I was having lunch yesterday with a wonderful group of women friends. One of them, Ann Marie, founded a wildly successful dance studio called Millennium. It has been, and continues to be immortalized by the likes of JLo, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Usher, Britney Spears and Justin Beiber. Her company is about to be franchised and branded. On top of that, she and her husband are negotiating between 3 huge offers for reality TV shows centered around her studio. I suggested that it would be timely for her to write a book about how she built her company.
Ann M: “That’s so funny, I get asked to tell my story all the time!”
Me: “I’m not surprised, you’re an inspiration! How did you start?”
Ann M: “My husband and I came out from NYC, we were both dancers, and I opened a dance studio while he interned with film companies, as a means of supporting us.”
Me: “What was the success factor? Plenty of people open dance studios! How did you attract your A-list dance clientele?”
Ann M: “I guess we had a lot of magic!”
Me: “WHAT?!” I lost it – in the friendliest way. “You attribute your success to MOJO?! You give all the credit to an intangible?
Ann M: “Yes, I guess I do! “
Me: “Don’t you realize that you are a role model for others?”
Ann M. squirmed. She was being a good sport and hadn’t told me to mind my own beeswax yet! But I could see how uncomfortable she was with the notion of owning her position in the world.
Me: Can you see that your answer is not helpful for those looking to emulate your success?”
Ann M: “Yes, I can, absolutely. I guess I am trying to make them feel that even if they lacked the particular skills that I had, there is still a chance to be successful.”
Me: ”But how can people replicate magic?”
Ann M: “There is a formula to magic that makes perfect logical sense to me.”
Me: “It makes sense to you – but not to anyone else! When most people think of magic, they think of waving a wand and Hey Presto! Abracadabra! Magic, to most people, is glorified luck – not a success strategy – at least not outside of The Magic Castle!”
At this point, Katie, the owner of The Actor’s Key, the most successful actor/casting director studio in LA, piped in, “Oh my God, I do exactly the same thing! When people ask me that question, I always say that it was luck!”
Me: “Can you imagine a man giving that as an answer?!”
We all laughed at the absurdity of the idea. Not unless they were Austin Powers! Give me some Mojo Baby!
Me: “Girls, your response could be interpreted as an unwillingness to be transparent and share your mastery. I am sure that is not your intention. I still don’t understand why, in this day and age, so many successful women can be so reluctant to claim their skill and have a tendency to downplay their success.”
Could such Victorian terms as ‘feminine modesty’ persist? That’s an ugly thought. Is it unladylike to admit to fighting to climb to the top? Is it our way of being humble? Not wanting to seem full of ourselves? Was it seen as vulgar and tacky for us to toot our own horn? Would we be seen as braggadocios? Were we trying to avoid jealousy? Were we afraid to threaten men and alienate other women? And, worst of all, were we afraid of being labeled the terrible B-word?
Katie: “Powerful females are so often portrayed in the media as bitches.” How true. It was the cultural stereotype.
Deep down, we determined that it all came down to a fear of isolation. We didn’t want to do anything that could threaten our relationships. Women valued friendship, connection and community so highly, that we were willing to diminish our value rather than be alone.
We wanted to be liked, at all cost.
This seemed so primal, as if our very survival depended on us not being separated from our tribe.
Men would never think in those terms – Likeability isn’t a focus. Friendship doesn’t have the same importance to them, and it isn’t a challenge for them to take ownership of their success. They shrug off terms like ruthless and cutthroat. We shudder at the idea of those labels!
Since that lunch, Ann has already outlined her holistic path to success. I look forward to reading about her fascinating and enlightening journey!
The rest of us have our homework cut out for us – we have to come up with new ways that we can fully take ownership as powerful, successful women. Time to let the proverbial cat out of the bag!