“…At first I thought I was in the wrong job, it was very stressful and male dominated. Then, after changing jobs, I thought…well it must be (that I’m in) the wrong country and I moved to Europe! Then, I considered perhaps I was in the wrong line of work. It turns out, I love my line of work,” said Morra Aarons-Mele, Author, Podcast Host and Entrepreneur. I nodded, smiling as I listened to the self-described ‘work/life rebel’ explain why she started her own business. She added, “It took an ‘a-ha’ moment to realize the panic attacks and unhappiness that prompted me to keep quitting jobs was about how I was doing the work. I didn’t want office politics or the BS. The environment over stimulated me. I wanted to work from home.”
After a mutual friend told me about her new book, on networking for introverts and I learned she’s local, I had to meet her!
“My book is about networking for hermits.” I laughed because after speaking with her for a few minutes, she came across as anything but a hermit! Morra is sharp, funny and was completely at ease sharing the painful struggle with anxiety and depression that sucked joy from her early career. Brave and definitely not hermit-like! She admits, “You probably wouldn’t guess I’m an introvert and I never realized it until much later!”
Whether you agree building a network is worthy (but lack the time) or you’ve categorized ‘networking’ as that awkward-small-talk-with-strangers-to-be-avoided, you’re in for a treat! Extrovert, introvert or someplace in-beween, Morra’s hard-earned lessons about reaching your professional goals are brilliant, practical and yes, particularly well suited for busy Moms.
Control Your Destiny
Early career, there’s hyper-focus on competency. Getting it and then demonstrating it, whenever possible. This energy, is like rocket fuel applied to a linear path where following rules yields the ‘atta-girl’ badges we crave – promotions, more money, better challenges and the gift of mentoring teams. The validation, when it comes, is delicious!
At senior levels, the expectations and tactics needed to shine at work change, often without warning, causing many women’s careers to stall. Most (exhausted) Mommies lack the energy required for reinvention at the time it’s needed most. When we’re raised to (mistakenly) believe success naturally follows hard work and integrity, networking feels like extra-credit . Like most self-care, professional development, especially when it happens at un-family-friendly hours rarely reaches the priority list.
In Tiffany Dufu’s book, Drop the Ball she elaborates “Even though women are half the workforce, they still represent only 18 percent of the highest-level leaders. The reasons are obvious: just as women reach middle management they are also starting families. Mounting responsibilities at work and home leave them with no bandwidth to do what will most lead to their success.” Dufu later in her book, exhalts networking as one of four key things imperative to ascend.
Although the book will resonate with introverts, Morra’s tactics, thoughtful short-cuts and strategies offer a stellar blueprint for anyone seeking to build more flexibility and/or visibility into her chosen flavor of work/life.
Escape from Corporate America
In her book, Morra describes what ultimately prompted her break-up with the traditional achievement path. “It was during my final corporate job, when under the ubiquitous florescent lights, I realized I was allergic to them. They give me migraines. And as long as I had to show up and sit under those lights for ten-plus hours a day, simply because I was expected to I could never be happy.”
When I asked if she started her own business for the autonomy or to better manage her energy, she quickly replied, “Both! But this is not just for entrepreneurs. I know several high-powered corporate people that have the kind of network that allows them to produce (i.e. those in senior Sales or Business Development roles) and set their own schedules.”
How To Do It
As always, I wanted details! Moms I meet, doing incredible things professionally, personally or in the community; have found the right formula to move from idea to execution. I spoke with Morra before I started reading her book (which is excellent by the way) and she was kind to share actionable tips about how she built an extraordinary network of support, enabling the dream-career and schedule she thrives in.
She knew to maintain momentum as an entrepreneur, establishing a strong network would be critical. Morra said, “Building a professional brand, is an essential investment in your family and schedule you have to make.” Okay, I’m in. How?
1. Pay attention to key drivers of your goals.
Morra said she stepped back to review the outcomes of her meetings and commitments. “Where did I meet the people that drive my business? Which events and connections worked out? Which didn’t?” By analyzing how she spent her time, she could be strategic about when to say yes to activities and events. Although she travels a lot for her work, it’s not necessary to attend every event to meet people. She shared, “Most people know ‘super-connectors’ (those people who know everybody) maybe you just need to spend time with them.”
2. Commit to activities that play to your strengths.
As with life, networking approaches are not one-size-fits-all, “Find what works for you. For example, if networking in person is not your thing, consider writing for a trade publication, LinkedIn or Medium.” She acknowledges the power of the in-person connection and has designed a ratio of being ‘on’ with others balanced by independent ‘off’ time. She said, “For 2 days a week, I’m out traveling and meeting with people and the other 3 days are spent working at home.” She maximizes the ‘on’ days for networking. She’s even established a rule about frequency whether in person or virtual. She explained, “I have 10 touches with my network per week, I’m diligent and intentional about that.”
3. Fight Mom guilt!
What about Mom guilt? I explained how surveyed Moms still express feeling tremendous guilt when they take time for self-care or professional growth. She laughed at the mention of the dreaded Mom guilt we’ve all faced. Morra explained she had her first son during grad school and has been a Mom the entire time she’s run her business. “…Some women step back (from their careers) because their partner earns more or because they’re the primary caregiver.” She advocates to fight that and said, “(Choose) I’m going to this networking event or conference because it’s great for my career.’ Even when a spouse or partner is the primary breadwinner, that may not be true in 5 years.” Yes! Few women consider the hidden cost of investing in their partner’s career progress at the expense of their own. She also suggests getting outside perspective from other working parents to put investing in one’s career into context.
4. Get a grip on FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
She has a whole section of the book about how social media connectivity promotes FOMO. Morra said, “I call it achievement porn.… seeing everyone else’s successes. We’re constantly getting alerts about how someone in our network just joined a high-profile board or is quoted in the press. You can’t make good personal choices if you’re looking over your shoulder.” Her ethos is all about tuning into what’s best for you and setting goals that lead to your happy place.
I was so jazzed by our conversation! Like many of the impressive superwomen I’ve met, she’s living her intentions – in her work and with her family, while also choosing self-care in a big way. An authentic professional identity that honors her time, talent and ambition.
Are there some tips you want to put into practice? Leave a comment and let me know. Go on, you’ve got this!
More About Morra and The Book
Time management tips, i.e. how to say no and carve out quiet time.
Tools to control your ‘pace, place and space’ as an entrepreneur or within an organization.
A 16-point guide for networking at events… yes, you are about to level-up your fall conference game!
Building your niche and online professional brand.
Selling and negotiating like yourself.