Three Perspectives on What It Means to Be Successful

Three Perspectives on What It Means to Be Successful

What does “success” look like? For so many women in business, the answer to that question is deeply personal—and changes constantly.

“Especially as women and oftentimes as mothers, we go to these spaces of apologizing for our choices—apologizing for how we’re redefining success because it’s still being held up to a more general definition of success,” said Carolyn Ou, senior associate director of leadership development at Booth. “So how do you get from this place of apologizing for your choices to really owning them?”

Ou moderated a panel at Booth Women Connect Conference 2018 on the many ways to define success. Titled “Happiness Matters: Lessons Learned about Finding Fulfillment and Redefining Success,” the discussion brought together three women leaders from the entrepreneurship, tech, and financial services sectors to share how they’ve each redefined success on their own terms.

Here’s what they had to say:

Make Sure Your Story Gets Told

No matter your industry, finding ways to advocate for yourself and your work is a crucial component of success, said Valerie J. Van Meter, ’04 (XP-73), retired senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

“You’ve got to make sure your story gets told,” Van Meter said. The panel acknowledged this can be a challenge for many women professionals who prefer to let their work speak for itself, or let a boss or colleague call out their “wins” so as not to risk appearing boastful. Push through that, said Van Meter. Instead, find an authentic way to talk about the value you bring to the table.

“The way it felt good for me to talk about what I accomplished is to talk about what my team accomplished,” she said. “But you have to self-promote because nobody is going to take care of you the way you take care of yourself.”

Never Stop Learning

For Christina Van Houten, ’96, a big component of success is being willing to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Van Houten, chief strategy officer of cybersecurity firm Mimecast, said she regularly takes stock of her goals, both personal and professional, and tries to find something new to learn that’s “at this magical intersection of what’s achievable and what’s ambitious.” Then she dives in.

It’s a framework she put into action when she launched Women@Work, an online resource center and book series dedicated to the economic advancement and self-reliance of women and girls. “I got to this inflection point and thought I would really be squandering something if I didn't do it,” Van Houten said. “I love the way that made me feel and what I’ve gotten out of it.”

Live Your Values

All of the panelists echoed the idea that success goes beyond just the material. Allison Robinson, CEO and founder of talent platform the Mom Project, talked about the satisfaction she feels when women use her digital job marketplace to reenter the workforce: “I’m building a better place for women and mothers. I’m so passionate to get up every morning and build this better future for the current generation and future generations.”

Van Meter said her values also guided her throughout a career that spanned the public and private sectors. “That’s what drove me. . . . How do you share what you’ve been given with others and help make their lives better?”

Booth Women Connect Conference is organized by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The 2018 event brought together more than 1,100 professionals for an extraordinary day of bold ideas, spirited discussion, practical insights, and impactful networking. Join us for the next annual conference on November 1, 2019.

—By LeeAnn Shelton

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