All working moms could improve their work and family life by following the 8 Wolfpack rules (#6 is transforming my life)
Ever since I started Balancing Bravely, women in my life have been sharing amazing resources with me. The other day, someone sent me an interview between Marie Forleo and Abby Wambach. Abby was a professional soccer player for the women’s US team, and 2 time Olympic gold-medalist and FIFA World Cup champion. She has scored more soccer goals than any person (man or woman) in history.
I started watching the video during my lunch break. I’ll be honest I had never heard of Abby before, and at first glance it wasn’t totally clear to me why I would like this. I’m an intellectual, not an athlete, and I have no desire for fame and fortune.
But within minutes I could clearly see how this was so relevant to me. Although Abby and I have had completely different life experiences and career paths – her as a professional, elite, ultra-successful soccer player, and me as a PhD trained manager, I could completely see how our experiences have led us to very similar conclusions. Except Abby is clearly further down this path than I am. She has learned many lessons, in part due to her role, experience, and perspective as someone interacting with other very successful women.
Honestly, I didn’t have time to finish watching the interview (since I had a meeting to get to), but that day I ordered her book, Wolfpack and got it delivered the next day.
Wolfpack by Abby Wambach: Empowering women and working moms to create the change in order to achieve success at work and in life
I instantly and immediately loved her book. In fact, I held back from reading it in one sitting, since there was so much information to absorb. Even though Abby and I have extremely different personalities and see the world very differently, there is something so inspiring, motivating, and challenging about what she writes.
In the book, Wolfpack, Abby presents 8 ways that women need to behave differently.
Some of her examples align almost directly with conclusions I have also come to after all of my reading, research, and reflection. For example that the path to success is to get off of the deeply trodden path and carve a new pathway. Very successful men and women have rarely taken a traditional path to get there, they create new routes to new destinations, places people didn’t even realize were possible. I absolutely believe this, and I’m working at carving out my own new path and learning to transform how I understand my fear of the unknown.
Abby also gave new language to concepts I have been thinking about. She talks about how we need to both be grateful for what we get, and demand what we deserve. There is something so beautiful in the simplicity of that statement. She’s capturing these two seemingly contradictory perspectives and pairing them together.
Both of us were underpaid (Abby drastically underpaid compared to professional male athlete; I learned that my colleague was paid 47% more for virtually the same job). We are not alone, according to the latest research from the Pew Research Center, full-time working women earn 80% of what male colleagues are making. Those gaps are narrower for some professions and age groups than others, and wider for others. And the gaps for women of color are significantly larger than the gaps for white women.
Women have made strides forward in the past few decades, but we are not there yet. So how can we be both grateful and aspire for more? Abby provides excellent examples to illustrate how and why we need to do that (I won’t give it all away since she captures it so well).
How and why women and working moms need to unleash their competitive spirit
There were also sections of her book that were inspiring and a completely new way of thinking for me. #6 changed the way I think about myself in the world.
Abby talked about how we need to “demand the ball”. She’s a soccer player, so using an analogy from her sport. For the rest of us, she is essentially saying that we need to unleash our competitive spirit – rather than bottling it up and hiding it. We need to use our drive for competition as a motivator, and inspiration, and a path to success.
Abby provides this amazing example of a life changing moment, when she watched a professional soccer player transition from “playing nice” and coaching others to realizing she was losing, turning on her competitive spirit and “demanding the ball”. In that moment, Abby realized she had spent a large portion of her life holding back, believing that if she was too competitive or trying too hard, she would outshine others, she would rub people the wrong way. But she realized it’s not only okay to be competitive, to be successful you need to own that competitive spirit and embrace it.
As I read this chapter, I could feel emotions flooding out of me. At first they were incredible, I could feel my own competitive spirit being unleashed.
I have been competitive and driven my whole life. I was born that way. My brother is that way. My parents are that way. We are a competitive family.
But from a young age it was clear to me that being competitive was not seen as a good thing. People used to describe me as competitive using the same tone of voice they used to use when they said I was “bossy”. I knew that these were not seen as good qualities. So I tried to quash them down, be less bossy, be less competitive. Sometimes those natural tendencies would come out, but those were not shining moments of my childhood – they often left me feeling embarrassed and put down by others. Interestingly, it was not men, but mostly women, particularly mothers, who made me feel like my bossiness and my competitiveness were harming other people.
