Thanks for Ignoring Me All the Way to the Top
This article was originally featured on LinkedIn.
I liked to get to work early to avoid the Dallas traffic, and you did too. We didn't park close to each other because you had a reserved spot for your Lexus, and I was just pleased to park my 200k-miler 1996 Rav4 on the main level.
The dreaded elevator ride one-on-one is never fun, but especially not fun when the other member will not acknowledge your existence. I would salivate stare at your Louis Vuitton bag and Louboutin shoes in envy. I remember thinking in my head how your bag alone cost more than my monthly rent. The only reason I even knew those brands were because of the movie Devil Wears Prada...which, my life somewhat paralleled.
You were a lead executive, and I was an executive assistant at a Fortune 500 company. Hello corporate 'Merica (it was Texas, after all).
I was just 22 years old.
I was ecstatic to have the job to be honest. I had just graduated college with a degree in opera (see more about that here), and just needed a job to pay the rent, my college loans, and some good craft beer. I lied in the interview process when asked if I knew Excel. I think the extent of 'knowing' Excel was double clicking on it to open it. The job covered my bills and had health insurance; I was a happy girl.
In the beginning, I had no idea who you were. I just remember every time I would smile or say 'hello' to you I was ignored. Everyone was ahead of me on the corporate ladder, so I really didn't pay that much attention.
Then I noticed you more because you met with the VP I supported, and then I realized who, exactly, you were. You were a big deal, and every time your EA called me to set up a meeting with my boss I got nervous.
My boss was great, as were the other executives I supported. In my 5-year tenure I ended up supporting 3 executives total, and truly couldn't have worked with a better group of people. They normalized the whole 'executive' thing, and treated me as an equal. To this day, 2 of the 3 are mentors of mine.
I desperately wanted to get promoted out of the EA role and my boss graciously allowed me to shadow some big executive meetings. I sat in the back, of course, taking notes. Like a good future saleswoman, I studied your bio and LinkedIn profile and found a ton of similarities between us, even down to where you grew up. On one elevator ride I mentioned that we were raised in the same town and I got a "oh, is that right"? response from you. Headway.
One daring day, my boss and a couple other executives were going to lunch with you, and I don't know why to this day - but I asked if I could come (persistent, much?!) My boss didn't skip a beat and said "sure".
I maybe muddled out 10 words in the entire lunch, and I know the entire time you were thinking "why the hell are you here"? I ordered something super cheap because I couldn't afford to eat out. When the check came and you suggested we all split the bill evenly my heart sank because my $7 meal was now costing $22. I didn't understand any of the lingo you spoke at the table but you inspired me. You were a successful businesswoman that I aspired to be one day.
The elevator song and dance continued, and over time as I continued to grow confidence in myself and my role, the elevator rides got easier. I stopped caring that I wasn't acknowledged. I realized it was all me and my own satisfaction of being a people pleaser, and that no one owed me a 'hello' in the morning, including her.
5 years later, I left corporate America and moved out of state and started my sales career. Since then, my sales career has taken off. I'm widely known as a social selling expert, and recently was chosen to speak and present at LinkedIn's annual conference for the work I've done. While I'm certainly not at the "top" or even close, I've risen further than I could ever imagine from my EA role.
I've been back to visit corporate 'Merica a couple of times, and as luck would have it, she was on one of my elevator rides.
This time I didn't say hello, she did.
This life lesson taught me the following:
- No one owes you anything
- Titles don't mean anything; a CEO puts on pants the exact same way you do
- It's never as good as it feels, and it's never as bad as it seems
- Persistence in anything you put your mind to always pays off, but you must also be patient
- Stop comparing yourself to others; you're great just the way you are
- Start taking the stairs