Nobody prepares you to assume positions of leadership (however big or small), at least not the way experience does. Sometimes, in fact most times, you can only learn these lessons the hardest way – through tears and moments of being lost; completely lost. Those moments you´re so scared that you can only laugh through the tears – hysteria. You learn to get up each morning , clean up the stench of dreams incomplete, hold on through a blurred vision and marvel at the plot twists in the story of your life as though you were only but a spectator – powerful surrender.
So you master the art of f*ckery: You learn to slide underneath the power suits you´ve invested in to the very last coin from your earnings. You know ? The suits that left you broke but slaying (hey, shout out to the millennials, shout out to the slayers :-)),if only to cloth your struggles with pure style and feign grace… Sometimes you are simply trying to channel your inner Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres from the series Suits) but since you´re a 24 year old brushing shoulders with the political elite and top-tier businessmen in your line of duty, you always end up looking and feeling like a pathetic second rate version of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington in Scandal) on a good day, and Mary Jane (Gabriel Union in Being Mary Jane) on a bad one, cos hey, this is life and hopelessness is served generously on this planet. Ah, you also become fluent in the language of cynicism, mostly to your own detriment; you´re only trying to survive. Look, you could channel your inner self but you can´t relate to the stranger in the mirror…not anymore!
When I landed my current job as head of a political secretariat at the age of 23, I was elated. I knew it was going to be tough, but I convinced myself I wasn´t an ordinary girl (this is true, I am no ordinary girl), but I didn´t exactly know what tough meant or could entail. I believed I was a solid young lady – they say “solid women don´t crumble”. LOL! Know those fancy quotes we write as captions on our overtly irrelevant selfies? Haha! Needless to mention, I approached the new task/job with a hint of naivety and lots of assumptions. I hadn´t quite stopped on my tracks to reflect on the uphill task ahead. I just saw how noble a task this was going to be. I actually romanticised the job. You know Ms. Pope ruined my life, right? She made this idea of “fixing issues” seem a tad too easy. I had hoped I´d be this superwoman clad in some of Ralph Lauren´s latest pieces, dropping punch lines with much ease, turning myself into a motivational speaker when dealing with my colleagues and then retiring to my little bachelorette pad and downing a carefully picked bottle of matured wine as I caught up with the ´real scandalous Olivia´at the end of the day. Shock on me! Needless to mention, this was far from from reality. I had to justify my very own existence, as woman in a male dominated field every other time. It did not help that I was acutely young and not so experienced, but here I was, young, vibrant, pursuing a Master of laws (Public International Law) and determined to sit at the table. Boy, I was mostly bullshitting, you know? Just tying to beat a path for myself and blaze a trail for others. “Hey, if you can´t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with the bullsh*t!” My boss taught me! He laughed, I laughed, but we both knew this was some invaluable piece of advice 🙂
Breaking the rules and learning on the job – the hard way
I turned 24 on the job (September, 2016), and reality dawned on me: My job entailed slaying dragons, yes, BUT mostly those dragons were going to be the ones living between my ears – deep inside my head. Secondly, my job was going to be quite political – I had to learn the art of camouflage (first as a woman, and secondly as a human being and yes, in that order) and be able to recite to self, more than to anyone else, the laws of power lest I rub the wrong guy off in the wrong way. Complicated business, innit?
See, being a young person is already tough – we are full of energy and contemporary, sometimes even ´crazy´, ideas and we are full of fire and hope. We mean well, we want change, we dare challenge the status quo and sometimes this could be detrimental. What´s even worse is that being a young female adult doesn´t make it any better. If anything, things get worse. Society tends to favour the girls made of sugar, spice and everything nice.The ones who don´t raise their hands when questions are asked. The ones who are okay with the opinion of the compact majority. You know…the girls who are neither cotton nor silk but somehow get referred to as the wife material. LOL. For the girls whose eyes dance with excitement at the thought of leaving a mark, the girls who are made of fire and only want to go farther and fly higher, Mmh..not so much. Those girls are an acquired taste; not for everyone. And I hope they all know that´s fine.
I had this conversation with my mentor (a high flying top-tier businessman in the country) and it was one of the most difficult conversations we had ever had. I remember that evening, he pulled me aside and talked to me about color, in color. I, being in my position, had to shun the color red or any other vocal colors, he said. “Rule number one: Never outshine the master.” Father Lord! “What do you mean? My master is male. How on earth would I intimidate or outshine him by dressing or cleaning up nice?”I thought loudly. He smiled and told me, “there´s more to power than rhetoric. You´re innocent and mean well, but you must master emotional intelligence”. “Surely, what is this one saying?” I wondered.
Emotional Intelligence (EI/EQ): wtf is that?
Psychology is most certainly not my field of expertise, but I must pay homage to researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer for coining this phrase and loading it with meaning, and author Daniel Goleman for breaking it down in his books Emotional Intelligence and Working With Emotional Intelligence.
P. Salavoy and J. Mayer defined EI as the ability to:
·Recognize, understand and manage our own emotions
·Recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.
In a nutshell, for persons aiming at achieving lasting success (whatever you construe success to be), more than just IQ is needed. This extra factor has got to be how well we can manage ourselves and the emotions of others and most especially when under pressure. Now, this is one of the most invaluable lessons I have had to learn from my mentor. As a young lady, I can be all up in my feels quite often. In fact, sometimes we tend to walk around with chips on our shoulders – subconsciously thinking that because we are the fairer sex we ought to be handled with care. These expectations and sense of entitlement can truly be the reason women do not get seats at the table, and only 15% of women worldwide are occupying the captains of industry-level job seats, and this bothers Sheryl Sandberg just as much as it bothers me, and you must get uncomfortable!
Fighting like a girl
In a world where everyone has got an opinion on who, what and how girls can and should be, it is easy to lose our sense of being trying to fit in. Lucky for my being an avid reader, Clementine Ford taught me that it is okay to be angry with the world. That it is okay to be uncomfortable with the present. However, it is not enough to be angry, this fury ought to be transformed to fuel that can drive agenda in our homes, offices and boardrooms. This anger should be handled with emotional competence lest we come across as bitter spoilt brats with chips on our shoulders. If the anger and discomfort can work us up enough that we can raise our hands more, pull seats for ourselves at the table, win arguments that matter and go on vacations when it is required, then we will be able to shape global agenda in our communities and society at large.
And for the young lasses grabbing the world by the lapels, the girls who are figuring it all on the go; to the girls who are gravely misunderstood, your sole purpose is not to simply be understood, leave your claws´marks too; to the girls who have a seat at the table, bring your sisters on; to the girls who zig when the rest are zagging, you hold the key to the city zag on; to the girls who can´t help but simply win fairly and squarely,please stop apologising for your magic – they say life is tricky, so stay in your magic baby.
Remember, you are doing this for the women who could fight wars for you if they could, but they had their limbs chopped before they could muster enough courage to go to war!
To the girls who are just like me, this is for you:
This is for girls who stay up all night, This is for you who are willing to fight,
For hidden fears, Hurt, pain, and tears, Under the smiles, laughs, and giggles we hear.
Let your hair down, straight or curls,
You’re beautiful because you fight like a girl.
For girls who wears short skirts, And their heart on their sleeve, For girls who know how difficult, It is to believe,
The girls who scream and cry, Into their pillows and tell them their goals, For girls who have a secret, But can’t tell a soul.
Let your eyes be your diamond, Make them your pearls,
You’re beautiful because you fight like a girl.
For girls who have made mistakes, And have regrets galore,
Because you fight like a girl.