3 Reasons I'm Proud of My Age -- And Why I Think Other Women Should Be, Too
There's a notion in the professional world -- especially in Silicon Valley -- that once you're in your 40s or older, age becomes something to hide.
For women, unfortunately, this is business as usual. As a woman, and a business leader in Silicon Valley, I'd like to challenge the concept that growing older means somehow "aging out."
In fact, I think all of us female leaders should be challenging this notion. Arianna Huffington and Gloria Vanderbilt started their companies in their 50s. Sallie Krawcheck, former CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, started her new business, Ellevest, in her late 40s.
Are you not the best version of yourself you've ever been?
A recent study shows that 50-year-old entrepreneurs are about twice as likely to have a runaway business success as their 30-year-old counterparts. Older entrepreneurs have simply had more years to develop judgment, leadership and problem-solving skills, as well as the social and financial capital to get companies off the ground.
To say I'm not proud of my age is to say I'm not proud of the things I've learned and accomplished in my time leading successful startups, game-changing technology platforms, and most recently, co-founding a clean beauty company.
Each year of life and experience is wisdom gained, lessons learned, and perspective broadened.
1. Wisdom comes from experience.
I've experienced success, as well as failure -- but neither was ever the ending to the story.
Several (seven, if we're being exact) jobs ago, I was on the management team of a startup that was working on a deal to be sold to another company. Unexpectedly, the buyer walked away. It was demoralizing. But, we woke up the next day and dragged ourselves to work. We had no choice but to get smarter and focus on building a better business.
Sure enough, the buyer returned and purchased us. What seemed like failure ended in success. And I learned critical lessons before, during and after the acquisition as we blended into a larger company.
That's not to say I was always cool under pressure. I remember one occasion, when I was in my early 30s and in my first vice president position, that I let my emotions get the best of me. We were days from shipping this great product we'd spent months building, and I walked into work one morning to see our software engineers huddled together, obviously worried. Microsoft had just unveiled a new product -- and it was a near-duplicate of ours. I should have kept calm and worked to ease their fears. Instead, I paralleled their reactions.
Later, when the CEO walked in, we all piled on with our panicked thoughts. Afterward, he pulled me into his office, looked directly at me and said, "Jaleh, you are a leader in this company." I immediately knew what he meant: Panic has no place in leadership. I've never forgotten it.
2. Calm comes more naturally over time, even in the face of adversity.
When you've lived through a few seemingly disastrous scenarios like the ones I just described, it's much easier to stay clear-headed when tough situations arise.
We recently experienced such a moment at my nascent clean beauty business, NakedPoppy. Our entire business is focused on helping women discover clean beauty products that are better for her health. So, when a major retailer with tens of millions of customers announced a big push to promote select clean beauty products, it got our attention.
This was ominous sounding. Did it mean that customers would therefore not seek out a clean-beauty-only company like the newly minted NakedPoppy?
Maybe 20 years ago, I would have been scared. But, I reached clarity pretty quickly. "Let's use this to push ourselves to become better," I thought.
I knew the retailer was not maniacally focused on clean beauty like we are, not to mention that its standards for "clean" are lower than ours. Plus, I reminded myself that there is still plenty of room in the marketplace as long as we deliver a delightful customer experience.
The reason I knew this is that I've been working long enough to have gone through all kinds of calamities and come out the other side. I've seen businesses face their "nuclear winter" (yes, this was a term we used at one company I worked at), only to resurrect themselves the following spring. I've seen people cry at their desks because they felt mistreated. I've looked up to see my staff popping up their heads and nervously looking at each other, then gazing at me, their leader, expecting me to fix things.
In these situations, your mind races. And it's easy for it to end up in a bad place -- one where your customers defect and everyone loses their jobs.
But, that's usually not what happens. And panic never fixes things anyway. If a situation appears to be unraveling, I've learned to suggest to people (including myself) that it's time to breathe deeply, get a good night's rest and come back ready to rise to the challenge. Because tomorrow is a new day.
3. You clearly see the value you bring to the table.
A common complaint about older people is we're not digital natives. Of course we're not. And of course innovative companies need younger people who are! But, there are many other ways we bring value to the mix.
Take prioritizing, for example. Experience has taught me that there's never a shortage of ideas. The shortage is always in excellence of execution. So, the question I've learned to ask is "What's the single thing we can do today that will set up the business for success?" and "What are the 20 percent of the initiatives that produce 80 percent of the impact?"
After years of achieving results, I'm not only confident that this is the right approach. I'm also confident I have the judgment to pick the right things to focus on. Not to mention the right people to get the job done.
One last thought: I'm 59 and owning my age is liberating. No matter how old you are, perhaps it can be for you, too. Let's challenge these assumptions about age. Let's be role models for it.
Let's not subscribe to this idea of "aging out." The way I see it, at least, I'm aging in.