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How vulnerability can lead to growth

December 28, 2015

"The Intern." Have you seen the movie? If you didn't catch it in the theaters, it's being released in DVD this week. Let me tell you  it’s one of my favorite movies! I mean, who doesn't like Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro?  But for me, it's more than the actors who star in the flick.

As it turns out, the story and special relationships in "The Intern" mirror my life just a little bit. Well, okay, a lot. It’s the story of a young woman (Hathaway) who creates an internet clothing company which becomes a hot startup that’s growing quickly. The premise of the movie is that the company hires a “senior intern” (De Niro), who after a prickly start quickly becomes the founder's confidante and mentor, helping her to be her best.

I know what you are thinking: Jody, you don’t run an internet company, nor do you have a senior intern, so how is this like your life? 

It’s about the relationships that have helped me not only get to where I am, but that have helped shape me into the person I am today. The important lessons and understandings I have today are because I have been selectively vulnerable with those who have helped me move forward in my own career. 

I'll be honest: For the most part, this support has come from men; men who are considerably senior to me.  I’m not talking about my Dad, who is my partner, but men who could be my Dad. Men who have taught me about business and about the personal growth that comes from being a CEO or a managing partner. For as much as I love promoting women, let's face it - when you look around the partner table, women are not usually there. But what I have found around that table is a handful of men who were ready to help me, not because I was a woman, but because they knew that what I was doing was important. They saw the opportunity and that I could potentially create wealth. Isn’t that what business is all about?

There have been multiple men who have coached, mentored, celebrated, and encouraged me to grow to the next level. They have challenged me to take risks, to be accountable, to raise my unique voice. They have cheered for me, supported me in meetings, strategically placed me, and just embraced me for who I am and how I lead.  

So you see, when I watched the movie, I finally got it. I understood how those relationships made me the unique leader I am today. Now I know I can reach out to them for support; they can guide or ask me the right questions to reset me in my direction. 

The one thing that I believe from my own experience as a woman is sometimes it's hard to let that "business man" in to see that vulnerability we are taught in school to cover up. Yet in these particular relationships it was precisely because of my vulnerability that I was able to grow. And this is what happens in the movie. After Anne Hathaway lets her guard down, she is able to be open to the mentorship and as a result, grow.

My advice for women who want to grow professionally is this - show your strength in vulnerability and trust. I’ll bet there will be some men (and women) around to give you mentorship to help get you there. And remember: guidance and insight comes in many forms and sources. Don't let stereotypes close you off to opportunities for growth and connection.

Jody L. Padar, CPA, MST, is CEO and principal at New Vision CPA Group and author of The Radical CPA.

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