I write a lot about how experiences throughout our lives shape who we are and how we lead. I recently sat down with Ellevate Network for a Q&A where I got real personal about some of the experiences in my own life that have shaped me and what I’m still working on today. Since we are all works in progress and all in it together, I thought I’d share my interview with you.
Introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us who you are and what you are currently focused on.
Hi! I am a wife and mom, a leadership trainer and speaker, and an executive coach. I love fashion, fitness, college football (go Hokies!), reading and New York. I specialize in helping business leaders develop confidence in their own authentic leadership style and grow into their best selves at work and in life. I wake up every morning thinking about how to get more women into the C-suite — at Fortune 500 companies or owning their own businesses.
How would you define your professional mission?
I want my obituary to say: She improved the quality of life of millions, one business leader at a time.
What is one of your most memorable career accomplishments?
I just got a thank you note from a client’s wife last week. His wife actually wrote me to thank me for helping him feel better about himself, for helping him live his life with more ease. She’d been his biggest cheerleader for 30 years, but he had been plagued by lack of confidence and self-worth going way back to childhood. It had taken a major toll on his effectiveness as a Chief Financial Officer, not to mention the emotional drag he lived with under the surface every day. Having her say to me, “He’s totally transformed. Just by knowing that there is a reason for the things that have always frustrated him about himself, that I’ve always been frustrated with… that there is a root cause and something he can do about it, and it’s not a character flaw. He’s a new man.” It means everything to me to impact someone’s life that way. Think of how much happier he’ll be and the ripple effect that will have on his family, employees, company and community.
What project have you worked on that you’re most proud of? Why?
Can I say being a mom? My son is most definitely a project — haha. No really, I mean, first of all, being a mom is not for wimps. My husband and I had lived together for ten years; for the longest time we didn’t want kids. And by the time we decided to have a baby, I had fertility issues. So I am most proud of that. All of it — speaking up and telling my husband I had changed my mind, keeping my head up (not always, for sure) during fertility treatment, growing a human (!), recovering from a C-section, transitioning to being a parent (which is NO JOKE a really tough transition), figuring out how to be a working mama (still figuring that out day by day!). And seeing my healthy happy boy grow every day. That’s the thing I’m most proud of.
We’d love to hear more about your career path. What led you to where you are today?
I am a communications expert by training. I started out in marketing communications and brand strategy. When I was 26, I had a health crisis. I had a spontaneous (medical speak for they don’t know what happened) brain hemorrhage. I was really sick, and I’m very, very lucky to be alive. And this happened about a year and a half after my dad had died. My whole perspective on life changed. The fact is, we do not have a lot of time on this earth, and we better start enjoying the time that we have. So I dedicated myself to improving my own quality of life, and I wanted to do that for others. Business leaders have so much power over other people’s lives. When your boss has a bad day, you have a bad day, then your partner likely has a bad day, you can’t show up for your friends, etc. I just really wanted to help business leaders be a positive ripple, so I got my Master’s in Communication Research, studying how people can live and work together better.
What is your favorite social media site? Why?
Instagram! I love seeing people’s lives through snapshots. And I think it’s neat to look back at my own. I’m terrible at keeping photo albums, so it’s like a little time capsule too.
What would you say your personal superpower is?
One thing I know for sure is that everyone has one thing that they do better than say, 99% of the population. I am very good at analyzing complex situations and getting clear–quickly–on what’s really going on. People are complex — they have to deal with competing priorities, they’ve got competing forces within themselves, and I’m able to cut through the complexity and help people deepen their self-understanding and lay out a plan for get how to move forward.
Is work-life balance a problem for you? What is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
It’s really work-life integration in today’s world. I mean, there is only one Jenn — who I am as a person is how I show up for my clients, colleagues, family and friends. The very best leaders take care of themselves so that they can take care of others and take care of business.
My no-fail tactic came from Laura Vanderkam’s book I Know How She Does It. My take-away from that book changed the way I think about my time. And that is to think about life as happening in 168 hours a week rather than 24 hours in a day. If you try to do it all — be a good partner, parent, son or daughter, friend, serve your colleagues and clients, take care of yourself — your to-do list is likely humanly impossible to complete in a 24-hour period. But if you think about your life over the course of a week, it seems easier to fit it all in.
Try this: for one week, keep a time log for how you spend your time in 30 minute increments. I bet you’ll find that you’re actually spending more time working, taking care of yourself, and taking care of the important people in your life than you think you are. If so, instant guilt alleviator! Next week, maybe you’ll feel better about taking that hour-long yoga class or grabbing coffee with a friend! And if not, you can figure out what things need to go or how to shift your week around.
What is the best career advice you ever received?
Your version of done is another person’s version of perfect. In other words, don’t let the pursuit of perfection keep you from the really important stuff — being present, being happy, making big things happen.
But to be honest with you, I still struggle with the perfection trap. I work every day to remind myself that I don’t have to have it all, do it all, and do it all perfectly. That’s the ongoing work I do on myself.
Tell us about your favorite Ellevate Network memory or success story. Why are you a member?
I’ve been a member for 5+ years — because we always have important conversations, do good work together, support each other, and always have fun. It’s important work that we’re doing — advancing women, rising up together — and we need more women connecting around the world to make big shifts in our way of working and way of life.
I do a lot of work with Ellevate because I believe in their mission to help women advance in the workplace, both for themselves and the greater good, and I believe the future of women in the workplace is in good hands with them. If you want to #investinyourself or #investinwomen in your company, I suggest: 1–an Ellevate membership (tell them I sent you!) and 2–My Women’s Leadership Intensive. More on that here: http://jenniferfarrer.com/womens-leadership-intensive/.