When Christy Rutherford was in college, a friend, who had recently joined the Coast Guard, came home from boot camp driving a Mitsubishi 3000GT. That was the moment Christy decided she too was going to join the Coast Guard.
Christy built a thriving career in the Coast Guard, becoming the 13th African American woman to achieve the rank of Commander in the Coast Guard’s 225 year history. This is especially astonishing, considering that her demographic made up only 0.1%.
She has also published five #1 best selling books on Amazon, graduated from Harvard Business School, and now runs her own successful executive coaching business.
How did she do it? Grit.
On our latest Cannonball Mindset podcast, Christy shared her story, along with several lessons she learned about earning your seat at the table (and then defending it).
Expect Disrespect (But Deal With It)
As only the 13th African American woman to be promoted to her rank, Christy faced disobedience, denial, and disrespect.
In the Coast Guard, it is expected that you salute officers when you pass them. But Christy says that 50 percent of white men would not salute her. When she gave orders, her subordinates simply wouldn’t follow them.
<“I had Tiffany crystals, and all these awards, but what does that mean if you don’t have peace, if you don’t have joy? — Christy Rutherford>
Christy recalls the moment she had finally earned her seat at the 8 o’clock meeting. All the high ranking officers were in the 8 o’clock meeting, so Christy had aspired to make it to this meeting her whole career. When she finally made it, she realized her fight had really only begun. She had earned her seat, but now it was time to defend it.
If you’re a woman or minority who has achieved success in your organization, you can expect disrespect. You might feel anger or rage, but Christy came through with words of wisdom: Don’t let somebody’s judgement of you change how you see yourself. Understanding who you really are is what allows you to change the world.
When you earn a seat at the table, expect disrespect. Then find a way to deal with it.
Invest in Personal Development
Throughout her career, Christy pursued an extraordinary amount of professional development. “I was always professionally developing, I was always getting degrees. I had more degrees than a thermometer,” she said.
While she was wildly successful in her career, Christy found that her personal development was severely lacking. She noticed the gap between her personal and professional development was affecting her behavior. She was stressed. Her life lacked peace.
Meditation and exercise helped her learn to display authority without aggression, but Christy ultimately took three and a half years off to find herself again.
Christy says this is a common issue successful women have. Take Kate Spade. She built a professional umpire, but had neglected her personal development. If someone like Kate says “hey, I’m hurting,” people only see the successful brand she has built. They don’t see the hurting soul.
<“People either change through inspiration or desperation.” — Christy Rutherford>
Invest in your personal development just as you would your professional development. Oh, and when you look at other people, look past their business or their brand. Make sure you truly see their soul.
Find Your Own Disruptor
During your career, someone has probably advised you to get a mentor. That’s great. But make sure you’re not just looking for an empathizer. Get yourself a disruptor. Someone like Christy, who is able to see who you are today, who you have the potential to be, and who will push you to get you there.
Find someone who will truly empower you. Not just someone who will cuddle with you in your comfort zone.
So, earn your seat at the table. Be prepared to defend it. But don’t sacrifice who you are. Find a disruptor who will help you achieve success in your career, along with peace and joy in your life.
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