It turns out that I’m a complete raging jackass when someone compliments me about practically anything. When someone says something really lovely, instead of receiving the gift I throw the gift down on the ground and give the gift giver the verbal equivalent of a punch in the snout. I should probably get on Dr. Phil for analysis so he could ask, “How’s that working out for ya?” I would respond, “Well, Phil as it happens, I don’t really care for being an jackass, so not that great.”
It’s like I have some form of Turrets that’s triggered by compliments. For example, if someone compliments my beauty (by the way – just writing that makes me squirm, but hey, I’m all about discomfort) I might question that person’s eyesight or make a statement on the excessive kindness of the remark. It’s as if to suggest they’ve extended an act of charity that should be considered a taxable deduction by the IRS. I recently knew I had an incredible problem when someone very kindly said, “You’re one of the smartest people I know.” I repaid this statement as any raging jacksass would with, “You must not know many people. You need to get out more.” Notice the hostility in the comeback. I respond as if someone insulted me rather than complimented me. Recently I walked into the office of a law firm for an event and the receptionist said, “You have the most beautiful skin. You’re just gorgeous.” I looked at her, laughed, and said, “Have you started drinking the wine already?” Questioning someone’s sobriety is an excellent way to express your gratitude. After she laughed and I felt like a jackass I went with, “Thank you, that’s so kind or you. I would like you to be my new best friend.” After you serve up a mug of rudeness, I suggest a sarcasm chaser to really finish things off.
When I’m not being hostile I do something that’s equally unattractive and jackassesque, I diminish myself. It goes something like this, “I can’t thank you enough for what you did. You’re an amazing human being.” While a simple “you’re welcome” would probably serve quite nicely here, I prefer to go with, “I’m not amazing. Any decent person would do the same.” This would be my response if say I gave someone a kidney, allowed them to live with me until they got back on their feet or watched their children for a week while they went on vacation. Please don’t acknowledge me. Just being average over here, please keep walking, nothing to see here. It’s like I’m covering my eyes and saying, “You can’t see me.”
I value humble people. There is something beautiful about just being in the world as you are without constantly chasing validation, compliments and recognition. Social media has become a place to constantly brag. But I wasn’t being humble I was trying to be invisible and I’m not alone. The impulse to shrink, dismiss, deflect and deny are ways to devalue ourselves. If we fail to accept our greatness, how can we possibly expect to earn our worth or expect to be valued? I’m practically screaming at people PLEASE DON’T VALUE OR ACKNOWLEDGE ME!
Recently, I was enjoying lunch with some amazing women when one of the women mentioned how I had completely changed her thinking about something. I was in the middle of one of my ninja compliment deflection moves when the friend sitting next to me placed her hand on mine and said, “Just say thank you.” So I did. I’ve known for a long time that my response was inappropriate and frankly, rude. When someone gives you a gift the only appropriate response is, “thank you.”
Some of us make ourselves smaller to make others more comfortable. We do our best to take up less space literally and figuratively. In the last month I’ve worked on just saying “thank you.” It’s hard. I want to default to the comfort of sarcasm but I don’t. I stand firm because I know that the habit is destructive to me and to every woman watching me. Sometimes the discomfort is so great I shift in my seat, but I’m working hard to look people in the eye and accept compliments with grace. I invite you to do the same and see how it changes how you feel about your value.
I encountered pay discrimination early in my career in a very specific way. I was working as a mid-level finance manager for a company that was otherwise quite well run. Out of curiosity one day, I did some payroll analysis and discovered that in every job category, every female was paid less than any man. It was as though there were two pay scales for every job level. In addition, the most senior positions were held exclusively by men. I was astounded.
I hope you’re not waiting for me to tell you what I did to bring this travesty to the fore, transform this company into an enlightened one, and usher in a new age of pay equality because I did nothing like that. You know what I did? I ignored it. And when I got the opportunity to move to a new division and leave the problem behind, I took it.
BIAS AGAINST WOMEN IS HIDDEN
I recounted that story in my first book, a career advice book for women working in male-dominated environments. I told the story because I think it’s an example of how discrimination can exist without any awareness on the part of those being discriminated against. A lot of the bias against women is hidden, and only statistical analysis and quantitative studies bring it to light. I did however confess to my sister that I was embarrassed that everyone would now know what a coward I was. “It’s not true that you did nothing!” she replied. “You wrote a book and talked about it.” That made me feel better.
“…SHE HASN’T SAID ANYTHING.”
I’m still surprised to hear even human resource professionals assume a woman is satisfied with her salary if they haven’t heard otherwise. At more senior levels, several times I’ve had to question why no salary adjustment was being made for women at year-end when an increase was given to men in the same department. “She’s happy,” was the response. How do they know she’s happy? “Well, she hasn’t said anything.”
It seems to take some women a few years before they become aware that discrimination still exists. Women just out of school proclaim gaily that things are different now, and for the first few years gender discrimination may not be obvious to them. But I am reminded of a woman who told me recently, “When I first started at my company, it was all guys, but that was okay with me: play like a boy, talk like a boy—basically, be a boy.” After four years, however, she noticed that all the boys had been promoted—except her. Clearly, she was not really a boy after all.
THESE QUESTIONS REMAIN THE SAME
Since the book came out, I have learned more dismal facts about women and salaries, how women who negotiate are viewed (poorly), and the alarming problems that sometimes arise when women attempt to negotiate (including having job offers and opportunities withdrawn). I am asked frequently for advice about salary negotiations, what to do if you find out that a male peer makes more than you do, and fundamentally how and when to stand up for yourself. These questions have not changed, and I find some young women as perplexed as my generation was about the most effective way to earn their worth.
