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New Professionals: Lean In With Your Life

EACE Blog contribution by Tiffany Waddell, Assistant Director of Career Development at Davidson College

Speak UpA few months back, I grabbed a copy of Lean In since it seemed to be flooding my timeline as one of the (many) books targeting women want to live a more empowered and intentional lifestyle. I found that for me, while the book did have quite a few nuggets of knowledge I could put in my toolbelt – the context was a bit lofty from my seat. I am likely never going to be the CFO of a major tech company (not my intended career path or interest area) and that position and pedigree is laden with privilege and agency that I frankly do not hold [according to society’s standards] as a young black woman. However, the overarching message that still sticks with me months later? As a young professional, it is my duty to live and work on purpose – and encourage others around me to do the same. To be intentional, work hard, and not hide behind silence or wait to be asked to sit at the table. To operate in both word and deed as if I am at the table, always. Mentor those that come behind and beside me, and continue to exercise my voice so that there may be space for others to exercise theirs.

No intended shade to my male colleagues or readers, but: the landscape of Higher Education, despite the overwhelming saturation of women in the field, does not mirror our demographic in most cabinet-level or senior administration roles. So what does that mean for us older Millennial staffers? How do we secure our footing on the proverbial lattice of work, and pull other women up on the jungle gym with us – and not push them down? To me, it means we must choose to lean in with our lives – starting with our organizations and professional networks. How we choose to lead our professional and personal lives will set the tone for those around us – and it might not always look like what our parents thought it would. Below I have listed a few ways I try to lean in with my own life, in the hopes that it might assist or affirm you wherever you are.

Live Your Work Ethic

In the same way that “you are what you eat,” I believe that if you produce junk – people will consider you junk. This doesn’t mean there is no room for mistakes, but putting real effort into the work that you produce – how promptly you respond to emails and phone calls – and creating some semblance of organization in your life? These are the makings of your personal brand. When you peel back all the “hype” surrounding your formal title at work or past credentials, to me, what matters most is what remains: how you work and relate to others. Make it count.

Ask for Help – and Take It

I don’t know who came up with the myth that leadership means bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders all by yourself, but it is just that: a myth. Real leaders and effective people ask for help when they need it, and take it. Sometimes, two (or three or four!) heads is truly better than one. As a dominant intuitive and naturally independent person, I definitely struggle with this one. But it’s necessary for both personal and professional survival.

Seek Mentors

Identifying both men and women who have areas of expertise (or perspective/experience) in areas you don’t yet – or are stepping into – allows you to learn from the mistakes of others and identify resources to fill any skill gaps you might have. I find it odd that anyone would not seek out mentors. I recommend creating a professional life counsel, of sorts – people that you give full permission to be brutally honest with you about problems and situations. It doesn’t mean you will always take their advice or do what they say – but you will be open to listen and learn. You will almost always be better for it!

Support Your Peers

Whether you’re new to an organization or role – or have been somewhere for a very long time, one thing rings timeliness: professional development and achievement is both a combination of the work you produce and the relationships you build. I am not talking about parasitic relationships either, where all you do is take. I mean supporting colleagues by lending a helping hand on a team or across departments when you are able. Showing up when you are invited to meetings or functions. Giving your time to learn more about the stress points that are impacting your “work friends,” as I fondly refer to some of the best people I know in the field. Supporting others will always come back to you ten-fold. Learning who you can depend on starts by being dependable.

Be Bold

Appropriate and professional does not automatically mean compromising yourself. We challenge our students to think critically when sifting through career opportunities, weighing their values, and practicing for interviews and new opportunities. Why can’t we, as career professionals, both think critically and be authentic at the same time? Who says that if you try something new and fail, that it’s a bad thing? Who says that we must compromise our expression of self and style to be taken seriously? Who says that if you challenge the status quo, that it’s automatically professional suicide? Wear bright colors – speak up when you have an idea – challenge yourself so that you can in turn, challenge others.


waddell-tiffanyTiffany Waddell is the Assistant Director for Career Development at Davidson College. She has coached hundreds of budding young professionals on how to create strategic action plans for academic and career-related goals.  Affectionately known for her “tough love” approach to coaching and people development, she is an avid connector of people and ideas.  Waddell received both her BA and MA from Wake Forest University. Connect with her on Twitter @tiffanyiwaddell and start a conversation!

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