don’t know about you, but — I don’t just want to survive, I want to thrive!

The theme of International Women’s Day in 2019 is “balance for better.”

When you strike the right balance in your life, you truly feel like you are thriving. Here’s a simple example. You’re eating healthy and exercising Monday through Friday and on the weekend you want to “cheat” a bit. That might be exactly the right balance for you, where you feel that your health is “thriving.” On the other hand, you may be trying to be 100% healthy– drinking nothing but water and eating salad and chicken breast and running 5 miles a day 365 days a year. That may sound more like torture than balance.

Balance in life doesn’t always have to be 50/50. It can be 80/20, or 60/40… The exact ratio is an individual thing.

Many of us in our industry crave a life with more meaning, more thriving, more balance. To acknowledge this unmet need and celebrate International Women’s Day, I wrote this survival guide— I’m calling it a “Thrive-al” Guide for modern-day, female boss babes in GovCon.

We are so much more than our jobs. We are an entrepreneurs or ENTREPRENEURIAL-minded business women. We are UNAPOLOGETICALLY-AMBITIOUS, RELENTLESSLY-FOCUSED on our vision and goals. We are CONFIDENT, CHARISMATIC, KIND, AUTHENTIC and GRITTY. We are working in government in either a services, products or consulting capacity.

If you identify with most of these qualities, my Thrive-al Guide will resonate with you. Empowerment begins within you…Even if you are male. In fact, I know many men with these qualities, and reading this guide will give you the straight scoop from my female perspective

My First Job in GovCon: 16-year-old Jennifer

Before I get into the Thrive-al Guide, I’m going to give you a bit of history. I have a secret. I started my first job in GovCon when I was 16-years-old — which feels like 50 years ago…

(Yes – I’m a young-looking 66).😉

The Internet and even email were still in their infancy. No one carried mobile phones yet. We still used car phones, pagers and pay phones to communicate. And we even hand-wrote letters! Different times, for sure.

I vividly remember starting my first job at 16 as a receptionist for a small government contractor in DC. That summer, one of my male co-workers in his late 20s walked by my desk to chat and started calling me his “Persian kitten” every single day from that day forward. I had another male co-worker— wrinkled and ancient-looking with thick glasses—who posted up actual magazine pin-ups in his cubicle! These run-ins blew my 16-year-old innocent mind.

Now, these stories are BAD — no doubt — but I know women who have stories far worse. I am fortunate I can laugh about this stuff in 2019 and feel comforted in the fact that today, this would never fly. We have come a long way!

What I admire most about the millennial and post-millennial generations of females (GenY/GenZ) is they have no tolerance for this kind of thing. Because they haven’t been exposed to it as much, they don’t even understand it.

We have a lot further to go still as females navigating this industry. My Thrive-al Guide covers my top 4 tips, based on my personal experience, for GovCon Boss Babes like yourself to reach your professional goals in our industry.

The Thrive-al Guide

Find a Sponsor to Give You Your First Big Break

When you’re first starting out, I highly recommend finding a great company with a solid reputation. It may take some time to figure this out, but after a year or two you will know. Never, ever settle.

Finding a great boss is even more critical – especially in the early years. For me, that great boss was Claudia Wimer. She’s retired now. But, Claudia was an awesome manager and I wouldn’t be the professional I am today without her.

She believed in me. She trusted me to try new challenges and allowed me to fail and to learn. She cared about me. She trained me. She mentored me. She was like family to me. And I worked very, very hard for her and gained a lot of knowledge under her tutelage because of her character and management style.

If you can find a “Claudia” early in your career, you will be setting yourself up for success later. Not only will you gain more competence, but later when you become manager, you will know what excellence looks like. So, what else can you do to find a sponsor in your career?

  1. Seek out a variety of good role models and/or trusted mentors to support and challenge you.
  2. Ask questions, absorb as much as you can from trusted role models and mentors.
  3. Work hard to implement their suggestions.
  4. Recognize that you need to transform yourself from the mentee to the mentor at some point. Remember —you too, are capable of being a leader.

Support your Lady Posse 

When women support other women, we can help each other accomplish ANYTHING we can imagine — with much faster results than when we don’t.

We don’t do this nearly enough… And it’s a mistake, in my opinion. You probably already know that in the S&P 500, women make up nearly half; however, men are overrepresented within the upper tiers (e.g., leadership positions, high-level management, board of director seats, abd CEOs). Can you imagine how much more successful we would be if we actively supported each other?

I’ve witnessed on many occasions women doing the exact opposite of lifting one another up. I’ve seen women actively undermining each other, being ultra-competitive (in an unhealthy way), and dismissing the successes of other women. While I am no expert, I think this type of behavior comes from a place of fear.

Some women fear that if they support another woman and help enable her success, it somehow detracts from her own.

That, my GovCon Boss Babes, is no way to think.

I believe the exact opposite to be true. I believe in limitless opportunities and abundance. In other words – there is enough to go around for all of us. When you share knowledge and collaborate, you create new opportunities that would never reveal themselves if you tried to horde it all for yourself.

That is why identifying your lady posse and supporting them and celebrating their successes is so important. How can you do this?

  1. Give credit when your friends, acquaintances or co-workers accomplish something. When you see them working hard, give them a shout-out. It’s free – why not?
  2. Mentor people who ask for it. Be as generous as you can be in sharing your knowledge with them.
  3. Challenge the people you are mentoring by asking good questions and getting them to think harder so they can learn to solve problems for themselves.

Achieve Balance

I cannot emphasize the importance of balance enough— work/life; fun/discipline; saving/spending; socializing/being alone; personal/professional; giving/ receiving; speaking/listening; sweet/savory.

It seems that in life, every yin has its yang.

I believe in being a renaissance woman — diversifying my interests and passions in pursuit of developing my whole self. I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think many of us want to be multi-dimensional, otherwise life would get pretty boring.

Achieving balance at work means supporting the team and the organization fully- but not forgetting to take care of yourself in the meantime. As women, it is easy to get caught up in the current project or the next crisis and forget to invest in ourselves, which can be catastrophic over time. We should be doing basic things to achieve balance routinely e.g.:

  1. Exercise
  2. Eat healthy
  3. Get enough sleep
  4. Spend time with friends & family
  5. Pay yourself first – by saving, investing in 401(k) and taking care of expense reports
  6. Plan vacations
  7. Do remarkable things and inform management when you do remarkable things
  8. Negotiate for yourself. Prepare thorough & detailed self-evaluations to optimize your performance and merit discussions
  9. Expand your network
  10. Develop your personal brand.

Recognize that Change Begins Within You

If I could change anything in our industry, I would love to see more women in leadership and greater income equality between women and men.

This all begins with recognizing everyday biases —and even our own internal beliefs — so we can change the culture.

So, on International Women’s Day I would challenge you with these 3 questions.

  1. How will you invest in yourself today?
  2. How will you help support another woman’s success today?
  3. How can you be the best version of yourself?

If you find this blog valuable or inspirational, it would mean the world to me if you would please like, share or comment. I love it when my readers share their thoughts because it brings our community closer together.