Long before reality television there was a game show called To Tell the Truth. The show featured a panel of celebrity judges who attempted to identify the contestant who had a true, yet unusual occupation or experience.
In my version of the show, Contestant 1 would say, “As a young girl, I wanted to be a nun. That changed in high school when Sister Rosina asked me, “Which college do you want to attend when you graduate?” I replied, “Cal or Stanford.” She paused before saying, “Honey, I think you should set your sights lower."
Contestant 2 would say, “When I landed my first job, I was thrilled. During the interview, I was made aware of the difficulties of life as a field biologist in the Bay Area; I enjoyed the challenges, however, and thrived in my new environment. I had mixed feelings when after six months, I was given some cash by my co-workers; the money came from a betting pool on how long I would last. The bets had ranged from two days to three months.”
Contestant 3 would reveal, “While working as a math programmer at a national lab, I felt the geek in me was drawn to Silicon Valley. However, I truly loved my job. So, I started consulting on weekends and evenings for a startup. Eventually, I went to work full time for them. The hours were long, but everyone was smart and projects were challenging and interesting. The company culture changed when we merged with another organization. I left when I realized that just because I could do something well didn’t mean that I should keep doing it.
At the end of the show when the question was asked, “Will the real Rosie Abriam Lee stand up?” all three contestants would stand. They are me at different moments of my life.
As Contestant 1, I went home dejected. My mother encouraged me to stand tall. She said, “Who cares what one woman says? Work hard and prove that you can do whatever you want.”
As Contestant 2, I leaned in because I loved what I was doing. As I got to know my colleagues, I continued to lean in and brought them with me. A year and a half after I was given the “pool money,” I was unanimously nominated as the president of the employees union. At the time, I was the only woman, the only person of color and the youngest member of the group. My lesson: More can be done with a good attitude than with a chip on your shoulder.
As Contestant 3, I leaned in, led by my excitement and interest in technology. However, I found that while my patents were a nice bonus, the real reward was the lifelong friendships I made. Now I’m fortunate to work for a non-profit that builds leadership capacity in our communities.
(And, just in case the aforementioned nun is reading this and wondering, I got into Stanford, Cal and every other college on my list.)