Updated: Sep 22, 2020
As my friend and I hiked through the Colorado wilderness, our conversation inevitably slipped into our summer internship plans for next year. After a summer of working as a housesitter, administrative assistant, waitress and plant-waterer, I told her I felt ready to land a finance internship to see if my major was actually something I would enjoy in the “real world.” However, as always, my own insecurities and perfectionistic vices kept me from dreaming big. Was I ready? I knew nothing about finance beyond FIN 2800, Financial Decision Making.
My friend responded, “Sophie, I wouldn’t worry. You are really smart. People are going to see that.”
And you know what I said? “Yeah, sometimes I don’t think I’m that smart. I think it is more that I am good at following directions and knowing what people want from me.”
Despite my year at Smith College, a women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts that birthed acclaimed feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem, despite my involvement as the Director of Marketing-Communications for Women in Business, an organization that empowers women to achieve their professional goals and despite being raised by parents who encouraged their daughters to take charge, I still managed to let the patriarchy do the talking. I was a good follower, but I was not “smart” like a leader. I was not “smart” enough to pursue a career in the male-dominated world of finance. I was not “smart” enough to make my imagination my reality.
Many studies have shown that women across the board underestimate their own abilities. This means they are less likely to take risks and pursue high goals. Even when women do dream big--ask for that promotion and apply for that dream job--they often face societal barriers in the workplace, or “the glass ceiling.”. He was a better fit. We don’t have the funds for a promotion. You do great work, but be happy where you are. Sometimes we explain this rejection by attributing it to our own shortcomings. Yeah maybe they are right. I do good work and I take direction well. But I’m not smart and I’m not a leader.
Women in Business is a community of leaders; because women in business -- no matter whether you are CEO of a Fortune 500 Company or intern at a small local business -- are leaders. We pave our own way through the male-dominated business world. We trust our gut. We support other women paving their own way. We dare each other to make our imagination our reality. Through professional development, networking, philanthropic and social events, we foster the skills and confidence women need to succeed in the workplace and beyond. We are smart, and we know you are smart too.
Noticing the storm clouds looming in the distance, my friend and I turned around and started to head back to the car. My friend, keeping tabs on her Apple Watch of our distance and elevation climbed, stopped suddenly in her tracks. We had hiked farther on our return journey than we had on our ascent--and the car was nowhere in sight. In fact, we hadn’t even encountered the unmarked trail we had hiked up.
My heart started racing. My fear of lightning and thunderstorms gripped at my stomach. Her eyes grew big and owl-like. Visions of bears and mountain lions danced in our heads. We were lost.
The thunderheads boomed and rain began to fall lightly. I took a couple of breaths and said, “Ok. Don’t panic. That won’t help us. Let’s just keep our heads screwed on tight and retrace our steps.” We started hiking back the way we had come, trying to recall whether we had seen this clearing, this stream or that tree on the way up. We had been so lost in conversation, we couldn’t even recall coming to a fork in the trail.
It really started to rain. We were both soaking wet. Thunder and lightning getting closer and closer. I kept asking my friend whether the hair on the back of my head was standing up -- a sure sign lightning was about to strike. I figured it would be another three hours before my parents started to wonder where we were. It would take another couple hours for Search and Rescue to get out here. Dang it, I wish my dad were here to lead us out of the woods.
We doubted whether we had actually passed the unmarked trail. Maybe I had been overthinking things. I figured if the situation got really bad we could just follow a stream downhill, and we would eventually hit the highway where there was cell reception. Or, we could stay put and make a makeshift tipi and roast squirrels for dinner until someone found us. Or, we could just retrace our steps.
I started singing Rascal Flatts to keep the mood light. Turns out even “God Bless the Broken Road” couldn’t lift our spirits--our predicament felt that dire. Suddenly, we stopped at the same time. Behind some timber and brush was a trail. Was it the right trail? Everything looked so different three hours later and in the rain. But I could hear a stream. That was a good sign. We both decided to trust our gut and follow it wherever it may lead.
A half-hour later, we were back safe in my vehicle soaking wet, shaking with adrenaline and somewhat hungry from a missed lunch. We had managed to combine our brain power, not let panic get the best of us, and lead ourselves out of the Colorado wilderness. There had been no directions to follow, we had solved the problem without an “I got lost on the Rainbow Trail during a Thunderstorm” manual. As I pulled out of the parking lot and started heading home I thought, maybe I am smarter than I think.
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Sophia Mellsop is the Director of Marketing & Communications for the Daniels Undergraduate Women in Business. She is a third-year at the University of Denver, studying Finance, and is originally from Salida, CO.