Hitting the Glass Ceiling At Your Firm?

You are not given a dream unless you have the capacity to fulfill it. – Jack Canfield

It’s a Monday morning at 8 am and I’ve just jumped off the elliptical machine. I don’t have to get in my car to race through traffic for any reason. I don’t feel any pressure to show up at an office full of people who insist on face time. I don’t have to worry about finding enough work to meet an impossible billable hour requirement. Instead, I know what I want to accomplish today and I will do it in the way that works best for me and for my clients. I haven’t felt that kind of freedom in…well, ever.

Recently I made the monumental decision to run my own practice as a solo attorney. After a year of soul-searching through various options, I finally felt strong guidance to make the move.

For too long, I had been feeling very stuck working in organizations that didn’t seem to see me or my abilities. I once, naively, thought that an advanced formal education would draw me to more creative and open-minded people. Instead, too many times I saw that too many of those formally-educated people tried to use those advantages to cling, white-knuckled, to the status quo of their fearful entitlement.

I had remained too long in a culture of fear where people stab each other in the back, reward revenue while ignoring a lack of talent and discriminate against others using every possible basis on which to do so. I believe that all of these behaviors were motivated by the misconception that this was the way to get ahead. Too many times, it was.

I’m not complaining about all of my time in large organizations. Over my career I carved out a specialized niche in a complex area of law while being compensated nicely. I continue to be fascinated by my clients and I enjoy working with them. I just realized that when I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my integrity - or my colleagues – in order to fit in, I was left behind. I’m fine with that. Frankly, I’m relieved.

If you feel that you have to turn into a rat in order to win the rat race, consider going out on your own. Imagine how the business world would shift with the emergence of talented, modern, mindful and diverse, leaders.

Becoming your own boss can be daunting. Here are just a few things to keep in mind when exiting the rat race to start your own business.
  1. You Know What Your Are Doing. Some people at the top of traditional organizations believe one way they can stay in power is by putting other people down. You may not realize just how much you have been put down over the span of your career and you may have internalized that view of yourself. Don’t listen to people who tell you that you are not good enough. They are wrong.
  2. Your Leadership is Needed. In your current and previous organizations, you may have felt that you had to speak extra loudly and say things multiple times in order to be heard, let alone to be recognized as a leader. Even then, you may not have received credit for your good ideas. As your own boss, you get to run your organization in your own unique and creative way. Leading authentically will in turn draw customers and clients especially suited to you. It’s a win-win!
  3. Be in Charge. Discrimination is pervasive in every area of our society. You may be tempted to ignore evidence of that fact to avoid the anger and frustration that wells up because of it. However, facing it head on and doing something about it so the next generation doesn’t have to fight as hard as we do is a great way to handle the issue. My wise Aunt Bea used to tell me how when she was a nurse she was patted on the head by many of the doctors, so she went back to school, obtained her Masters’ degree, became a psychologist and started her own practice. Just be in charge. Lead others as you would have wanted to be!
  4. Wake Up Your Inner 8-Year Old. When I was 8 years old, I loved to climb to the top of very tall trees, swinging back and forth in the wind. I loved the sense of adventure and would often lose all sense of time. The adults around me forbade me to do this because of the risks involved. I didn’t care. I simply waited until they were out of sight to climb to the top of something else. Like most children my age, there were so many adventures to have and I wasted no time in pursuing every one. Get back in touch with your inner eight year old – that confident, creative and energetic soul who was going to do a million things when she grew up. Now, go out and do them.
  5. Get in the Game. Growing up, when the neighborhood kids would get together to play baseball, girls were rarely picked for any field position that saw any action in the game. It was just assumed that girls, no matter how well they played, could not play as well as boys. It is no wonder that many girls grew up unconsciously internalizing the belief that they should remain on the sidelines and that they are not a crucial part of the business game. If you will never be considered a valuable player in your current organization, either because you are a “girl” or subject to other stereotypes, go out and start your own team.
Throughout organizations whose highest levels are still run with outdated traditional mindsets, there are a wealth of talented leaders currently relegated to underling status. It is time for the emergence of a new generation of diverse leaders who not only have the experience and the ability to run the show, but who are also creative thinkers, mindful and collegial.

Why not you?