Growing up, I was surrounded by women: I’m from an all-woman family (me, my Mum, my two sisters), and I went to a small, all-women school in rural England.
Less than a decade later I was working in Silicon Valley, managing some of Facebook’s most sensitive product policies. While I worked with many strong, amazing women in Silicon Valley, I was ultimately in an area and an industry dominated by men. I had to re-learn how to use my voice, and learn how to lead in an industry that embraces traditionally masculine ways of work and communication, without sacrificing my feminine strength.
Here are some of the most important things I learned.
1. Everybody poops
I always thought that once I made it to the top of a big, fancy company, everything would run like hot butter. Meetings would have clear agendas. Deadlines would be met. Balls would never be dropped. And yet when I started working with leadership at some of the world’s biggest technology companies, everyone seemed so human. People would make mistakes, or get flustered, or forget things. “Of course they do,” my best friend told me when I discussed this with him. “We’re all human. Everybody poops.”
I loved this phrasing and I hold it with me constantly. Ultimately, everyone is human, and we’re all prone to human error. We shouldn’t idealize perfection in anyone else, and we should be quick to forgive the very human mistakes that are inevitable in ourselves. It doesn’t matter how shiny someone’s job title is. Everybody poops.
2. It’s okay to shine
This sounds ridiculous, but as much as I felt I had to prove myself as a woman in Silicon Valley, I constantly found myself hiding my accomplishments. I remember one monthly status update meeting, in which each member of my team shared their progress on that month’s projects. I caught myself frantically deleting ‘things-I-crushed-this-month’ bullet points from my presentation because the teammate who shared before me accomplished a lot less that month, and I didn’t want to outshine him.
Where does this come from? I assume it’s some deep-seated patriarchal juju about not wanting to be intimidating or arrogant or unlikeable. Wherever it comes from, it’s B.S., and it had to stop. It’s okay to be great at what you do. And it’s okay to own the fact that you’re great at what you do. Overcoming this was extremely hard for me, and I still feel discomfort calling myself “great” at anything, but it’s so, so important that we advocate for ourselves. No one’s going to do that for us.
3. Say no, and say it without guilt
It’s one thing to learn to say no. It’s another to say no without feeling so guilty about it that you end up compensating with some other equally energy-draining task. I’m a chronic people pleaser, and before I learned to say “no” I was the team notetaker, newsletter writer, late night editor, and weekend-emergency-handler. Saying no (guiltlessly!) at the right times allows you to conserve your energy for more important, career-fueling work.
4. If it’s not right for you, it’s not right
If your office has free snacks, free nap pods, circus-colored decor and an arcade, and you’re not having fun, the problem has got to be you – right? Feeling unhappy at a company consistently voted the #1 best place to work will make you feel spoiled and ungrateful. But at the end of the day, if something isn’t right for you, then it isn’t right. It doesn’t matter what someone else enjoys – you’re the one waking up each day, living your life.
5. Work isn’t everything
I’m a career woman down to the marrow of my bones. If there’s a life dilemma, career comes first, always. I once went on a date with a man who said “Work is just something that I do to fund my hobbies,” and I stared at him in baffled silence until the entrees arrived. But after a half-decade of working my butt to the bone, commuting two hours to the office (each way!) and taking all-hour meetings, I realized something – work alone does not a full life make. It’s great to have a fulfilling career, but it’s just as important to find space for rest, and play, and to make time for cultivating relationships. If you trust me on any of these learnings, trust me on this one.
Brie Noel Taylor has been a long reader of the site and reached out to us asking if we were hiring freelancers. Her thorough pitches and can do attitude drove me to meet for coffee. She’s since left Facebook and you can find more about her current work here and here.