SALARY NEGOTIATIONS: THE LONG RUN
So, what to do? I’d love to blithely offer “Seven Tips for Salary Negotiation,” or “Six Ways to Get a Raise,” but the reality is that it’s not that simple. Everyone’s situation is different, negotiation can’t be taught in a 1000-word blog, and not everyone deserves a raise. We writers love to offer advice in sound bites that sound happy and do-able; it makes our readers feel that they are much smarter than they were 30 seconds before they read the article. Unfortunately, that kind of superficial thinking can lead to problems when you are dealing with something as delicate and important as salary negotiations.
In contrast, here are some more serious thoughts that may be harder to absorb in an instant but may be more helpful in the long run:
NOW IS THE TIME
I wish you luck and hope that your managers and colleagues understand your interest in this issue. Let’s all make a pact right now to support each other in our efforts to understand our worth, whether it means asking for more money or not. Women, as well as men, exhibit bias against other women who ask for more money, so we need to actively remind each other that it is fair for a woman to objectively investigate what her salary should be and potentially ask for greater compensation. There is a subtle belief in our culture that women and money should be kept separate, sometimes under the guise of “protecting” the women from such a dirty topic and sometimes when the real intention is to keep women dependent and powerless.
Now is the time to dispense with those old ideas. Women and money go together very well.
LEAH SINGER INTERVIEWS RACHEL OLSEN
When you watch the season six premiere of Shark Tank this week, you’ll undoubtedly be intrigued by the gadgets, pitches, and the banter in the Tank among the Sharks themselves. But what many people watching do not realize is that Shark Tank is a place that many female entrepreneurs (many of whom are mothers) have gone to pitch their business in hopes of securing funding for their business ventures.
Rachel Olsen is the founder of Best Mom Products, a show and podcast where she interviews mom entrepreneurs in their first five years of business and talks to them about what it’s really like working in business. During her work, Rachel interviewed five women who would eventually be featured on and successfully funded on Shark Tank.
What Rachel discovered from talking with these women (and hundreds of others) is that achieving success is hard work. And despite appearing on Shark Tank, none of them made millions overnight. Their stories are real ones, with valuable lessons that women can learn from to become successful entrepreneurs.
Rachel interviewed Tiffany Krumins (Ava the Elephant), Amber Schaub (Rufflebutts), Megan Gage (Hot Tot), Betsy Johnson (SwimZip), and Shelly Ehler (Showno). These individual stories became the basis of her book, Shark Tank MOMpreneurs Take a Bite Out of Publicity: How 5 Inventors Leveraged Media to Build Their Business + How YOU Can, Too.
Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank investor and member of the Tank, said about Rachel’s book, “As a Shark, I’ve been in the tank with these entrepreneurs and I can tell you Rachel gets right to the heart of how they succeeded. Shark Tank MOMpreneurs is a must read for anyone looking to learn the inside secrets of getting on Shark Tank and landing a deal, or getting the publicity that’s essential for any successful business.”
MGM: Why did you decide to write this book?
Rachel: After interviewing 50 mompreneurs, five of which were on Shark Tank (but not at the time), and talking with many others, I started seeing some trends. One comment I would get over and over again was, “If I could only get my product on [this] TV show, I just know my business will take off.”
But, in reality, that is not the case except for a few. A one-time television airing isn’t necessarily going to sell products but it will provide brand awareness. The women I talked to felt like this was the answer so I wanted to take a deeper look at the process and results of going on a major television show like Shark Tank that has 8 million viewers and see how they prepared, what was it about their particular story and presence that made them stand out, and what were the real results years later.
MGM: What lessons did you find the most meaningful after interviewing the moms?
Rachel: The key lesson was that although they all went on for funding and received deals, 80% of them didn’t say to go on the show for the funding. They didn’t not say it either. But when I put all their answers in one chapter together; it was very obvious they weren’t overtly thrilled with the outcome, in that respect.
The other lesson that I learned from interviewing these incredible women prior to the book was that the products they invented are to make families lives’ better, safer and easier. They incorporate their values into their products and it is a true reflection of who they are as mothers that drive them.
MGM: Your book does a great job on teaching women how to articulate their worth and value, and how to pitch that to an investor. Do you think this is something that’s missing for entrepreneurs (especially women)? Why or why not?
Rachel: I don’t think the issue is women not being able to express their worth and value in most cases. Women are passionate about what they are doing and create businesses based on heart and need and that comes across immediately.
Women are pitching men
From my experience, I don’t think women entrepreneurs are as comfortable talking about and asking for money as men are. I listen to a few male entrepreneur podcasts and the men share their financials openly and confidently. The women I interview rarely want to talk about or share how they got investors or how much they spent in any particular area of business. They may tell me off-camera, but I find they are embarrassed of what they perceive as mistakes or spending too much in a certain area. They are hard on themselves and feel that money and financials are very private.
Another aspect to take into consideration is that women are usually pitching men, especially when looking for angel investors or venture capital. I’ve heard stories of men asking the women for coffee or dismissing them because of gender.
MGM: You do a lot of media consulting for entrepreneurs. How does understanding media help a businessperson?
