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Getting to the Top

A Finance Fellows, FBIS, and SSWS Event

By Rasshmi Shankar
On November 16, 2009


Inspired by yet another bout of procrastination, I attended the Getting to the Top event last week. Despite my motivations, I am now really that that I went. I was having one of my most grueling and buys weeks of the semester; and attending the event midway through the week, as corny as it sounds, inspired me to plug through and find a renewed energy. Now, maybe just reading about it will help one of you get through a rough week.  
    Set up like a panel discussion, the event had many top executives and entrepreneurs answering a set of questions. The initial question asked how the panel members got to the top of their careers and achieved success. There were the usual answers about finding your passion, staying determined and focused, and not letting things getting in the way; but a couple of other answers really captured my attention. First, that you have to understand your core values and know what you are willing to do to gain success. The importance of philanthropy and giving back to the community really resonated with me. One panel member suggested that by simply chasing dollars, you will continue to just chase dollars; however, if you do something for others, money will chase you. Whether or not being "chased by money" is your main goal, helping others never hurts; so pay it forward as you climb the corporate ladder.
    The next question, about the importance of a mentor, received a wide variety of answers. When I first heard the word "mentor," I thought of someone that I would know and interact with, someone who acted like a parent figure guiding me through tough career moves. I was correct in some ways, including that mentors are generally someone older, wiser, and more experienced. I failed to realize that, according to the panelists, a mentor is someone who you have to trust completely and someone who believes in you. It's important that the mentor believes in you and gives you responsibilities that will help you grow. In this sense, a mentor has to be someone you know and are in touch with. However, this type of personal relationship doesn't just appear out of thin air. It is so important to ask questions and actively seek that relationship. Otherwise, you are going to be just like every other person around you. One of the more surprising and actually rather comforting answers to me came from a panelist who said that she has mentors who don't even know that they are her mentors. I was a little confused until I realized that, like me, she was someone who avidly read biographies and drew inspiration from the tales of others' success. This way, anyone can be your mentor, and you can have them at anytime you want; they are simply in a book on your bookshelf.
     When asked about their biggest challenge or surprise, the panelists offered similar answers. They mostly talked of realizing how important it is to make opportunities because they just don't sit in front of you. One panelist explored how speaking to yourself in a positive manner makes a lot of difference. She recommended asking yourself "How can I?" instead of telling yourself "I can't." Others stressed the importance of personal integrity and doing what is right as you continue to climb to the top, because the further you get the graver your mistakes can get. Please, take heed of her advice, and don't become the next Enron scandal.
   The last question asked was certainly the most interesting and became my favorite part of the night. The panelists were asked if they had experienced and/or witnessed  inequalities in the workforce as either women or minorities and if so, what they did about it.  As someone who tries to predict how people are going to answer questions, I assumed the answers would be all about how unfair the corporate world is and the daily struggle of women in the business world. The answers not only pleasantly surprised me, they excited me.  Most of them said that the workplace is really changing and that things are getting a lot better. One very passionate panelist really said it the best and received a lot of appreciative and knowing nods. She said that just being a minority or a woman aren't entitlements. The work you put in is the only thing that counted. As someone who strongly believes in making your own success, this idea was music to my ears. She said that as long as you show up seriously and are ready to be taken seriously, the world would have no choice but to take you seriously.
    At the end of the day, lots of important and motivational things were said; and if you really listened, the advice given was priceless. So perhaps if you are having a rough week this week, or you are ready to head out into the real world, maybe these answers will be the reason you successfully make it through. Remember, successful people in the business world took time out of their schedules to share their insights with us, so it couldn't have been for nothing!

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