For five years I debated on graduate school. Would an MBA be best or should I pursue something more specific like digital marketing? I waffled: do I really have the time to do this? I have forgotten all of my high school and college math, how am I ever going to pass the GMAT? That seemed daunting enough, let alone figuring out how to choose the best program for me. One cold January day, I learned about a preview day at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Wow, Vanderbilt. There’s no way I’m smart enough to get in there. But, hey, I might as well go get a free lunch. Feeling intimated pulling up on campus and walking in by myself, I walked away knowing this program is exactly what I had been looking for. Hmm, maybe I can do this after all. I got to work… I studied and passed my prep exam, I gathered recommendations and belabored over essays, made it through an intimidating interview with the executive director, and then waited. It turns out when you get out of your own way (i.e. don’t listen to all of those negative thoughts running through your head) you CAN be good enough, you ARE smart enough, and you CAN get into Vanderbilt!
Right before ‘Week in Residence’ in New Harmony, Indiana, I found out I was pregnant. How in the world am I going to get through this with a baby?! The first person I told my news to was the Executive MBA Director of Admissions, not my husband. (It’s hilarious now…) We talked through options to delay my start and went through examples of other pregnant women who made it through the program. Her advice: “Don’t delay. You can do it. It’s only going to get harder.”
With a never-going-away-hangover (aka “morning sickness”), a full-time job, and having a husband on a 2-month rotational deployment (2 months home, 2 months away), I made it through 1.5 semesters before having my bundle of joy. It was intimidating enough juggling work and school demands, so figuring out how to care for a newborn (and myself as a new Mom, for that matter) on top of that felt insane. But I wanted all of these things badly enough that I was determined to juggle it all, newborn-in-tow, the remaining 3.5 semesters.
While figuring out how to launch a venture and taking 5 other classes in the Fall of 2019, at work I was occupied with a corporate brand refresh, new website, designing a new 20×20 exhibit booth with 4 interactive monitors, and planning a killer party at the National Workers’ Compensation & Disability Conference. Just preparing for National Comp is normally a full-plate of work. I stretched myself beyond my comfort zone, and I’m thankful I didn’t really think about what I was doing. LOL
Seriously, you can do anything you aspire with dedication and grinding it out!
There were moments that were manageable; moments I thought for sure I wasn’t going to make it; and moments where I was carried by my support system (Mother-in-Law, Mom, Husband, best friends I’m looking at you!). They listened to my angst, watched my baby as often as needed (including spending 12 hours in a classroom so I could breastfeed), and lifted me up when the stress and demands were too much to bear.
As of May 2020, I am the proud recipient of a Masters’ Degree in Business Administration (MBA). And I’m most gratified that I am laying a strong foundation for my baby girl who already knows what it takes to accomplish a goal.
Do not forget that you are an inspiration to those around you. Sometimes you are carrying someone and sometimes you are the one being carried, figuratively of course. These small (and sometimes time-intensive) acts of kindness and love made a difference in my life. You don’t need a fancy title to change the world. Each of us can do a little bit to change what is around us, whether it is a simple act of kindness for a friend or family member or encouraging a colleague at work.
Remember, you can do anything you put your mind to – talk positively and believe in yourself!
Katie Holmes Bailey
Marketing Director for Prime Health Services, Inc.
Melina Ressler, Intern, Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation
Recently, the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation hosted a webinar, titled Finding Your Power, focused on helping women find their power from within to be bold and accomplish their goals. Jennifer Ryon, Alliance board member, and Aimee Velez Weiss, Alliance marketing committee chair, welcomed life coach and career consultant Natalie Fikes, [add a phrase about why they picked Natalie, for example, well-known for …,] in the live interactive session. The panel discussed the importance of real connections and emotional intelligence in and out of work – a key skill for career development at all levels. Here is an overview of the webinar and key takeaways.
Jennifer opened the discussion by asking Fikes, “How would you encourage more women to break out of their fears and start their venture?”
“The first thing we need to understand is that the answer is always inside of us,” Fikes explained. “We wouldn’t have the desire to do something if we didn’t have the ability to do so inside of us.” She added that confidence in a situation comes from doing it correctly once, realizing you can do it, and continuing to do it again. You don’t need every piece of the puzzle connected together before you start on something, but you do need to begin so you can find the answers along the way.
“We as women need to be there to help out one another,” Fikes said, shooting down the idea that our goals should be to get in with the top of the top. She advised the webinar attendees to take lateral moves to get places with people who want to get there too. “We must link in with those on the same playing field as us so we can learn, and help build each other up together,” she added. Essentially, women should stop trying to get in with the director. The directors already have connections with other directors. So, it’s important for women to find their own playing field and start their own projects together.
“You’re so confident” is a phrase that Fikes hears frequently. Her response to that is, “I’m not going to miss the moment. I am not going to lay in my bed with regret. I’m not. That’s what confidence is to me.”
“Think of a dance floor,” Fikes said. Everyone at the venue is waiting for that one person to go out on the dance floor to give others the validation that is okay to do so as well. Well what if you were that person? “You know that the moment you leave the wall or the chair you are an automatic hero,” she reminded her audience. “What if you were that person who just got on the dance floor and you just moved to the rhythm of your own beat? It’s letting go of this perception that you have to do it right.”
“How do you know when you have real connections with people?” Velez asked. Fikes referred to a 75-year old Harvard University study that answered the question of what is the one thing we should focus on: our relationships. If you’re hanging around yesterday people, expired people — which Fikes defines as “that’s how I used to be, that’s what I used to think, that’s what I used to want,” — you’ll never ever get where you want to go. “Essentially, you must be surrounded by people who want to grow with you rather than those who hold you back,” she said.
To make real connections you have to be vulnerable. Breaking down walls is essential to be able to comfortably communicate freely, Fikes reminded the attendees. “Make eye contact with others and show that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.”
Connect with someone’s dream
Ryon raised a question that many women grapple with. What if you don’t know what your dream is? What do you do?
If you don’t know what your dream is, then connect with someone else’s dream that you are passionate about, Fikes advised. Until you know what your dream is, partner with someone else to help them achieve their dream. “I see that you have this going on, let me have your back, because I like to help people do this to get that result,” she added. For example, water boys and girls are always needed. Even when it seems like a small role, you are still helping someone achieve their goal.
How do you instill the confidence early on so that we can close the gender gap and demonstrate the confidence? Velez wanted to know.
“Males have a 400-year head start, so, there will always be a gap,” Fikes noted. It’s not about closing the gender gap per se, it’s about standing up and being counted. It’s about other women getting on the dance floor, and then another woman getting on the dance floor. “And you know how we do that? It’s like Dorthey [from The Wizard of Oz]. It’s saying ‘Hey I see you, come, come with me, let’s do it together.’”
Women have been taught to be competitive with each other rather than being happy when others are built up. Rather than continuing that mindset, Fikes stressed, “We have to team up together. We have to connect as women with one another so that we can learn from others in areas we are weak in and build others up in areas we have strengths in.”
Finding Your Power Webinar
About Melina Ressler
A Journalism major at the University of Missouri, Melina Ressler is the social media content creator for the campus newspaper, The Maneater. An experienced sportswriter for her high school paper, the New Trier News, Melina completed internships at two public relations firms, FWD Consulting in London, and 5WPR in New York City. In 2020, Melina was appointed as a blog writer for the Alliance of Women in Worker’s Compensation writing member spotlights and event recaps for a national audience.
About Alliance of Women in Workers Compensation
The Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation is a think tank committed to industry-specific topics resulting in idea sharing, insight gathering, and networking. We provide an environment for open a dialogue on the challenges and opportunities for women in the workplace.