Rachel: My intention for this book is to teach entrepreneurs and anyone looking to get media attention that their story needs to resonate with their audience. It can be the greatest story ever but if you are telling it to the wrong person; it will fall on deaf ears and you won’t get results. The women in this book did an excellent job of tying in passion, authenticity and business knowledge.
Media, like every other aspect of business, needs to be ongoing
I hope entrepreneurs will treat media like every other aspect of their business … something that needs to be ongoing, not just a one-time placement. There is a huge misconception that one media placement is going to change the trajectory of their business. Creating brand awareness through the media is an on-going process with multiple customer touch-points, not just one.
MGM: Given your experience, interviews and background, how should mompreneurs pursue funding – venture capitalists, angel investors, crowd funding, Shark Tank?
Rachel: It all depends on the type of product they are selling. Two types of common products are consumer product goods (CPG) and technology. If it’s a consumer product good (CPG), a physical product to sell; then I think crowdfunding is an excellent way because it allows you to sell the product before you manufacture it. Manufacturing is usually the biggest expense so it takes away a lot of the risk because you can assess the interest and commitment of potential customers.
Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors
Venture capitalists and many angel investors focus on high growth that have massive opportunity because they are looking for the “big” win and most consumer product goods companies aren’t going to end up in that category. However, if you are working on a tech product or app, then going to angel investors first and trying to raise a seed round makes sense. A seed round is usually $500k-$1million.
MGM: Will you share one or two tips for mompreneurs pursuing funding?
Rachel: Create a business plan and know your numbers, how much money you are asking for, how you will spend it and why. Look into grants like the Huggies Mom Inspired $15k grant, or the Chase $250k small business grant.
Read more about Rachel and Shark Tank Mompreneurs Take a Bite Out of Publicity on the Best Mom Products website.
MICHELLE BAKER INTERVIEWS MS. TIFFANY BLUEMLE
After learning about Rosie’s Girls from their feature on the Today Show this summer, I reached out to Tiffany Bluemle for this interview. Upon first hearing about the program, I knew we had more than just the iconic symbol of Rosie the Riveter in common. Here, she shares with us her vision and commitment to effectively influencing the financial and professional choices women make by starting with educating girls.
Thank you, Tiffany, for taking the time for this insightful and encouraging interview. Your work is truly a game-changer.
MGM: Please tell us about Rosie’s Girls as well as Vermont Works for Women.
TIFFANY: Vermont Works for Women works to ensure that the lives of Vermont’s women and girls are shaped by aspiration and aptitude, and not by tradition or stereotypes, and that their skills and capacities are developed expansively – towards the goal of long-term economic independence.
Rosie’s Girls is one of our core programs. It’s a three-week summer camp for middle school girls that engages participants in three sets of activities that in combination arm girls with a strong and expanded sense of who they are and what they can do with both talent and ambition.
MGM: What gave you the idea to start Rosie’s Girls?
TIFFANY: I was a teacher in an all-girls middle school in Manhattan. I’d witness students change dramatically from 6th to tenth grade. Where they’d regularly challenged me at 11, at sixteen they would apologize before speaking. What had happened to their voices? Their confidence? Their intellectual courage?
A colleague who was asking the same questions attended a week-long carpentry course for women and returned with a new sense of individual power and competence. Her experience, and a colloquium we attended led by Mary Pipher (author of Reviving Ophelia) inspired a thought: could power tools help nurture confidence in girls at a time when it is most likely to flag?
Over a couple of years and after a move to Vermont, the idea turned into a proposal to the Vermont Women’s Fund – and in 2000 we piloted our first camp.
MEETING WOMEN WHERE THEY ARE.
MGM: How are you seeing women turning their professional, personal, and financial lives around with the tools they learn through VT Works for Women?
TIFFANY: There are hundreds of stories we could tell about women whose lives have changed in part through their work with VWW. Some of the changes are dramatic: women who have never been employed who find permanent jobs and stay in them; women who start their own businesses and are so successful that they now hire our trainees; young women who are the first in their family to go to college.
Some of the successes we witness are less obvious but no less dramatic: a mother whose efforts allow her to regain custody of a child; an inmate with a long prison record who celebrates her fifth year of sobriety and freedom; a woman who leaves an abusive relationship for good.
The path to success in work and economic security is rarely a straight-line trajectory; more often it is filled with twists and turns, negotiated in small steps. Our job is to meet women where they are, help them discern possibility when they may see only closed doors, and offer tools that can make their journey easier.
MGM: With Rosie’s Girls now 15 years old, what are you hearing back from participants in the program re: their confidence entering the workforce?
TIFFANY: A colleague in Ohio who ran Rosie’s Girls for years, overheard a young woman on the subway talking excitedly about a summer experience that she said changed the way she felt as a girl and about her prospects as a young woman. At some point, it became clear that the young woman was talking about Rosie’s Girls.
Reflecting on the conversation in an email to me, Kelly summed up what makes the program such a powerful experience. “Those of us who have had the opportunity to work with the Rosie’s Girls program know in our hearts…that the program is about opening the door for girls to see themselves as all that they are and are capable of being. It’s about introducing them to opportunities and challenges and self-awareness. It’s about saying to them, ‘You are strong. You are capable.’”
IMPARTING THE IDEA THAT GIRLS CAN BE MORE AND DO MORE.
The point of Rosie’s Girls isn’t to turn out carpenters or engineers – but to impart the idea that girls can be those things, and more. How do we know we’re achieving this end? We collect evaluations administered to campers and their parents and stories we hear in the years that follow.
