Whatever you might remember Jessica Simpson for, she is a go-getter. Starting out a singer, she made her mark as a power-woman and entrepreneur, taking her brand Jessica Simpson Collection to the first celebrity-owned clothing line in history to make $1 billion in annual sales.
When I met her, she was heavily pregnant with her 3rd child. Accompanied by her all-female team and her husband, you could see she was the one pulling all the strings in her company as long as she possibly could.
She had a humorous take on it: “Women can simply do it all: career, kids, family. Men can do only one thing well at a time.” She was probably referring to males being known to be good at climbing the career ladder and bad at multitasking. But as a group who likes to address the elephant in the room, we couldn’t miss countering: “You mean, getting them pregnant?” She left this uncommented with an amused laugh. (Apologies to any gentlemen out there with a lack of sympathy to the humor of the heavily pregnant 😉)
The secret to a great team
A bit earlier, I had just read about the “Tug of War”, which describes the challenges women constantly face amongst themselves at the workplace in “What Works for Women at Work”, a great book by two superwomen Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey. It made me curious about Jessica’s decision of having an all-female team. I personally always strive for balance, recognizing that women are better in some things, men in others, and if combined, we can all maximize our potential. For Jessica, the solution seemed simpler: “I’ve been in every size and every mental state these women are in now. I can relate to all of them and that makes us work together great”.
When she said that, she made me realize that often, when we don’t get along with a person as well as with others, it’s because we haven’t been in their shoes and hence can’t relate to them as well as we might be able to relate to others. This is largely determined by our different backgrounds and experiences.
For example, I get bored out of my mind if anyone talks about clothes, shoes, hair and the like. My brain cells start running towards the edge of their flat disc universe in an attempt to commit suicide. But I realize that in the patriarchic background I have been raised, there was no place for non-business, non-matter-fact or even“girly” conversations.
Success often comes from places, you expect them last
Jessica certainly isn’t bothered talking about shoes. What makes her so inspiring to me is how she turned it into a billion-dollar business.
Do you think she has a fancy college degree? An MBA? A family of entrepreneurs? None of that. She left high school at 16. Her mother was a housekeeper and her dad a Baptist youth minister.
But she has found a smart way to use her brand and transition the success from herself as a singer to a fashion brand that brings over $ 1 billion in annual turnover. And we know many have tried and failed.
How did she do it? “I listened to other people”, she said. “Kids who come out of college think they know it all. The faster you discover how little it is that you actually know, the faster you can kickstart your success story, which begins with learning. I always surrounded myself with people who knew much more than I did, and I constantly asked them for advice”.
Sometimes it’s not about having to know it all to start out. It’s about admitting that you don’t. It’s about finding the right people and getting the right advice. It’s about testing the waters before taking a chance at new things. And it’s about keeping your identity and integrity on the way.
You determine how far you can go
I can only imagine what it must be like to be labelled the way she was when she started out. ‘Pretty’ instead of passionate. ‘Sexy’ instead of smart. ‘Cute’ instead of competent. All the stereotypes many women face, only amplified by the image she had to create as a singer and actress.
Did it stop her? Did she feel like she needed to get prior knowledge in business, or (more) degrees? Did she feel held back by her lack thereof? No way! I stress this because I know so many highly talented women who are too afraid to take the plunge into a dream career because they feel too unprepared to do so. And it will never stop no matter how highly educated they are.
One of my colleagues has a Harvard Law degree and 7+ years of experience in International Arbitration. But before she feels comfortable teaching, she feels like she needs a Ph.D. And before she feels comfortable going into consulting, she feels like she needs an additional Harvard MBA… You see where this is going.
Often times, it’s you who’s holding your career back more than anyone else, because you don’t believe in yourself. Yes, you have to have the foundations, yes you need to have skills. But you also need to stop amassing degrees and certificates at some point and trust your skills and just get started!
“I had to learn to speak up”
In Jessica’s case, she shared that she did indeed have to learn something in the very beginning. “I had to learn to speak up” she stressed. “Women are very accommodating, and that is why we are okay to step back and let others speak and pull the strings. But it’s time we make our voices heard, it’s time we stop accommodating”.
Ladies, whether you consider leopard an actual color (Jessica does) or whether you think about ways to escape the planet when shoes come up in a conversation, the message is clear for all of us:
Nothing in this world can hold you back from achieving great success if you really want to.
No stereotype, no background, no perceived lack of education. All you need is your own skills and the drive to make it happen.
You need to find your tribe, work hard and listen to people with more experience.
And it can all be at your fingertips.
PS: For the next generation of power women out there who are planning to make it big in their careers, join us for the Women Leadership and Negotiation Summer Academy this July in our Austrian castle. Live and learn with me for a week and I will personally show you, how you can overcome those barriers and use your skills to create a top career that you never even thought was possible. I know you can! Check it out here and apply now so we can see if you might be a great fit for our small international group of power-women.