The last thing the Internet needs is one more article complaining about Donald Trump, so I'm not going to write that post. As a woman with a mission to empower other women financially, I want to talk about how The Donald has impacted the national discourse in a way that I hope will be positive in the long run. I believe his comments have opened a conversation that crosses gender lines about what is acceptable to say and do to people in general. This is not about being overly politically correct – it’s about being human.
Let me get this out of the way…the comments Trump made on the Access Hollywood bus were without question demeaning, disrespectful and unacceptable. I think FLOTUS summarized it perfectly last week when she said,
“…I have to tell you that I can't stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted.” - Michelle Obama
I concur. Hearing his words shocked me, and I’m not easily offended. They pissed me off. It made me want to cry. I felt the sting of those words personally. To paraphrase Robert DeNiro’s viral video, it made me want to punch him in the face.
Most people would never say or do the things Trump described, but harassment doesn’t need to be overtly physical to intimidate or demean. Until now, I don’t think that our society has been open about discussing where that line is drawn, even among women. Since the release of that tape I’ve had many conversations with friends, both male and female, about their experiences with harassment. I’ve learned things about friends I’ve known for decades that they had never mentioned. Either they had buried it deep in their memories or were too embarrassed to bring it up before, but now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, these stories are being discussed. I think this is progress. I’ve also remembered encounters that I hadn’t thought about in years.
I recall a time in my early 30s when I ended up in a walk-in coat closet with a client as he retrieved his bag and I picked up my umbrella. When I turned around he was blocking my access to the door. He proceeded to invite me to Miami for a weekend on his yacht, apparently unfazed by our 40-year age difference. He mentioned that he would love the opportunity to see me in a bikini. I felt utterly disrespected. I had just delivered a sophisticated presentation about his portfolio’s asset allocation and the impact on his future wealth. Our discussion hadn’t come close to bikinis and yachts. As a good corporate soldier, I laughed and thanked him for the offer. I begged off with the excuse that I had plans for the weekend. I really wanted to punch him in the face as well, but that wasn’t an option.
I remember a time when a colleague picked up a pen off of his desk and threw it on the ground in front of me as I walked by, then asked me if I’d pick it up for him. It was very Mad Men-esque before Mad Men even existed. He laughed and said, “I’m totally kidding.” Yeah, maybe not so much.
I remember being told by a colleague, intended as a compliment, that despite being blond and attractive I gained credibility as soon as I started speaking. Why would it be assumed that I was not intelligent in the first place?
I’ve had friends tell me of times when a high school teacher asked her out on a date (when she was still in high school). I had a male friend tell me about being subjected to constant conversations about the sexual prowess of his female colleagues’ partners while at work. I’ve heard of false rumors being spread about affairs between colleagues of both sexes because it “seemed” they were receiving preferential treatment by management. I’ve heard of a friend being encouraged by her boss to apologize to a male client who had been openly discussing her boobs the night before at dinner to make him feel less uncomfortable about the situation. For what exactly was she apologizing? Having breasts?
I could go on and on about other incidents experienced in social settings, but I’ll stick to the professional situations because they have a direct impact on personal finances.
The implicit message in these circumstances is that “I have power over you, your career, and your income.” The high school teacher could have impacted my friend’s grades, and thus her college and career choices. My client could have threatened to pull his money from the firm if I didn’t play along, which potentially put my job at risk. The women discussing their partners’ sexual performance could have decided to alienate and marginalize the lone man in their group. The common thread is that we all face a decision of whether to play along, or to say what’s on our minds and face the potential consequences. My guess is that most of us try to smooth out the rough edges. I’m sure Billy Bush would agree with this. (I was sympathetic to Billy Bush having to play along until he made the request for a hug, ugh).
Let’s pivot back to the upside of this situation. I’m glad that these discussions are taking place. I’m thrilled that we’re sharing stories and talking about what dis-empowers us. Knowledge is power. We don’t know what we don’t know.
My hope is that the media attention garnered by these words will continue to move this conversation forward. Only by sympathizing with one another’s experiences will we be able to humanize and respect each other in a way that will empower us all. Let’s not mistake being a kind and caring human being for being “too P.C.” I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Please leave any experiences you'd like to share in the comments.