Surveys collected from Rosie’s Girls sites are clear in showing that the program increases career awareness, self-confidence, and broadens an interest in exploring a full range of fields. Parents regularly make a point to tell us how former campers are doing, and how they continue to talk about their Rosie’s Girls experience as formative.
Graduates come back, again and again, to serve as Counselors-in-Training and later as Counselors Two of the CIT’s working at one of the camps this summer enrolled as students at the area technical center in construction trades and IT. A Rosie’s Girl fell in love with flying at camp, and is now within hours of getting her pilot’s license.
A GALLUP STUDY ON THE VALUE OF MENTORS AND HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE.
Tom Friedman recently published a column about the importance of mentors and hands-on experience, citing a new Gallup study of those factors critical to success and engagement at work (September 10, 2014). The jury is in, the evidence is clear: if girls are to achieve their full economic potential, they must meet women in the field, handle the tools of the trade, and be encouraged by someone who believes in them. The ideas that inform the Rosie’s Girls model simply reflect common sense.
MGM: Please tell us about the Enough Said study.
TIFFANY: In 2013, Vermont Works for Women (VWW) published an in-depth report on what young Vermont women say about how well-equipped they feel for the challenges of school, work, career, and economic independence as adults.
ENOUGH SAID — Young Women Talk about School, Work, and Becoming Adults: Why We Should Listen and What We Can Do is the result of in-depth interviews, surveys, and conversations with more than 210 young women and girls, ages 15–25, from 28 Vermont communities, and how the concerns they raised are reflected in national research.
Young women told us:
A VERMONT STATEWIDE TASK FORCE.
Concern about the report’s conclusions prompted the formation of a statewide Task Force on Young Women and the Vermont Economy, which articulated a vision and a set of recommendations to Governor Peter Shumlin and the legislature in December 2013. The Task Force determined that by 2024:
CHANGING THE STORY.
Changing the story that young women tell us in ten years will require concerted, consistent, and coordinated action – across sectors. Much of what needs to change is embedded in our culture and assumptions: the language that we use; the questions that we ask young women (or don’t); the women we celebrate as role models.
We have issued a call to action to partners in higher education and business, the nonprofit sector and schools, parents and young people themselves to see this work as a collective responsibility. Addressing the economic well-being of women is not just a women’s issue. It is a critical issue for families, communities, and for the very vitality of our economy.
Focusing on women and girls doesn’t imply that their needs are more important than those of men and boys, but that they are in some ways different – and that these unique needs should inform the direction and substance of public policy and program investments we make going forward.
THE COST OF SUCCESS.
MGM: What do you see is the connection between self-advocacy and being willing to try something new?
TIFFANY: Girls who come to camp often tell us how often they elect to hang back in small group projects at school, believing it easier to allow boys to take over than to assert their interest or skill. To many girls, the greatest risk lies, not in possible failure, but in the cost of success – at which point she may be called bossy, a show-off, or teacher’s pet.
Rosie’s Girls challenges campers to try new things in spite of discomfort. The more experience girls have in doing that, the more likely they are to embrace subsequent challenges – like participating fully in a science lab, asking a question that might seem silly, or running for student body president. The tools we use in Rosie’s Girls activities– chop saws, backhoes, and welding torches – are vehicles for building confidence, strengthening voice, and opening eyes.
EVEN WITH INCREMENTAL SHIFTS IN INCOME.
MGM: How do you see earning potential boosting, diminishing or neutralizing self-worth?
TIFFANY: I think that there is tremendous satisfaction in being able to take care of oneself – to be able to cook a decent meal, fix a leaky faucet, travel alone, or pay one’s bills. When you are able to support yourself, you have the power to make deliberate choices – about the people with whom you hang out, where you spend time, the goals you set. We see a remarkable shift in the women with whom we work with even with incremental shifts in income; they see enough change to stay the course.
MGM: What do most of your adult women clients say they wish they had access to as girls growing up? As adults now?
TIFFANY: Across the board, women tell us they wish they’d been able to go to Rosie’s Girls. Indeed, it’s why many of them enroll their daughters in the program. It’s what fueled interest on social media platforms after Rosie’s Girls was featured on the Today Show in July.
What specifically do they wish they’d enjoyed?
I think it is the exposure – to so many fields and tools, to cool female role models, and to an all-girls’ environment in which they could truly be themselves.
MGM: How many cities around the country offer a Rosie’s Girls program? How can a community bring Rosie’s Girls to their community?
TIFFANY: Fifteen summers since its founding, Rosie’s Girls has engaged more than 2,500 girls in 20 locations throughout the U.S., including California, Ohio, South Carolina, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Our website has a page dedicated to replication to provide information to anyone interested in bringing the program to their community.
The page can be found at http://vtworksforwomen.org/rosiesreplication/
ABOUT TIFFANY BLUEMLE
Tiffany Bluemle, Executive Director, Vermont Works for Women
Tiffany Bluemle has spent her entire professional career in the field of education – first as a history teacher and high school administrator in New York City, as director of development for New York City Outward Bound, and as Executive Director of Vermont Works for Women where she has been since 1997. Vermont Works for Women provides women and girls with opportunities to explore, pursue, and excel in work that leads to economic independence.
Tiffany received a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and a B.A. from Princeton. She is a former member of Princeton’s Board of Trustees and is very proud to have been appointed to the board of Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. She lives in Burlington with her partner and two sons, whose feet have grown far too large for their mudroom.
