Most people who know me will never believe this, but I was shy growing up. Not just shy— painfully shy. As time progressed, I eventually grew into my own skin. Competing in sports as a child gave me guts and courage. It also gave me discipline and opened my eyes to a world of people who took life into their own hands and became great.
I wanted to be great.
So it was no surprise that the first step in my career path was in the sports industry. I found a boutique marketing firm in Los Angeles that saw that potential greatness in me. The CEO and VP of this four-person company were the ones to interview me and tell me they saw this inner promise, but that they also could see how shy and nervous I was. This was uncharted waters for me. This was real life. No safety net, no campus job anymore.
I was in awe of the power of the company because of the people who stood behind it. They had years in the sports industry—an industry that inspired me. I was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed when it came to the stories they poured out with business associates and clients. Some people get star struck; I guess you could say I was "industry struck." At my first black tie gala ever, David Stern came and sat at our table ever so nonchalantly and chatted with our clients and Chairman. David. Stern. Again, in awe. I was a sponge and wanted so badly to create this history I could someday tell, but I had to build that, so I sat back quietly and listened.
I had a love-hate relationship with the company for five years. It was growing pains for me. I had found something I was great at. I had earned respect and credibility. But my boss continued to push and push and push. I metaphorically compared myself to the family dog, as I was the one who always got kicked on the bad days. The day before my one year anniversary, I finally cried at work. He pushed me so hard on this one project and client and changed his mind five times in the course of a day as to what he wanted or liked in a presentation. I finally was so frustrated that tears rolled down my cheeks in his office. I was embarrassed, hurt, upset and stressed all at the same time.
To this day, I remember exactly what he said, “I’m sorry I made you cry, but you know I’m really not.” He then pointed to a picture in his office of himself and two powerful female sports executives from the start of their careers together. He said, “It’s the ones who deal with it, can stick with it and keep going that become someone. The ones that quit are chicken shits.” I left his office with my tail between my legs and a sense of embarrassment, but also a sense of defiance that inside said “You made me cry; now I’ll show you I’m better than that.”
I moved my way up the ranks and watched this four-person company grow to a twelve-person company with a rotating staff of interns. I fought tooth and nail at times for what I believed was right. I built the confidence to negotiate a promotion larger than what was offered to me, made a smart business case for it, and earned it. I felt great. But, I was still in the shadows of my career.
I had a co-worker who was like a big sister to me. She took me under her wing and introduced me to people. She took me to events she thought would be good for me, lunches with industry contacts, and on and on. She was amazing. She was the type of person who could walk into a room of 500 people, not know a single one, walk up to a stranger, introduce herself and create an audience. So what was wrong with me? In all other aspects of my life, I wasn’t shy. So why now? Why was I always in her shadow versus at her side? Maybe it was the threat of failure, or saying the wrong thing. Maybe it was the awkward butting into people’s conversations and having them wonder who you are. I had to snap out of it, and I soon did.
I leaned in and took charge. I went to networking events by myself and made connections. I walked up to strangers I admired at award ceremonies and said hello or gave them a congratulations. I finally owned who I was and the potential of what I could do. Once that finally clicked, that I was successful and people liked me, and even admired me—I knew I had to make my next step.
It’s a tricky thing interviewing in the sports industry. No one wants to burn bridges, everyone knows everyone else, and you never exactly know who you can trust and if word will get out that you’re looking. I did it though. I leaned in and embraced my connections, and I embraced myself. I knew what I was capable of. I started dabbling in sales and proved that I could do it. I was ready, now I needed someone who believed this just as much as I knew it. When I found that opportunity, it was tough. Why do we get so nervous when we have to give our resignation? Maybe we are afraid of looking like a quitter, or disappointing the ones that count on us so much.
I met with my boss and laid it all out. He asked me, “Why did you go behind my back and why didn’t you ask for my help?” Why? Because I needed to know people believed in me. I needed to know it was my personal brand and accomplishments that someone was hiring versus a favor or a big name behind me. I needed to know that people recognized the potential I saw in myself and were as willing to take a risk on me as I was to take a risk on a new role, in a new city, at a new company. In hindsight, I realize he was disappointed because we had spent five years together. His company was his family and friends, and it’s hard to let go of someone who has played a big role. I always heard from everyone else how highly he thought of me, but I rarely ever heard it from him. He told me he saw my potential and never wanted me to let it slip. He always wanted me to push myself further, and that’s why he was always so hard on me. Three years later, I get that now.
There comes a time in everyone’s life where you need to lean back or lean in; I leaned in. I was tired of wondering what I could do and sticking to the rules of what everyone else thought I could do. I made my own fate. Three years later and three jobs later, I am more confident than ever. I have proven myself as a successful saleswoman who has set out on her own career path. I made a huge industry change from sports to joining a tech startup 6 months ago and I couldn’t be happier. People believe in you and look to you for leadership, but only if you believe in yourself. I had to lean in and put it all on the line to believe in myself, and it has paid off. Oh, and that shyness? I don’t know where it went. Maybe when I grew into my own skin it realized there was no room left for it.