Women have been told to not be competitive or bossy – is that holding you back from success?
All of a sudden instead of feeling empowered, I started having memories and emotions flooding back into my mind. For years, every summer, the kids on my street would hold our own Olympic games. It was an event that lasted several days, and took quite a bit of work to prepare. We would make medals out of the caps of frozen juice containers, with different colored ribbons for gold, silver, and bronze. I would create a large spreadsheet of all of the different events and all of the competitors so we could track each event and how many points people received so that people could get event specific medals and overall medals (yes, even as a child I made spreadsheets – these are the ways in which it is obvious that Abby and I approach life differently but can embrace the same lessons in our own way).
I was the oldest kid on our street, and I always took the lead. I took the lead organizing the events, I took the lead tracking the events, and I kind of ordered people around. Parents supported us, but for the most part it was all run by kids, although we clearly remember parents being there for certain events, like our swimming competitions. I was eight years old our first year, and it lasted at least four years.
While I have fond memories of our summer Olympics, I also feel this trepidation and embarrassment when I think about them. I can clearly remember adults referring to me as bossy. Using that word – bossy.
I can remember where I was standing on the back deck as they said it, feeling this deep, deep shame. I can remember people referring to my competitiveness. Even though I wasn’t an excellent athlete, and definitely didn’t win many events, I was still competitive, and it was clear to me that was not seen as a good thing.
As I lay in bed, after reading this chapter of Abby’s book, more and more memories flooded back to me like this, spanning childhood, adolescence, and even college. By graduate school, I had mostly learned to temper my competitiveness (although I bet you my grad school friends would still tell you they knew I was competitive). Since then, I let it out at random moments where it seems appropriate (e.g., work Christmas party games, board game nights).
But I never let myself be truly competitive in my work environment. It seems like that is far too taboo.
Women have been socialized that way – to ignore our competitiveness, to hide it, to be embarrassed by it, to be ashamed about it. We have been socialized this way and make career and life decisions avoiding competition. In their study “do women shy away from competition? Do men compete too much”, the authors found that 73% of men chose a competitive environment, while only 35% of women did. Think about the implications of that – if women don’t join in the competition, we’ve lost before we’ve even started.
Can women be competitive without wanting to be in the spotlight?
I struggled to fall asleep that night, and had very uneasy dreams all night long. When I woke up in the morning, I had another huge realization – I may be deeply competitive, but unlike many highly competitive and famous women I know, I do not crave the spotlight. I do not want to be the center of attention. I do not want people to look at me and talk about me.
Can you be competitive and want to win without wanting the spotlight? I started to wonder. I couldn’t think of any great role models.
I shared these thoughts with my husband over breakfast. We are huge tennis fans, and he came up with a great example of someone who is very competitive, but without wanting the spotlight – Roger Federer. It is such a great example. Roger Federer is clearly a very competitive man who wants to win and has been extremely successful. But he does not want the spotlight, does not relish the attention, and he does not seek it out. My husband commented that you can see after he wins a point, he celebrates for himself, but he doesn’t look up to the stands, he does not look to see how anyone else reacted, it’s only about him – he is in his own bubble.
The more I thought about it, I realized there are so many successful, very competitive women who don’t like the limelight. The reason I can’t think of them is because they are not in the media, their faces are not plastered on billboards, they keep themselves. Good for them. That is what they want.
There must be incredible competitive female athlete who don’t like the spotlight - if you know of any we should admire and look up, please comment below, I would love to have a growing list of them.
So maybe I can unleash my competitive spirit, re-claim my internal drive and motivation, without seeking the spotlight, without being the center of attention, yet proudly owning competitiveness as part of who I am. And do so without shame.
How working moms can unleash the competitive spirit to become successful women
Are you ready to step up the plate, demand the ball, and unleash your competitive spirit? Are you ready to own those parts of you that people have tamped down, insulted, degraded, and made you feel ashamed of?
What would it take for you to really own those amazing parts of your personality and leverage them to make your greatest contribution?
Share with us, inspire us, let us know how you unleash your potential.