Let’s get one thing straight – divorce doesn’t ruin a kid’s life. I’m tired of hearing variations of “Oh, he’s been really angry since the divorce” or “She’s all messed up ever since her parents got that divorce”. No, the divorce didn’t do that. The parents did.
That being said, as a casualty in a rather vicious divorce (vicious to the point of me never seeing or speaking to one parent again), I like to think of myself as a divorce success story. I am not emotionally inept, deep-seeded with daddy issues, or protesting against the institution of marriage.
My parents’ divorce came at an interesting time – three years after the nationwide economic crash, two years after they declared bankruptcy, and one year after I started college. By the start of my sophomore year, my college fund had been drained during the bankruptcy, and the divorce left me with a single (extremely hard working) mother. I had a tough decision to make for the remaining years of undergrad: take out student loans and rack up the debt early or figure out another way. I am a fan of not being in debt and staying in the green so I decided to figure out another way.
This is how I figured it out.
Plan ahead…. especially if you know its coming.
Granted, I was lucky in that my parents taught me the importance of saving from an early age. A portion (small, but still a portion) of all the money I made from babysitting, waitressing, house sitting, etc. that I dabbled in in high school left me with a small savings account. When my parents filed for bankruptcy and the word divorce started to get thrown around the house, I took it as a sign of the calm before the storm.
I started putting a massive chunk of any money I acquired into my savings (sorry, that Kate Spade bag would not be making its way into my closet this year). This served as a small base to buy me some time while I figured out how I was going to pay for the rest of my tuition and living expenses.
Research available outside help.
First, there are hundreds of scholarships set up either by school, gender, field of study, or a variety of other things that are just looking to give away money. These scholarships range from a couple hundred dollars to a several thousands of dollars. If you are in college or about to send someone off to college and they have not looked into available scholarships, you are doing yourself a disservice.
I applied to every single scholarship that I was eligible for. A few hundred dollars here and there, a couple scholarships with heftier money attached, and before I knew it I had enough to pay for an entire semester of tuition.
Secondly, apply for financial aid. It is a lengthy and often confusing process, but believe me, it is worth it. This is a great option for all single parents, low-income families, or students who are claimed as dependents. The government wants to help. Take it.
My mother and I applied for financial aid, and I got enough to cover my entire junior year…and then some.
It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
I am fortunate to have a very loving extended family. They are happy to help in any way they can. They were fully aware of the saga that was my parents’ bankruptcy and divorce so they understood my predicament. When Christmas or birthdays came around, instead of wrapping up a package that may or may not contain a gift I’d like or use, I simply asked for gift cards. Target gift cards are like magic in college. Visa gift cards also work like a charm. They would occasionally send cards in the mail too (“Happy first day of Autumn…here’s a gift card to Harris Teeter so you can make pumpkin bread!). It is amazing how a little bit of help or extra money here and there can add up and help cut down on living expenses.
Work your A$$ off.
The bottom line is that if you want something bad enough, you will work hard for it. I wanted to go to school and get out debt free, so I worked my A$$ off to make sure that happened. While the help of scholarships, financial aid, and family helped, I refused to rely on that as my sole means of support. I love working with children, and needed a job that could be flexible around my class schedule but still not cut down too much on hours. Therefore, nannying was a perfect job for me.
I ended up working upwards of 35 hours a week (on top of 21 credit hours at school) to bring home the bacon. I would go to class until mid-afternoon and then babysit into the wee hours of the night. Sometimes I would be babysitting before classes started, on the weekends, overnight, basically whatever I could get. Instead of going on a raging spring break or traveling abroad all summer, I stayed at UNC to work, save money, and take some extra summer classes and cut down on my yearly load. It may seem like that was a sacrifice, but it did not feel like it because I was ultimately getting closer to making it through college with a degree, and debt free.
So there it is, ladies. A “divorce success” story. A “college success” story. My story. These formative years as an undergrad taught me the importance of working hard towards a goal. I ultimately learned that if I wanted something bad enough, I wasn’t going to stop until I got it.
There is some merit to the phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. This is the same mindset that I am in as I embark on the next chapter of my career… going to law school. I have planned ahead and started my nest egg. I have researched the financial aid that is available depending on which school I go to. I have faith my family will support me in any way they can. And I can guarantee you that I will work my A$$ off whenever I get there.
It does not matter if you are a glass half-full or a glass half-empty kind of person. Nor does it matter if you rescue kittens or are the one to chase them up a tree. The plain and simple truth is emergencies happen no matter who you are, and with them comes debt.
EVEN WITH HEALTH INSURANCE…
Two years ago, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I chose to travel several states away for treatment at a research hospital. Being a single mother with no familial support, I told myself I had to have excellent treatment to help secure a good recovery.
I understood that my insurance would not cover everything because I was going out of state. However, what I did not consider is the fact that research hospitals are more expensive. I did not know that. I did not even wonder. Chalk it up to the fact that I was in full-blown panic/survival mode and was more concerned about the logistics of who was going to take care of my son and my elderly grandmother. And quite honestly, having never been in this situation before, there were just some questions I did not know or think to ask.
Instead, I thought of other things. I priced out hotels, airfare, and taxicabs. I arranged babysitters and pet sitters. I had talks with an attorney about who would take care of my grandmother if something were to happen to me. I had talks with my ex about our son, playing out various “what if” scenarios driven by real concerns but also fueled by the horror stories and spiritual “analyses” of well-meaning acquaintances and strangers alike about why I – or anyone, for that matter – got cancer.