Rereading my "Unexpected Vacation" post below I am shocked to see the time stamp from November 2015. Nine months have passed since I published my story about taking time off, and boy, what a long strange trip it's been. A project I thought would materialize did not, I planned a consultant training program with a friend but then both of our lives went in different directions, I decided to look for a job, I did a bad job of looking for a job, then I really tried to look for a job and got one. I started said job - a completely new path for me doing sales for financial research - and six weeks later I quit that job. Self realization: I am not a pure sales person. At least not for something that isn't truly my own.
During this period the idea for my business continued to gasp for air while those demons of rationality and practicality tried their best to suffocate it. Slowly I let the angels of creativity and freedom have a serious beat down on those demons, and now I'm relaunching Zenith Partners with a slightly different concept than the original. Instead of focusing on managing money for women, I've pivoted toward the educational and coaching component for women and couples. I've become involved in an investment club of inspiring women and the concept of discussing money and finances with a spouse has resurfaced often. It's a tricky topic to tackle since we all carry so many emotions and stories about money from our upbringings. Unless two people are open to communicating those beliefs it can put a tremendous strain on the relationship. I believe that if Zenith can act as an intermediary for couples while helping women feel more secure about questioning and learning we can create some real value in our clients' lives. We're also working with women going through transitions like divorce, retirement and widowhood as well as couples transitioning through various stages of life and family. During my 20 year career in finance these are the situations that have moved me and engaged me on a personal level.
I've asked my sister Jodi to help me with marketing and spreading the word about Zenith. Eventually I hope she'll step into the event planning side. She's much better at those skills than I am, and I love the idea of being able to work together on a topic so personal. She and I experienced many financial challenges with our family throughout our lives so I can't think of a better person with whom to launch this endeavor.
My website is updated and I will be adding content daily. I'll be posting my first new blog post tomorrow about my experience with marriage, divorce and money. It's more than a little frightening to be so personal and raw online, but I believe it's the only way to truly connect with people and share why I'm passionate about this important subject. I learn so much from other people's struggles and I think it's only fair for me to share mine as well.
Thank you for all of the support I've received from friends and my online communities, especially Jodi Flynn's "Women Taking the Lead" group. Please check it out on Facebook.
I look forward to getting Zenith Partners off the ground and making a real difference in the quality of our clients' lives and relationships!
Today’s challenge is to write about something I’m proud to have accomplished at some point in my life. It might be strange to think of quitting a job as an accomplishment, but as I look back on my past year, or even 10 years, it ranks near the top of things I’m proud to have done.
The decision did not come easily. There were dozens of pro and con lists. The list of pros for staying was long: good company, people I liked, well compensated, travel, some schedule flexibility, and I had helped build the company. I felt like I was leaving a piece of myself behind. All of those months of hard work and pulling together as a team to create something from scratch, and I was going to walk away? Maybe, because, con: I’m exhausted. I spent a lot of time convincing myself that I was lucky to be where I was, and there were at least a million people in NYC who would gladly push their grandmothers under a bus to have my job. Probably true, but I had to admit to myself that it was irrelevant. I was feeling burnt out and run down.
After months of mental gymnastics I still wasn’t convinced, and the cycle of analysis-paralysis wasn’t getting me anywhere. This is when my inner Tracy Flick* took over and gave me my solution. I decided I could leave if I got right to work on another new venture. Yes! This was the answer. I’ll start over and build my own business this time. I’ll help women learn how to take care of their financial futures! I can use my skills and also do some good for people. Sure it’s an insane amount of blood, sweat and tears but what the hell, I like that. It will GIVE me energy. It will take a few months to sort out all of the filings and registrations necessary, but 8 or 10 weeks, tops, and I’ll be up and running with my shiny new shingle out for the world to see.
With this decision made, I chose a quit date and pulled the plug in March of this year. The day after I left my job I set off for Club Med Bahamas to meet my friend Leah from Los Angeles for a week of relaxation before I got to work on the new venture. When we arrived at the resort I was in full on New York type-A mode. I dragged her to the introductory information meeting and sat in the front row taking notes. I immediately picked up the weekly schedule of events and started planning which days to snorkel, play volleyball and take Zumba class. This was when my friend started to laugh, looked me in the eye and said, “Katherine, you can’t ‘win’ Club Med! Relax. There’s no first prize here. Just have fun and chill out.” Until that moment I didn’t realize how wound up I had been. I took her advice to the extreme and by day 3 I had lost all motivation to schedule anything. We woke up when we woke up, headed to the pool, and maybe took the water aerobics class. Prior to the trip I thought the two of us would spend hours discussing business ideas and planning the months ahead. Instead, we read magazines and bad fiction, and chatted about life, relationships and travel. I realize that this is what vacation is supposed to be about, but I had been so focused on the next step that I lost sight of the need for a break.
