The philosophy of interconnectedness--the sense that no one is an island, that we are inextricably linked to our community, and that the decisions we make will have a meaningful impact on it--continues to grow in prominence. We learn more every day about how even the smallest of decisions--say, using canvas bags when shopping, rather than plastic--can yield positive dividends. We are learning to take less for granted, that our engagement with our environment is not a passive one at all.
My own career has been shaped by an engagement in my community and by the connections I have established with other women leaders. I have served as a senior advisor to California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as president of the Earth Communications Office, as a co-founder of the Hollywood Women's Political Committee, as an entertainment and public policy lawyer. I now work as an operating advisor to Pegasus Capital Advisors, helping to find the right kinds of companies to invest in: companies with smart, sustainable business models.
It would have been impossible for me to have charted this career in advance. It is hardly linear. What makes it invigorating is that I don't need to have a clear idea of my next step. If I am engaged and active, I will meet new people, discover fresh opportunities. My next step will present itself if I make the effort to stay connected. These three steps can help you to be an engaged member of your business community:
1) Find a trusted mentor and become one yourself.
How? Teach a class at a local college. Establish an internship program and be available to help your friends' kids when they seek career and life advice. The woman you admire but don't personally know? Seek her out, send her a note, and take her to lunch. Wisdom is currency. So earn it, and spend it! All successful women have had help along the way, so mentoring a young woman is a way to "pay it forward." It is both a rewarding and enriching experience. When I was serving as Senior Advisor to Governor Schwarzenegger, I volunteered to participate as a mentor in the fellowship program. I hired a young woman from a California state college and went the extra mile to include her in meetings and discuss lessons learned with her. Now, four years later, with great career advancement, she still calls me to seek mentoring. We both learn from each other.
2) Embrace honesty.
You may have to learn to let go of opinions that you hold dear. The ability to think differently, to understand that our own opinions aren't engraved in stone, is a sign of mental strength. It isn't easy. We tend to defend our beliefs aggressively, selectively choosing the data that reinforce what we think and explaining away, or outright ignoring, the data that do not. Smart people change their minds when presented with new facts; only the obstinate cling to opinions in the face of contrary evidence. The women you seek out as mentors may challenge you. They may force you to reexamine your worldview. The women you mentor will challenge you as well, of course; they will examine your beliefs through an entirely different lens. An openness to debate, and a willingness to embrace an opinion different than yours, is the path to mental maturity. Mentoring relationships succeed when they encourage this sort of give-and-take.
3) Get in the game!
I am fortunate to serve on the board of the California Women's Conference, an annual one-day gathering of women brought together to address the issues affecting women. Past speakers at the Women's Conference have included Oprah Winfrey, Queen Rania of Jordan, the boxer Laila Ali, the singer Joan Baez. What a resource they represent! The California Women's Conference is open to women throughout California, and more than 14,000 entrepreneurs, political leaders, educators, and industry executives attended last year. Find your own Women's Conference, or one like it. In fact, you can start searching here: http://www.inc.com/resources/women/recommended.html.
Get out there and go. Everyone has an interesting story — make theirs a part of yours.