Seeing Opportunity Where Others Don’t

By Sallie Krawcheck

So this is one of those articles in which I’m going to put on my “big sister” hat and give you a bit of career advice about why being uncomfortable can be a good thing. Yes. You read that right.

But I’ll also start by saying that I wouldn’t recommend my advice to everyone — we’re all in different places in our careers and in our lives. So proceed with caution.

When I first started out in my career as an equity research analyst, I was about to publish a pretty different-from-what-all-the-other-analysts-were-saying piece of research. Before I did just that, a “mentor” told me that I might want to reign myself in. That if my out-there research was wrong, it could hurt my reputation, and I could instead make a really good living by “staying in the pack.” That in-the-pack is the comfortable place to be. That I was going to upset the company I was writing about with my not-very-flattering research. And who needs enemies, right?

These warnings certainly resonated with me. Probably because so many of us women have been socialized to make people happy, smooth things over, and be peacekeepers.

But I’ve always been headstrong — and I didn’t like the idea of staying in the safety of the pack. So I published that research. And made some waves. And got a talking-down-to from the company that it was about.

But then the scenario I had dared to lay out in my research actually happened. The “consensus” had been wrong.

Cue adrenaline and endorphins — and trying to compose my face to look like “Yeah, I was never worried about my out-there call” in front of others in my industry.

The lesson I learned, then and so many other times in my career: If you’re going to stick your neck out, you’d better get used to being uncomfortable. You’re going to have to be uncomfortable — and maybe alone — before you’re right.

This lesson holds for research analysts but it can also hold for women in all kinds of fields: The biggest leaps in my career happened when my team and I had come to a different conclusion than others and marched in our own direction.

This is also exactly what happened with Ellevest. When we founded the company, a lot of people told us, “women don’t need their own financial company built for them.” And, “a lot of other people have tried this and failed, so there’s no reason to think your team will be successful.”

The messages we receive from society around money paint a picture for us that isn’t true and that can be — no, that is — harmful. And in many ways, it can be worse than the search for physical perfection, because these misperceptions about our ability to manage money can hold us back from investing, from asking for the raise, from building a budget that works for us. And the ripple effects can last into the rest of our lives.

Believe me, it was uncomfortable. And some days it still is. (Though these days, I also get calls from a number of those initial naysayers asking me to hire their daughters.)

Discomfort is not for everyone … particularly because it increases the risk of failure, and perhaps public failure. (I’ve had my share of that, too.) But getting comfortable being uncomfortable can also be a path to career breakthroughs.

For more on being comfortable being uncomfortable, and other lessons I’ve learned building Ellevest, check out my interview on Inc. Magazine’s What I Know podcast.

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Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck is the Founder & CEO of Ellevest.