I was scared out of my mind. I reached out to my friends for help in ways I had never dared before. They supported me in very practical, grounded ways by providing places for me to recover, rides to doctors appointments, donating hotel points, food upon my return, and words of encouragement and stories of brilliant recovery.
In all of my preparation, I never once asked how much the surgery and subsequent treatments were going to cost. So when the bills continued to roll in several months later, I was floored. I knew that cancer treatment would be expensive…I just did not know how expensive.
HINDSIGHT IS 20/20
Thankfully, I did have savings. I was able to pay-off some of the bills as they came in. But then I couldn’t. I called my credit card company to set up a payment plan. As the bills continued to roll in, I called the hospital, and set up payments with them as well. Had I thought about this ahead of time, I would have made arrangements with them from the start. Needless to say, it would have saved me thousands of dollars in interest. Hindsight is 20/20.
The residual financial and psychological impacts far outweigh the physical impacts of my surgery and treatment. $65,000 dollars later, I can tell you the more you know upfront, the better prepared you will be to effectively manage these expenses.
Though the list below might not prevent medical debt from happening for you, it can help you manage it.
***The first two assume the emergency is one you have time to prepare for, ie. scheduled cancer procedures. In the event of car accidents and other abrupt emergencies, etc., have the number of your emergency contact in your wallet so when they are contacted, they can make these inquiries on your behalf***
TEN STEPS THAT WILL HELP YOU BE BETTER PREPARED
1) Ask up front how much the treatment will cost AND ask for a breakdown of the costs for each procedure
2) Discuss payment plans with the accounting department
3) Discuss payment plans with credit card companies. Consider prepayment.
4) Talk to your insurance companies about coverage
5) If you have life insurance, discuss withdrawal options with them
6) Talk with the IRS or your tax consultant about medical deductions, i.e. if your medical debt exceeds 7.55 of your adjusted grow income, you are eligible to claim that remaining amount of debt as an itemized deduction on your federal income tax return. (A list of allowable medical and dental expense deductions is available from the IRS.)
7) Prepare a Will, a Power of Attorney document and medical imperative so that someone can mediate on your behalf while you are unable (this includes lining up payment plans)
8) Have a conversation with your insurance company about payment options where there are out of pocket expenses.
9) If you have a supportive family, strategize with family members how payments will be made. This serves to familiarize everyone with what to discuss and how to have these hard conversations when someone’s life is on the line.
10) Depending upon your income level, some cities have Indigent funds. Check with local governments to learn more.
You may prefer a more elegant term, but I like F*$# You Money because it’s raw and honest. It says what it is and means what it says and we should all have some. F*$# You Money allows you to walk out of a crappy relationship, quit a terrible job, or walk away from what ever it is that holds you hostage because you don’t have enough money.
F*$# You Money is more powerful than an emergency fund – it’s a path to freedom,
I could buy a penthouse in Paris if I had a dollar for every woman who has told me about a financially ruinous divorce. Every one of those divorces started in magical wedded bliss. No one thinks that her life will end up like a Lifetime movie but it happens. It happens so damned often that Lifetime could be showing an “original” movie every hour of every day until the end of time and still not tell all the stories of shocking financial devastation and secret lives. My stomach always turns a bit when a woman prefaces her devastating divorce story with something like, ”My story could be a movie it’s so shocking. You won’t even believe it.” Yes, I will – because it’s not shocking. What’s shocking is how very few women have any independent funds to build a new life after things fall apart.
Creating independent wealth is not unromantic or deceitful. It’s an act of radical self-love and preservation. I’m not telling you to hide anything. I think you should be totally honest about saving enough money to be financially free. Good relationships can only be nurtured in truth. F*$# You Money is really about you, not about the relationship or the other person.
Side note, when you’re sharing this independent fund you might want to call it something other than F*$# You Money. I’m thinking it will go every better with a little rebranding.
I’ve had lots of clients who made truckloads of cash and desperately wanted to leave their high paying job only to realize that all of their money was spent or being spent. Every single one of them would tell you that they would do almost anything to have built that F*$# You Fund. Working at a job you hate costs you joy, relationships, and your mental and physical health.
If you want to live in your power don’t turn that power over to one big client that treats you like an indentured servant, a relationship that keeps you from financial literacy and responsibility or a job that is costing you your soul. Every single day people make huge life decisions based on financial limitations. When you own your financial destiny you expand every opportunity in your life. Financial independence gives you decision- making power to determine where and how you live.
The next time you go to purchase something stop yourself, and consider taking that money and investing in that F U Fund.
MICHELLE BAKER INTERVIEWS MS. EMILY VINER
One of my favorite parts of being the editor for Millionaire Girls’ Movement is meeting and interviewing the many interesting and accomplished women we have featured here. It is my hope that their stories educate and inspire you to reach out, to go beyond your comfort, and ultimately, to know you are not alone. After all, we can do it, we are doing it, and we are doing it together.
Here is Emily Viner’s compelling interview. Thank you, Emily, for your time and thoughtful interview.
MGM: Please describe briefly your role at Guardian Life Insurance.
EMILY: I have a pretty diverse role that has evolved over my 16 years with Guardian which makes my work very exciting and fulfilling. At a high level, I am a financial services distribution and marketing executive with a purpose and a passion for securing the future of distribution and leaving a legacy of strong gender balanced leadership. There are 3 distinct areas I currently focus on: Field Management & Leadership Development, Building & Execution of our Gender Balance Strategies and Conference & Event Marketing.
