SUC­CESS IS NOT A SIN­GU­LAR DES­TI­NA­TION

IF YOU HAD TOLD me A FEW YEARS AGO THAT ONE DAY MY SO­CIAL LIFE WOULD CON­SIST of GO­ING to WATCH OTHER WOMEN TALK ABOUT MONEY and FAIL­URE…

ELLE (UK) - - The Conversation - by ALEX HOLDER

…I’d have pic­tured a pretty bleak fu­ture. But here l am, a bot­tle of beer in hand and a front-row seat, watch­ing four women speak can­didly about their low­est ca­reer mo­ments – and I feel em­pow­ered. The panel event The Power of Quit­ting – started in Lon­don by Naomi Olul­eye, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager at Bum­ble – proved so pop­u­lar it’s been rolled out to New York and Ber­lin. It’s a cel­e­bra­tion of re­bel­lious women who have made their ca­reers their own. But the real pull is that noth­ing in the room is left un­said: quit­ting big jobs, be­ing a shitty mum, be­ing un­der­paid and even be­ing very well paid.

For women, it’s been hard enough to get to the top. But now we’re ques­tion­ing whether we even want to get there. There’s a lan­guage de­vel­op­ing, re­ject­ing the idea that there is only one way to be suc­cess­ful. Sh­eryl Sand­berg gave us the term ‘jun­gle gym’ to re­place the tired ‘ca­reer lad­der’ in her book Lean In. ‘There’s only one way to get to the top of a lad­der, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jun­gle gym,’ she says. ‘Plus, a jun­gle gym pro­vides great views for many peo­ple – not just those at the top.’ Emma Gan­non de-stig­ma­tised the ‘slashy’ by re­nam­ing them ‘multi-hy­phen­ates’, cel­e­brat­ing those who hold down more than one job ti­tle in mul­ti­ple in­dus­tries at the same time. And Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton wrote a man­i­festo to re­de­fine suc­cess ‘be­yond the two pil­lars of money and power’ in her book Thrive. These books all push against the fact that we’ve been sold suc­cess as a sin­gu­lar des­ti­na­tion – that if you work hard enough, you’ll get there and then you’ll be happy. The prob­lem with this ‘dream’ is that no one knows what a let-down money and sta­tus can be un­til they’ve ded­i­cated years of their life work­ing to­wards them. We’re learn­ing that suc­cess doesn’t have to be a me­te­oric rise to the top for a big­ger salary – but if it isn’t that, what does it look like? Free­lance? Founder? Part-time florist?

‘We’ve started to look at suc­cess as an in­di­vid­ual thing, rather than one con­cept. I think it’s about be­ing stim­u­lated; hav­ing your in­tel­lect trig­gered and your abil­ity recog­nised,’ says Louise Troen, vice pres­i­dent of in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Bum­ble Bizz. We want suc­cess­ful lives, not just suc­cess­ful ca­reers, and that means look­ing at work holis­ti­cally. Does it feed my self­worth? Do I have a healthy work­life bal­ance? Do I feel val­ued?

‘If we are ever in “should” mode, that is a red flag, be­cause it means we’re be­ing in­flu­enced by things out­side of our­selves,’ says Lucy Sheri­dan, the world’s first ‘com­par­i­son coach’, who helps peo­ple to stop com­par­ing them­selves to oth­ers on so­cial me­dia. We all need our own def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess. She adds: ‘”Should” means we’ve out­sourced our power, di­rec­tion or de­ci­sions, and we need to claw that back.’

Women are learn­ing to bat away shame and face taboo sub­jects. In the wake of #MeToo and the pay-gap rev­e­la­tions, we know we can’t keep hav­ing the same, tired con­ver­sa­tions when it comes to work and money. I asked writer Liv Sid­dall about the warm, chatty pod­cast she started this year, which she named Re­dun­dancy Ra­dio af­ter, you guessed it, be­ing made re­dun­dant. ‘At the time, my dad kept say­ing to me, “You are not re­dun­dant – just say you left. Don’t tell any­one; don’t use that word,”’ she says. ‘But by talk­ing about it and own­ing it, it doesn’t de­fine me.’

Own­ing fail­ure is not the end goal for these women. It’s about ex­am­in­ing what it means to be suc­cess­ful. Even Sophia Amoruso, the orig­i­nal #girl­boss, filed for bank­ruptcy and lost her place on Forbes’ list of the rich­est self-made women (above Tay­lor Swift and Bey­oncé). Now that she’s ‘failed’, she’s started a new com­pany, Girl­boss Me­dia, the mis­sion of which is to ‘re­de­fine suc­cess for mil­len­nial women’ by ex­plor­ing sub­jects from money and self-worth to in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity and pre­vent­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion in the work­place.

It was the pay-gap rev­e­la­tions ear­lier this year that made me con­front my own com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with work, money and suc­cess. I worked in ad­ver­tis­ing for 12 years and, aged 3O, was made

“IT’S BEEN HARD ENOUGH for WOMEN TO GET to THE TOP.

