“We excel at looking great on paper, but the question is how great are you doing on the inside?” said Chinwe Esimai, Author, Attorney and Financial Services Leader.
Many of us seek validation and voice, through a prescribed path to success. But between the leadership gap and Motherhood penalty, we often feel undermined in traditional careers. Because following the rules tends to work differently for women. And the outcomes are abysmal for women of color. But there are ways to find your path, rise and stay whole in the process. Chinwe shares how she, and the women leaders interviewed for her new book, did it.
Work in Alignment With your Gifts
Chinwe put her creative stamp on a very traditional career, long before she was inspired to write her book. Brillance Beyond Borders. She combined her legal training, passion for justice and desire to elevate marginalized countries, into a unique specialty. She also writes, podcasts and mentors others. “For a lot of people their corporate identity becomes internal to their organization. And for a variety of reasons, they’re not sharing it beyond that.” She explained. “So, I feel blessed that there’s real synergy between my external interests and what I do at Citibank. They feed each other in a beautiful way so, I feel fortunate.”
Be Intentional About Your Legacy
Chinwe realized that although her path is unique, there must be other role models living their brilliance. She’s from Nigeria and was curious how other women, from different countries, established themselves in the US. Although their perspectives and regions are quite diverse, there were commonalities. She said, “All of them are very thoughtful about who they were born to be and what they want to do in this world. So, it’s very deliberate. They’re not accidental leaders. And they’re very conscious of their role in the world.”
Create Your Own Definition of Success
Many of us from immigrant families are spurred by our parents to seek linear paths. But the women she profiled developed well rounded views of achievement. She said, “They don’t just come to the US and think, ‘the journey is over’ when they accomplish a particular title or role. When I asked each of the women to define success, for some, it’s health. And for others, it’s being there for their families but it’s also contributing to the world in some unique way.”
She explained there were different flavors. “It’s not about being indoctrinated to a particular definition of success. It’s being thoughtful about what your drivers are. What do you want to do, who are you going to be and then determine, what does success look like for you?”
Send the Elevator Back Down
In whatever field you’ve chosen, finding success can feel punishing. Particularly when you’re an only. Chinwe shared how early in her career, she sought role models who had the life she aspired to. Yet couldn’t find many senior women and if she did, none had children. So, as her career grew, she prioritized mentoring others.
Chinwe said, “When you’re blazing a new trail, sometimes it can feel lonely. But because making sure that people are not lonely is such a critical piece for me, I don’t tell people it’s lonely at the top. Because when you’re giving back, as you’re journeying yourself, it doesn’t feel lonely. I often joke with my friends and say, I don’t have a Netflix bingeing obsession, I obsess about mentoring people!”
And Find the Right Support
There still aren’t many women or people of color in finance or law. Chinwe said, “I’ve always found mentors, even if they don’t look like me.” In the book, a common theme among women she featured, was finding the right kind of help on their path to brilliance.
Many experienced challenges in their careers, health or suffered trauma. Despite the societal messages we get, about independence, support is an important part of success. Chinwe explained, “It’s essential to get the right kind of help. So, for example processing grief, requires a different type of expertise. So, make sure you’re getting the right resources.” Amen!
Honor Your Spiritual Wellbeing
Chinwe shared another common theme among leaders she interviewed. “It’s feeding and fueling your spiritual side, whatever that is for you. For a lot of the women, and for me as well, being able to nurture that has been a real source of strength. Because we are we are spiritual beings. So, I think that’s a critical aspect of the journey.”
She is diligent about setting intentions, including goals related to her faith. She explained, “And the intentions can be anything from going on a retreat to doing particular things in the community.” Can intentions work for all-things-wellbeing?
Set Intentions for Your Health
Why, yes. Chinwe sets intentions for everything that impacts her wellness. It’s brilliant! She explained, “Another one is physical health. And those intentions include exercise, sleep and hydration. Setting intentions and goals around this has helped me. Because there was a time that I wasn’t as diligent around preventative health. So, for the past three or four years, that’s been a huge shift. Now, I’m very regular with dentist cleanings and physicals. Because I highly value preventive health.” Chinwe is also intentional about relationships.
And Your Relationships
She said, “With my husband, it’s everything from are we spending enough time together? Or finding ways, whether it’s date night or movie night to connect. What are the things that I know he needs to feel supported?” We often set and forget with our partners. But all healthy relationships need care.
Chinwe also sets goals for relationships with her children. She said, “What does each of them need? Academically or for their overall wellbeing, sports, or interests.” Our kids are always evolving.
She added, “Relationships is a broad term. So, there are my parents, siblings and friendships that I also want to nurture. Another category is emotions and meaning. So, what kind of meaning am I giving to things that are happening?” And because our lives aren’t static, she revisits her intentions quarterly.
Give Yourself a Theme Word
Chinwe is also intentional about her career. She said, “Whether it’s with my role at work or what I’m doing with the book or podcast.” She explained that she has a keyword for a particular quarter or year, based on her overall goals. “I have different things that I say to myself, some of my friends call it a battle cry. I usually have a word for the year and create words for the week that I use to remind myself to shift my emotions to the right state.” Beautiful!
She shared. “My word for the year is bolder. It’s about being courageous and not afraid to take the risks that need to be taken. Especially because the book is coming out this year. I want to make sure that I’m in the right frame of mind for all of the challenges that are coming. And as things continue to shift, being courageous enough, not to run from any of it.” Amen. She added, “It’s being ready!”
Give Back, Play
Her goal categories include giving back. “Making contributions, through volunteering and charitable giving.” And countless studies show how giving makes us feel good.
She added, “The last category is play and that’s something that I have come to give more weight to. It’s hobbies and things I do purely for fun. Sometimes that could involve doing things with the kids but often it’s learning a new skill. There are certain African dance moves that I would see people do. So, I just added learning that as a fun goal. And it doubles up as celebration.”
And Celebrate. Everything
“One of the things that a lot of leaders and people who are very driven don’t do, is celebrate. And I’ve been guilty of that. I just finished recording my audiobook yesterday. And one of my friends who’s a coach said, ‘you better make sure you celebrate.’ So, now I’m much better about pausing to celebrate and dance. I did it twice this week. We also had a milestone at Citi. And on my team, we joke about me doing a happy dance. So, I sent them an email that said, the dance has been completed.”
Many thanks to the talented Chinwe Esimai!
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Chinwe Esimai is an award-winning lawyer, trailblazing corporate executive, writer, and speaker who is passionate about inspiring generations of women leaders. She is the author of the upcoming book, Brilliance Beyond Borders: Remarkable Women Leaders Share the Power of Immigrace and host of the Brilliance Beyond Borders Podcast.
She is Managing Director and Chief Anti-Bribery Officer at Citigroup, Inc. She is the first person to hold this title in the bank’s history. Prior to Citi, she spent a combined five years at Goldman Sachs in various regulatory risk management roles. She served as a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. She began her career as a corporate associate at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, LLP. She obtained a B.A. in Political Science, summa cum laude, from the City College of NY, and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and three children.Tags: Achieving Goals, Book Review, Career Development for Moms, healthy family relationships, leadership, Moms Career Growth, professional development, work life integration for Moms