Part of being successful is not allowing yourself to be limited by your circumstances, advised Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, during remarks delivered at a Leading Women Defined panel on entrepreneurship titled “Owned & Operated: Phenomenal Women at the Helm.” That’s easier said than done for many women who frequently are left with most of the responsibility of balancing family and careers. But according to Jarrett, you’ve just got to work with what you’ve got.
To underscore her point, she shared a humorous story about First Lady Michelle Obama, who knows that struggle well. On the day of an important job interview at the University of Chicago Medical Center, the baby sitter didn’t show up.
“She said, ‘I think I’m just going to take my daughter with me to the interview, because you know what? The person I’m interviewing with needs to understand that this is my life; things happen,” Jarrett recalled.
Luckily, Sasha was well behaved and Obama got the job.
Once people do achieve success, Jarrett said, “they have a responsibility not just to succeed, but to reach back, and hold out a helping hand to those coming up after them,” like Angela Benton, one of the panel participants, who started a blog called Black Web 2.0 to connect and inform African-American digital professionals. She also co-founded NewMe Accelerator, a “greenhouse” for Black-owned technology startups.
“She saw problems in her community, and she used her talents as a businesswoman to fix them,” Jarrett said. “Angela is achieving her dreams – by helping others achieve theirs. And that’s why stories like hers inspire me. They motivate me. And they motivate President Obama, who understands how important strong women like all of you are to our country.”
Jarrett also shared the story of Vera Moore, founder of a self-eponymous cosmetics company, whom she met during a White House Urban Economic Forum. Moore, who’d previously been an actress, recognized the difficulty many women of color had finding quality cosmetics, “especially foundation that didn’t rub off on your clothes.”
She started out selling her products in Black hair salons in New York, gradually expanding the business throughout the U.S. and in international markets.
“Certainly, no one could ever accuse her of setting her sights too low. As she put it, ‘our universal objective as black people should no longer be merely to aim, but to hit our target!’,” Jarrett said.
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