MGM: I understand you helped create Girls Going Places, and that you founded the Women Producers Summit at Guardian. Please tell us about your drive to establish forums where women – both young and career-age – are recognized for their contributions within their communities of school, work and society as a whole.
EMILY: My drive comes from a belief that every person within an organization wants to contribute to their fullest potential and that the challenges we face in the world today, whether societal, political or economic require the talents of the best and the brightest to secure our future. In addition, I know that everyone wants to feel valued and deserves an environment where they can bring their whole selves, their authentic selves and their unique abilities to the workplace.
STARTING YOUNG, STARTING NOW
If they are provided this forum at a young age, such as with “Girls Going Places” then they internalize that as truth and seek it out and create those environments when they get older. The Women Producers’ Summit (WPS) was founded based upon the fundamental truth that everyone needs a little help and inspiration envisioning success. By bringing together women at all stages in their careers, and by providing role models of successful women, the ensuing discussions, networking and inspiration that follow are priceless. I’m not saying that men aren’t great mentors or sponsors, or that they don’t recognize success, they do. But when you are the only woman in the room, you can feel, unintentionally, a little excluded. The WPS provides an opportunity for women to connect and encourage each other.
MGM: How has your background informed your decisions to create and establish these forums?
EMILY: I grew up in this industry. I was a Financial Representative, and then a Sales Manager. Although I was successful, if I had these opportunities and insights earlier, I might have grown my business faster or bigger.
MGM: How have you been supported to advocate for women as they begin and develop their careers?
EMILY: At Guardian, we believe in growing leaders from within. Our Board of Directors is extremely supportive of our efforts to attract, develop and retain the best talent available, and that includes advocating for women. For example, we have a Guardian Leadership Institute that allows Financial Representatives to sample the Sales Manager role for one year before committing to it. In 2013, 29% of our Institute were women and 26% of those appointed to the Sales Manager role were women. I think as an industry we should specifically communicate the leadership path to all new Financial Representatives, particularly women and to offer them the opportunity to try the role on. From my experience, women like to more fully explore options, so job sampling is critical.
MGM: What have been some of the challenges?
EMILY: The opportunities in financial services today far outweigh any challenges. Women can control their destiny, have a rewarding and profitable career and raise a family if they choose to unlike in many other careers. Also, unlike other careers women don’t have to worry if they are receiving equal pay or not, in this profession commissions are identical for both genders.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATING WOMEN
In this industry, the biggest challenge is that so many women aren’t educated about the importance of financial planning, and of taking an active role in controlling their financial future. More needs to be done to share this message with young women. From a talent attraction perspective that means that so many women don’t know about the opportunities within the financial services industry, and many don’t know about the success they can have or the business they can own. When you look outside of a corporate role, to the business owner opportunity of a financial advisor, you have the same challenges as with starting any business. When you begin a business, you work long hours, you often work in the red for a year or so until you develop a clientele. That would happen if you were starting a new store, hanging your shingle as an attorney or an accountant. I think women’s natural ability to think in a web manner may sometimes slow us down. What I mean is, we naturally think about all the repercussions of a decision vs narrowing our focus and plowing ahead. Men say yes, when they don’t know how and they are confident they’ll figure it out. If I had any advice for a young person today, it’s “take the leap. Say yes to the challenge and have the confidence that you’ll figure it out.”
MGM: Have you noticed a trend of women choosing and advancing within the insurance industry? Within Guardian? How does Guardian identify and develop women leaders?
EMILY: Looking back at our history, women have played a part in Guardian’s pledge to help people achieve financial security, we have a long line of women going back nearly 100 years that have succeeded in our industry.
WOMEN CONTROLLING MORE WEALTH NOW THAN EVER BEFORE
However, there have been significant changes in the marketplace. Women are now controlling more wealth than at any other time in history; therefore the demand for female advisors is increasing. This career is so powerful in that you can have a tremendous impact on your community. That’s meaningful work and that is attractive not only to women, but younger workers who are seeking the opportunity to make an amazing income, but also to affect the world around them in a positive way.
At Guardian, we try to position this career as an alternative for women through our “Emma and Clara” events – these are days dedicated to starting something meaningful for game-changing women everywhere. These events focus on attracting females to local agencies to learn more about the role of a financial representative; educate women on the benefits of owning their financial destiny and enrich the development of women currently in our agencies.
MGM: What are the steps you have taken to advocate for yourself within your own career?
EMILY: Now, I say “yes!” to every opportunity. I remember the moment I decided to test out the theory of jumping in with both feet so to speak…I was in a team meeting (the only woman on the leadership team at the time) and our leader/boss asked me first if I wanted the main platform or a workshop for an upcoming, very large, conference we were running. In the past, I would have said “I don’t care, I’m open to either” afraid of the risk to go for the main platform; over thinking if I was ready or not. On this day, I said, “main platform”. My male counterparts who now only had the option for workshops were not happy. Long story short, it went great and enhanced my career exponentially. Women spend too much time being competent and not enough time being confident.
MGM: What do you enjoy most about your profession? How has that evolved over the course of your career?
EMILY: I enjoy the meaningful nature of the work we do as an industry and the impact I can have on growing our future leaders from within. Guardian is a 153-year old company and I have an opportunity to continue and strengthen a legacy that can live forever.
MGM: What would you most like women to understand when looking for insurance policies?