By the end of the week starting a business was the furthest thing from my mind. I was spending my time contemplating what I could do to support myself living in the Caribbean. I could sell my possessions and live the island life! I actually researched which islands allow you to bring a dog. I called my attorney and told him to postpone filing the LLC documents he had prepared for a little while longer. I had to figure out a few things first.
Deep down I never thought a change that drastic was what I wanted, but I realized then that a serious break was in order. I decided to “lean in” to my new found freedom. I slept late, walked my dog miles every morning, worked out daily, met friends for happy hours and dinners, and stayed up late watching TV. I spent the month of May in Colorado with my friend Joyce who had also quit to take an extended break. We rented an apartment and lived like locals, with some gorgeous time out in the mountains. I contemplated moving there permanently to lead an easier, less expensive life, but deep down NY was home and I was ready to go back. That brought me to June, and a full three months of relaxing and figuring out my next steps.
Back in New York the days flew by at warp speed. I was never bored but always had that nagging voice in my head telling me that I should be “figuring it out.” I read a lot of books on entrepreneurship, leadership and passion. I answered surveys and built timelines and journaled pages and pages of ideas. The more I explored, however, the more I realized that I wasn't sure what kind of business I wanted to build. I was holding onto ideas in my comfort zone – what I had done in the past. The problem was when I examined exactly what I would need to do to make it successful I had to admit that I didn’t like doing a lot of those things. I knew I wanted to help women, but I wasn't sure how to combine the education part with actually making a living. Time to hit reset.
The next few months after admitting that the business wasn’t going to happen the way I had imagined were rough sailing. I felt loss, disappointment, shame and embarrassment. I had made a big deal about building something and now I had to tell people it wasn’t happening. Even worse, when they asked the follow up question of what I was going to do instead, I didn’t have an answer. I felt guilty and indulgent about the time I had taken away from my career even though I knew on some level it was something I needed. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the deeply buried reasons I made the decision to quit.
It’s now mid-November and I’m still in the process of figuring it out, but I’ve come a long way. I grew to understand why I felt so burnt out and accept that I had legitimate reasons. The past 8 years have been filled with many of the biggest life changing events possible. I had helped start 3 new businesses from the ground up. I wrote a book. I moved cross country from NY to Los Angeles and then back again 5 years later, regularly traveling coast to coast in the interim. I had a long term relationship turn into a long distance relationship and then break up. And finally, both of my parents went through extended illnesses and eventually passed away. Until then I had never appreciated the amount of continuous energy I had to keep pumping out to power through all of these major events. Throughout these years I rarely slept through the night. I think back to the concerned faces of friends asking me if I felt ok because I didn’t look so good. I chalked it up to the life of an entrepreneur and would respond with something like, “well, we can sleep when we’re dead, right?” It took me a full 6 months to realize that this break was the best thing I had ever done for myself, mentally and physically.
The last two months have been filled with projects. I’ve tried to help other people who are working on their dreams, I’ve built a website, I started writing again and collaborating with friends who are on the same journey as me. I’m exploring job opportunities that could be about creating something new. During this process I have felt free to think creatively and explore new ideas as they pop into my head. I’ve discovered what really motivates me, and I’ve also discovered some things that I thought motivated me but actually do not. I’m learning to steer clear of these things that I gravitate toward out of habit.
Everyone I see these days tells me I look happy and relaxed, and that’s exactly how I feel despite the uncertainty of what my future holds. If I hadn’t taken that blind leap back in March I never would have had the energy to discover all of these new things about myself. I know my days of unencumbered freedom are nearing an end, but I am ready for the next chapter. I’m excited to get back to work and bring to it a new awareness and motivation that comes from being honest with myself about who I am and what I want my life to be.
*Tracy Flick was a character in the move Election. If you haven't seen it, go stream it.