the moment when we are least sure of what the outcome will be, when everything seems uncertain, when we seem the furthest from the path we had envisioned. I asked the women on the panel, what helped them overcome that crisis moment and to a person, they said two things. First, you have to look forward. If you are not looking forward, you will never see the opportunities on the horizon. Second, each woman emphasized her support network. For many of us, self-reliance has become a central component of our success story, yet in defining moments of our life our community is absolutely critical. I unexpectedly encountered just this over the past few months of our Core semester with the organizing team for Breaking the Mold. Just when I think I am in over my head (and I most definitely am), my Content Team teammates and the other Co-Lead reach out with sage advice or even a lending hand.
3) “You are stronger than you think you are.”
I am actually borrowing the quote from my yoga instructor, Rocky, but I think it describes an experience of inspiring women everywhere. If we were told ahead of time, here are all the challenges you will face and every obstacle you will overcome, we would probably doubt our chances for success. The reality is that we can (and will) succeed – that we are much stronger than we think we are. In the moment when we stand toe-to-toe with a challenge, we will do extraordinary feats. The stories I heard are evidence that while our goals will change and the path will take an unexpected turn (or five), we can individually and collectively achieve much more than even we know.