EMILY: John Lennon said it best: “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” Women, in particular I believe, want to feel safe. They want to feel that they and the people they love will be OK, at least financially, when “Life” happens. That’s what insurance does. It’s the safety net. I can’t tell anyone through an article how much insurance they need or what type of insurance they need. What I can say, with all the strength I can muster is they need to talk with an advisor they trust. Take the time, interview several, and pick the person that you know is interested in helping you protect your life, your family and then take action. Listen to the advice, purchase the insurance that is recommended, and then know that you have that security, that peace of mind.
FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH…AND MORE
Think of it this way: A property and casualty company is not going to insure your home or your car for more than it is worth, a life insurance company is not going to insure a life for more than it is worth… find a mutual life insurance company with strong financials, strong future claims paying ability and an advisor you trust and buy as much as they will issue or what we call, Human Life Value. It’s more important than anything else you might want to spend your money on.
MGM: How do you educate your clients to be better prepared for financial challenges that might come their way?
EMILY: Number one. Get Organized! You don’t know where you are going or how to get there unless you know where you are. You need to be organized. You need to have a plan of action and a trusted “Sherpa” to guide you. At Guardian, we use The Living Balance Sheet®. Our clients can see where they stand financially at any point in time. They have access to their whole financial picture on any given day, on their phone, laptop, etc.
MGM: What do you hope changes for this generation of young women (high school age) as they enter the job market and begin their careers?
EMILY: I am so hopeful for the future. I see my daughters who are 21 and 22 and their friends who are all so smart, talented and have so much to contribute to the world and their communities. The traditional roles are changing. Everyone in a “family” will have multiple roles and I think the workplace has to adapt to that. I think the workplace needs to evolve more in its support of women who choose to have families and careers. I also think younger generations will demand more work-life balance, and the workplace will respond. The younger generation is much clearer in their understanding that time is as precious an asset as is money, and I believe this will infiltrate the workplace and start to change the culture.
One of the most meaningful gifts I have ever been privileged to give sits quietly behind my house. You can’t see it from the street. It is humble and modest; the sort of space that doesn’t aspire to be more grand. I’m quite sure that there are Mcmansions with much larger playhouses than this sweet cottage of three hundred square feet where my mother resides. I chose my home in large part because of the cottage behind it. My mother will be eighty years old this year. She is strong and works in the garden every day pulling weeds with as much delight as a princess eating cakes being served by her ladies in waiting. Giving my mother her own small space and garden feels like a decadent dream of lavish proportions. It’s not the stuff of reality television. My mother’s cottage contains all her worldly possessions which are few, but it is my mother’s space all her own. Her bathroom is the size of a thimble and painted in sunflower yellow and contains her collection of frogs. Her kitchen is much too small for a table so my mother enjoys her morning coffee in the patio with the dogs at her feet. The main room of her home is both living and bedroom where she sleeps, reads, watches television and talks on the phone to my sister and occasionally my uncle.
My mother grew up in Hawaii on a sugar cane plantation in a kind of tropical Victor Hugo world rife with relentless hunger, poverty, abuse and a mother who would die when she was fourteen. My mother raised her brothers and sister, and then her own children, and then my niece after my sister died at the age of twenty-three in a motorcycle accident.
My mother never really had any space to think or sit or read that wasn’t invaded by childcare or violent men or the ache and anxiety of never having enough. Every square inch of my mother’s life was filled with the stifling weight of fear and relentless worry. Despite this my mother has always been exceedingly generous. I remember a waitress once admired some daisy earrings my mother was wearing and my mother took them off and gave them to her. My mother has always provided love, gifts and even space to those who’ve needed it.
Although my mother could not tell you who Virginia Woolf was she some how understood the importance of having a space of one’s own. My mother didn’t need to read a well-written case for the virtues of a bit of money and a meager patch of real estate for a woman to grasp the power of such provisions. In every tiny apartment we occupied my mother allowed me to claim a corner in our living room where I would build an office with pens, discarded envelopes, notebooks and dictionaries. My mother treated my corner like a sacred space where important work was being done. She listened intently to every story I ever told as if it was important work worthy of attention and consideration.
It was not until I reached college and read Woolf’s, A Room Of One’s Own that I would understand my mother’s gift in Woolf’s words. “Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.” My mother who rarely read for herself always read to me and because of her generosity I had room to think, play, examine, and consider the world and all its possibility. I have indeed traveled the world, written, contemplated and ravenously read all that I could in every space at every hour or spare minute I could steal.
I am acutely aware that the days I have with my mother are far fewer than the days we’ve already spent together. I cannot purchase, negotiate, beg or barter for more time. Time is brutally democratic and unyielding in its finite nature. So I spend the time we have in front of us as wisely as I am able. About five years ago, my mother started reading for the first time in her life. She read like a young girl. That early bud of literary love both breathless and passionate overtook my mother who couldn’t wait to get back to the lives of the people she was reading. In between gardening and crossword puzzles my mother found fiction and memoir and biography. I gave her books that were funny and heart wrenching and joyous. I gave her books she loved and some she didn’t understand. In her three hundred square foot cottage my mother read for herself, sometimes writing down words she didn’t know or words she fell in love with and moved her. Finally, with time and space to ponder and wander along the edges of stories and worlds that she never knew existed, my mother’s sense of wonder and joy grew in three hundred little feet of private space.
Who would have guessed that Virginia Woolf would have meant so much to me beyond mere literary value? It is, as always, a privilege to do this work and we will continue to work hard to help you help yourself.