What Holds Women Back?

In Motivating Women by Mary Robb

It was a sunny April morning when the call came in. “Mary, we’re excited to offer you the assistant account executive role at our growing advertising agency. We’d like to offer you a $28,000 annual salary, full benefits, and access to a 401K plan.” After a week of interviews in Dallas, I was just one month away from graduating with my degree in public relations and business from Texas Tech University. I had chills all over my body and instantly said, “YES! I’ll take it!”

The #1 goal of my last semester in college was to find a job. The last thing I wanted to do was graduate with a degree and go back to babysitting and waiting tables, so I was on top of the world landing my first “real” job. I had no idea what was on the horizon, but I was wide eyed and ready to learn as much as I possibly could.

It wasn’t until I signed the lease on my Dallas apartment that I realized the salary I agreed to would cover my rent, my car payment, a few bills, and maybe a box of Kraft Macaroni. That was when I first started asking myself, “what do I need to do to make more money?”.

I started going down the list: I took on multiple part time jobs, I started a blog, and I began networking. Then I thought, why don’t I just ask for more money at my current job? What was holding me back from approaching the company I was at?

For me, it was partially confidence, but also partially lack of knowledge. It might sound silly, but I didn’t even realize that I could negotiate or ask for more. It was my boyfriend at the time who encouraged me to do so. But first I wanted to prove myself. So I spent six months working my tail off, proving my value, getting everything and more done on time, delivering beyond the expectations set for me, and consistently asking for more work. 

When I finally mustered up the courage to schedule a meeting with my boss and ask for a raise, it was a simple five minute conversation that ended in, “sure, you do a great job.”

That was it.

This big conversation that had caused me anxiety for weeks ended with an easy “yes”.

And that’s when I learned that you get what you ask for. 

Fast forward to the first company Christmas party I would attend. At dinner I intentionally chose to sit next to the owners so I could talk to them and continue to build that relationship. My boyfriend at the time asked, “So what’s it like working with Mary?”. The owner answered with some nice things, but to be honest, I forgot most of what he said aside from, “she’s really aggressive” followed by a short laugh. You know how they say jokes aren’t really jokes? That’s how that one felt. 

At the time I was slightly embarrassed and ashamed that he saw me as an aggressive woman. Despite being raised in a generation of strong women, my self confidence was still dependent on what others thought about me. I grew up in a culture that still encouraged women to be calm, chill, go with the flow, passive, empathetic, submissive, and easily approachable. Many of these traits were a challenge for me as I was always highly energetic, direct, and chomping at the bit for more. 

There have been many moments in my life where someone with authority said or did something that made me feel less than. I don’t think it was always with bad intentions. But I had to learn that the only person who had control of the outcome of my life was me. 

Either I was going to let these silly comments that didn’t get a second thought of the person saying them define me, or I would sharpen my confidence and get real with myself on who I am.

Aggressive makes a great entrepreneur. Aggressive makes a great executer. Aggressive makes a fantastic visionary. Aggressive increases the bottom line. I eventually learned that that small talk dinner joke would end up being a statement that–while it hurt at the time–was true. And it was something I actually should not be ashamed of.

Everything changed for me after that first job. I learned the lesson that a little confidence paired with a little courage can take you a long way. Once I figured out that I had control of my career, my income, and my mindset, I worked on it nonstop.

I spent time sharpening my skills, worked for multiple companies, and set goals in each role I accepted. The last job I held taught me lessons that would help me start my first company.

I was approached via LinkedIn (see, social media works!!) to do outside sales for a startup company. My biggest fear in life is failing. I always shied away from sales because it was intimidating. What if I didn’t reach my monthly quota? What if I am not convincing enough? What if I fail?

I’m the kind of person who can’t convince you of something that I don’t personally believe in. But this role was simply about helping businesses grow through digital marketing. And I realized very quickly that sales isn’t as scary as it sounds if you’re selling something you genuinely believe in.

The first few months as a “sales person” I fought hard with my anxiety, but with a wonderful boss and a strong support network around me, I got to the other side of it on top. Within a year I became the #1 sales rep at the company.

Again, the mindset and fears that were holding me back from going after a role that would accelerate my career were defeated. I have proven to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to. My experience built my confidence, which led to opening the door to endless opportunities. 

Aggressive is one of the top skills any sales person needs. Being direct and communicating clearly, leading people as you’re helping solve their problems is also a huge part of it. After learning the business development process, building up a referral network, and saving my money, I found myself in a position to quit my job and start my own business.

What I once thought was an embarrassing comment, is now what I’m most proud of. One of the most common reasons I see women holding back is confidence. It’s the fear of the “what if I can’t” or “what if I fail”?. It’s the feeling that you don’t want to be “that person” to rock the boat or cause a scene. 

That’s where I say, but what if you can?  What if you try? What if you find something on the other side that positively changes your entire world? Or what if your courage positively impacts your family and friends?

Every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow. The way I see it is this: time is our most valuable asset. Why waste it holding back from pursuing your dreams?