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How Prestige Destroys Meaningful Work
Editor's Note: This is a continuation of our core conversation series, “Extraordinary Women Change the World.” Yesterday, Emilie Wapnick shares what it feels like to be the only girl in the room. Today, Carmen Sognonvi shares the dangers of the prestige to your meaningful work.
When Charlie and Angela invited me to be a part of this core conversation on women’s empowerment, I had just discovered Y Combinator founder Paul Graham's 2006 article "How to Do What You Love." I was especially struck by what he wrote about the dangers of prestige:
Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world... Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like... Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind””though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.
Graham's words really hit home for me because there have been several points in my career in which I've taken a left turn, and everyone around me kind of scratched their head and wondered what the heck I was doing with my life. So how does this relate to empowerment? I believe that many women hold themselves back from doing what they truly love because whether they realize it or not, they get hung up on prestige. I went to a good school. Wouldn't I be wasting my degree if I did this? I've already established a great reputation in my industry. Can I really afford to walk away and start over in a new field? People know me as a [insert your industry] expert. If I do this new thing, what happens to my identity? Whom do I become? Don't get trapped into chasing prestige. If you truly want to be empowered, find a way to do meaningful work - regardless of what others think of your choices. (click to tweet - thanks!) Pamela Slim and I recently had a conversation about this very topic, and I thought I'd share it with you here. In this video, we talk about:
Why I decided to "waste" my Ivy League degree to work as a secretary
Why I walked away from being regarded as an authority in my field (complete with CNN appearances, book agents, and highly-paid speaking engagements) to start a mom-and-pop local neighborhood business
How even the most seemingly irrelevant jobs I've held have taught me things that served me later on in my career
Have you ever held back from trying something because you were afraid of what you might lose? What decisions have you made in your career that made your friends think you were going a little batty? I'd love to hear your stories, so please share them below. About Carmen: Sign up for Carmen’s free video course, "The 5 Mindset Success Secrets Every Local Business Owner Should Know." Carmen blogs about local business and local marketing at CarmenSognonvi.com. She and her husband own Urban Martial Arts, which offers karate and kickboxing classes in Brooklyn, NY.