Thrive on Campus//

How Geena Davis Earned Her Success

And ten ways you can too.

Andrea Raffin/Shutterstock
Andrea Raffin/Shutterstock

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I tossed and turned on ideas to celebrate International Women’s Month — I thought of dozens of women and all the work they’ve done and how I could possibly feature them all… but then I remembered one story in particular that truly changed my outlook on ambition and how much power and influence we have on earning success.

In May, I was at my second day of my internship in a brand new city, all by myself. One of my teammates asked if I’d like to attend the Keyholder Speaker event for the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. Free event to listen to inspiring women tell their stories? Sign me up.

There were several women who told their stories of how they had contributed to their local community, I searched high and low for their names and stories, but unfortunately they will be remaining a memory.

The focal point of the event was the authentic discussion between Geena Davis (Yes, Thelma) and Dr. Roxanne Gay.

Geena Davis transformed her acting career into an activist’s mission for women’s rights in media. She founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media after having her daughter and while watching cartoons with her, noticed a distinct character missing. Character meaning any inspiring women. She’s also invested countless resources into human trafficking victims and aiding in ending this horrendous crime.

Dr. Roxanne Gay is a novelist and author of “Bad Feminist”, which I immediately purchased as soon as I left the event. If you’ve ever felt like you’ve committed a sin against women so you can’t possibly be a good feminist, think again.

Inviting me to this event was literally like letting a kid into a candy store and giving them $20. It was one of the most inspiring events I have ever been to, and the fact that I had been living in the city for four whole days made it even that much better.

There was one moment, however, that not only gave me chills, but changed my mindset for the entire summer to follow, and resonates with me still to this day. I believe Geena had been talking about the number of women in media compared to men, and this reminded her of a time in college. She said she was sitting in one of her acting classes at the beginning of her collegiate career, and the professor told her whole class that they were heading down a difficult path, and that likely, only one of them would become successful. Davis then said she looked around the room and thought to herself “Oh, these poor kids”, because she knew that one was going to be her.

She knew success was hers for the taking.

Women are frequently taught to be humble about their accomplishments or they’re likely going to be called that beloved b-word. There’s a huge difference between being arrogant and believing in you. You are allowed to believe in yourself.

I realized after this event that the entry way to the road of success begins with your mindset. Wanting to succeed is not enough; you have to allow yourself to succeed. Silencing your inner saboteur is just as important as all the work you put in. 

What do I mean by that? Here’s what not allowing yourself success like:

1. Downplaying or doubting your abilities to others

Women are very guilty of deflecting compliments, especially at work. Compliments can sometimes come infrequently, so why turn them away when they do come? Of course you don’t want to look conceited or full of yourself, but if you’ve done something so well that you’re getting praise for it — soak it in, say thank you, and keep moving.

2. Apologizing for everything

Earning credibility as a woman can be difficult, so apologizing frequently can make you seem uncertain, and eventually once others catch on, you can end of taking the fall for their mishaps, because they know you’ll apologize regardless, so why not blame you? This doesn’t mean to cut out apologizing all together — if someone is angry or upset, it’s okay to console them and apologize that they’re feeling this way, here’s what I mean by that:

A good example: “I’m having a horrible week — my car broke down and now I think I’m getting sick!” “That’s awful, I’m sorry you’re going through all of that, let me know if you need any help with anything.”

A bad example: “I’m looking for the payroll person, is that you?” “Oh no, I’m sorry, they sit over there.”

Suppose you’re late for a meeting due to another meeting going over, instead of “I’m so sorry for being late, my other meeting ran over!”, you can instead say “Thank you all for waiting on me, I had to book a meeting prior to this and it ran over.”

3. Having little to no confidence in yourself

This goes hand in hand with #2, owning your work and your actions is a key part to success. Davis exemplified confidence in my earlier example, she looked around, saw dozens of other talented aspiring actors, but knew she could outperform them, and she wasn’t afraid to admit it.

If you don’t believe in yourself, why should others?

I’ve seen this frequently in interviews, especially while answering “What is your greatest strength?” Countless women start to answer this with “Uhm I’m not too sure… I’m really good at helping others and I’ll do anything for anyone”. Have confidence in what you’ve done yourself. You can only earn success by owning what you’re best at, and you need to be able to communicate your expertise to others confidently.

4. Running from the unknown

Success doesn’t just take hard work, it requires a lot of courage; it’s understandable to be afraid of failure, but avoiding anything unfamiliar is a surefire way to put yourself into a very narrow box. As you colleagues continue to branch out and you refuse, the walls around you become tighter and tighter and you’ll notice your opportunities condensing as well.

5. Assuming success is given to those who are lucky

This is something I’ve heard a lot; it’s a rather backhanded compliment. For example, “I’m so excited; I just got another internship offer!” — “Another? Wow, you’re so lucky!” Luck does not sustain a successful career — strategic and purposeful decisions do. Sure, sometimes things happen at the right place and right time, but nobody just has an entire success story where luck continually carried them to where they are.

6. Pitying yourself

This is for everyone who has ever read about another successful person and thought they’d never be like them for a long list of reasons. Don’t you think they had a long list of reasons as well? The only difference is that they took that list, flipped it over, and used the other side to write their goals and plans to make them happen.

7. Not putting in the work

You have to remember that while you have to allow yourself to earn success, your mindset won’t carry you on a magic gust of wind. You still need to funnel your time and dedication into your work, and don’t make excuses.

8. Putting others down

If one thing is for sure, clawing others down will not lift you up. Forming relationships with others is crucial for success, both personal and professional. Even if you manage to earn success alone, it doesn’t feel very rewarding if you’re standing at the top all alone.

9. Running away from feedback

Feedback is a crucial piece to self-development and growth. If it makes you uncomfortable, then it’s probably good feedback. Push any feelings of failure or disappointment aside and derive what you need to work on next. It’s not enough in life we know exactly what we should be doing, so when you’re told exactly what you should work on next, embrace it! Ask how you’re doing periodically — don’t wait for your annual review to see how you’re performing. Ask others for advice, look for additional resources, find a new mentor; Feedback is simply the door to a new learning opportunity.

10. Not setting goals for yourself or celebrating your accomplishments

Just as Olympic archers are excellent at hitting their targets, successful women need the same aim and direction. If you’re working tirelessly but have no goals in mind, you’d look like one of these archers just spinning in circles, clearly wasting their talents.

Some of these are very difficult roadblocks to overcome, but with some patience, forgiveness, and ambition, each and every one of you can find your success.

Originally published at WilledWomen.com

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

9 Eye-Opening Truths About the College Mental Health Crisis

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

Student Mental Health: Behind the Scenes at Stanford


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