Article: How A Self-Made Woman Without A Famous Name Wins Votes

Forbes, June 18, 2015, By Denise Restauri     3 Minute Read

Grit, self-aware, visionary, self-forgiving, focused, resourceful, passionate, comfortable being uncomfortable, collaborative intelligence and forward momentum. Those are the top 10 traits that make self-made women tick.

How do these self-made women take those traits and turn them into success? That’s what Andrea Guendelman, cofounder and CEO of BeVisible, and I have been uncovering as we interview women for the self-made women series.

Meet Nellie Gorbea. Nellie grew up in Puerto Rico, found her way to Princeton University and earned her master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. Troubled by the troubles in the world, instead of saying, “They’ll take care of it,” Nellie asked herself, “Why not me?” and ran for office. Now she’s the Secretary of State of Rhode Island and the first Hispanic elected general officer of a New England State.

How do self-made women go from Murder to the Mayor’s Office, Get Lucky In The Middle Seat and win votes without a famous family name? How do they take their traits and put them into action?

The long answer to that question would fill a book. We’re breaking that list down into bite-size pieces so you can digest them in no time and start putting them into play yourself. Here are Nellie’s six tips for success, dished up in a two-minute read:

Change The Way You Ask For Help

Throughout my life I’ve never been afraid or hesitant to ask others for how things work or for help. I understand that young people (or people of any age) can be afraid to ask for help. They either fear they won’t get a good response or they think they’re the only person facing a certain problem, which is seldom the case.

Asking for help comes in different forms. It’s not always about asking for something for yourself. Sometimes it’s about reaching out to people you don’t necessarily identify as leaders, but who are a few steps ahead of you in their career path, and requesting an informational interview. You can learn a lot by asking a few simple questions such as, “How did you get to where you are?” and “What drove you to make the decisions you made?”

Ask “Why Not Me?”

Did I ever think I’d run for public office? Absolutely not. I always thought it was too grueling. But as I talked to more people and saw the challenges the community faced, I didn’t like what I saw. I saw a lot of decisions being made with little diversity around the table, whether that be gender or race or background. I have always believed that the best solutions come when you have a variety of voices around the table. So I said, “Here’s an open seat that’s going to happen, the Secretary of State’s office. I was the Deputy Secretary of State and well prepared for the job. So I asked, “Why not me?”

Be Authentic

There comes a point in your life when you’re ready to start speaking up when you see the little red flags popping up. In the end you just have to trust yourself and know that your judgment has led you to the right place before, and it’s going to do so again.

Not everybody is going to like you, but that’s okay. The real questions are: Can you work with them and do they respect you? If the answers are yes, you’ll be a lot more successful in moving the needle forward.

Push Past Your Comfort Zone

I’m always looking for opportunities to stretch myself because I know those will be my growth points. So, I listen to my fears, figure out where they’re coming from, and then push myself beyond my comfort zone. Once you have a few positive experiences, you learn to continue to push yourself. That’s what’s really critical – to have those positive experiences and remind yourself that great things often come from pushing past your comfort zone.

When I mentor women to push through even when it feels scary, we always take a moment afterwards to say, “That wasn’t so hard.” And the second time is always easier.

Pay Attention To “Odd”

When I was young, straight out of grad school (master’s in public administration), I took a job in investment banking in public finance. I was assigned to work on a deal with one of the male senior bankers. One day, the senior banker asked for a financing calendar. I jumped in and said, “I’ll work on it.” But one of the young guys in the group said, “I already did that.” I thought that was odd, but I never thought about why he was doing it. Later I realized that he was worried I was going to come in and take over so he was protecting his turf.

I learned that when I get that feeling that things are odd, I need to take a moment, step back, and figure out a different way around it. How I figure out the different ways varies. Sometimes it’s as simple as calling on the people I trust most, my inner circle, to get their feedback and advice.

Diss The Enemy In Your Head

I see many women trying to conform to set standards that were made for men who don’t have as much involvement with their kids. I remember one time during the campaign, there was a fundraiser for one of the women state senators and she wanted me to come. I said, “My husband’s out of town. I’m going to have the kids with me.” She said, “Bring them. My kids are going to be there, too.” So I went to the event, my nine-year-old did her homework, the other kids drew, and everybody was fine. I know some women who would have tried to get out of it or moved heaven and earth to get a sitter, but I just made it happen and owned my situation.

Sometimes it’s about just saying, “I’m going to do this.” There are times when the worst enemy is inside your head. Sometimes you just have to take the risk and see what happens because the structures were not designed for women, and particularly women with children.

It’s also about finding techniques that work for you. Now that I have kids, I know what phone calls I can make in the car with the kids in the car. There are certain people, usually other people who have kids, who I can call and have perfectly rational business related conversations with. There are others who I need to step outside of the car to talk to. You just figure things out along the way. Nobody necessarily tells you how to do it, you just figure it out.

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