NOW WE’RE QUES­TION­ING if WE EVEN WANT

to GET THERE”

The 22% STATIS­TIC OF EM­PLOY­EES THE TOP QUAR­TILE AT GOOGLE OF UK ARE WOMEN *

part­ner of a large ad­ver­tis­ing agency serv­ing global clients such as YouTube and P&G. At 33, I quit for the sim­ple rea­son that it wasn’t mak­ing me happy.

The day the pay-gap fig­ures were pub­lished, I looked at the pay dis­par­ity at every com­pany I’d worked for . The gap re­ported by WPP, the agency where I spent my most for­ma­tive years, was 42.2%. See­ing that fig­ure meant I fi­nally felt val­i­dated; I hadn’t imag­ined the sex­ism I felt through­out my ca­reer. Iron­i­cally, it was a tri­umphant feel­ing. With our strug­gle out there in the pub­lic do­main, my friends and I started talk­ing about work – the good and the bad bits, as well as the money we earn.

As we shared, I re­alised how many of my pre­vi­ous con­ver­sa­tions about work were in­au­then­tic be­cause the money parts were miss­ing. How can you get ad­vice on quit­ting a full-time job and go­ing free­lance (which is what I did) with­out talk­ing about money? For that con­ver­sa­tion to be of real use, you have to say out loud: this is how much my rent is; this is what I could earn per day; this is what I will be risk­ing. By be­ing more trans­par­ent about what we earn, we could ac­tu­ally make our­selves bet­ter off. In July 2O18, a study by Star­ling Bank found peo­ple gained more fi­nan­cial con­fi­dence from dis­cussing money than from putting money in their sav­ings ac­count, which is pretty crazy.

Some com­pa­nies are even do­ing the shar­ing for us. I asked Hail­ley Griffis, a PR spe­cial­ist at US tech com­pany Buf­fer, which has a trans­par­ent pay pol­icy, how she felt about that be­ing pub­lic. I looked up her salary – how could I not? A quick Google showed that, with a salary of $9O,O91 (£71,1OO), she was the fifth-high­est-paid in her de­part­ment. ‘I am more open with friends now; it adds so much to my con­ver­sa­tions,’ she told me. ‘Know­ing a friend’s fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion adds clar­ity and un­der­stand­ing to what their per­spec­tive on a sit­u­a­tion might be.’

We’re talk­ing about money and re­defin­ing suc­cess – but is it all pos­i­tive? ‘At the mo­ment, as a woman, go­ing free­lance is the ul­ti­mate mid­dle fin­ger to the cor­po­rate ca­reer,’ says fash­ion blog­ger Brit­tany Bath­gate, who left her re­tail job to work for her­self this year. ‘Ad­just­ing to free­lance has been hard. Some days I didn’t even want to get out of bed, so it’s not the an­swer for ev­ery­one.’

A friend I of­ten work with raises an­other good point. ‘If we’re hero­ing those who choose a life bal­ance, what does it mean in real terms?’ she asks. ‘If I told you I wasn’t that both­ered about get­ting to the top in my field, how would you, as my col-

“WE’RE DELV­ING INTO the TABOO OF MONEY and OWN­ING THE TERMS THAT ARE USED to QUIET US ”

Work­ing OVER 39 RISK HOURS TO PHYS­I­CAL A WEEK IS AND A MEN­TAL WELL­BE­ING ***

league, feel about that? Would that colour your view of my abil­ity to do my job?’

Then there is the con­stant talk of the ‘port­fo­lio ca­reer’. Over a third of 16- to 34-yearolds are bal­anc­ing at least one pro­ject with their reg­u­lar job**, so it’s easy to feel like you’re un­der-achiev­ing if you don’t have a side hus­tle. Di­ver­si­fy­ing should feel em­pow­er­ing, but while we cel­e­brate the ‘ac­coun­tant slash baker’, we should be real about the 24/7 work sched­ule that a port­fo­lio ca­reer can en­tail, and the strains it can have on phys­i­cal and men­tal health. Some­times just hon­ing one skill, like pass­ing those ac­coun­tancy ex­ams, should feel enough. As we broaden our def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess out­side of salary and sta­tus, it’s im­por­tant there’s still room for the women mo­ti­vated by money. It’s too easy to paint the un­der­paid as vir­tu­ous and, in light of the pay gap, that’s some­thing we def­i­nitely don’t want to do.

We’re liv­ing in a time of brave con­ver­sa­tion, delv­ing into the taboo of money and own­ing the terms that are used to quiet us. We were ‘bossy’ in 2O15, ‘nasty’ in 2O16, in 2O17 we crowned our­selves ‘dif­fi­cult’ and now, in 2O18, I’m see­ing the tri­umphant rise of the quit­ter, the fail­ure, the out­raged and the re­bel­lious ca­reer woman. Go on, tell your best friend what you earn. Own your lat­est fuck-up. It’s OK to ad­mit that your dream job isn’t ac­tu­ally that dreamy. You’re al­lowed to be pas­sion­ate about be­ing a part-timer – and if you’re happy with your work, say it out loud. It’s you we need to hear from most of all. Alex Holder is the au­thor of The Money Book: How Talk­ing About Money Could Change Your Life, out early 2O19

ELLE NOVEM­BER

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