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Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos: 10 Strategies for Stepping Up to Success and Satisfaction at Work

Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos: 10 Strategies for Stepping Up to Success and Satisfaction at Work

by Lynette Lewis

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Is your work deeply satisfying? Do you look forward to Monday morning and the start of each new day? If you could do anything in the world without fear of failing, what would you do?

Whether you're stuck in a dead-end job or are living the career of your dreams, Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos is your go-to-guide for life as a woman in the working world.


Is your work deeply satisfying? Do you look forward to Monday morning and the start of each new day? If you could do anything in the world without fear of failing, what would you do?

Whether you're stuck in a dead-end job or are living the career of your dreams, Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos is your go-to-guide for life as a woman in the working world. You'll hear the stories of incredible women who made that precarious climb up the ladder while keeping their fashionable stilettos and heart intact. Drawing from their stories and her own, Lynette Lewis shares the secrets to purposeful work, including how to:

  • create a purpose statement for your life and work
  • follow the "four principles of promotion"
  • establish a "personal board of directors"
  • keep enduring when unrecognized, unrewarded, and underpaid
  • discover gifts in surprising places, and more!

Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos will help you discover new joy, meaning, success, and satisfaction in your life's work. Why spend your time on anything less?

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CLIMBING the LADDER in Stilettos

Ten Strategies for Stepping Up to Success and Satisfaction at Work

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2007 Lynette Lewis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8499-0186-7

Chapter One

Why Am I Working?

I still remember that Monday morning in August. It was a blistering hot day in Manhattan, even in the early morning hours. I spent the typical hour getting ready, doing my hair, and making sure my makeup was just right. I had my coffee and smoothie and then headed out the door.

Just as I entered the subway station, the train was pulling away. I groaned, knowing exactly what that meant. The next eight minutes were like standing in a sauna. I'm sure the guy next to me thought he heard a faucet running, but no, it was just the sweat draining inside my blouse while my hair was frizzing up by the minute.

I rode the subway to 50th Street and then waited for the bus for ten minutes while the heat and humidity did further damage. The bus arrived and drove the two miles to the ferry station. But just as the bus pulled into the station, the ferry pulled out. Another twenty-minute wait. What would it be next? I knew I'd be late to work, and at this point I couldn't fathom the thought of going to the office at all.

By the time I finally arrived, I was a mess inside and out. My hair and outfit were ruined. I was exhausted from the commute. As I sat down at my desk in Jersey City overlooking the skyline of downtown Manhattan, negative thoughts flooded my head.

No one really appreciates me around here. Why am I working here anyway? They don't know my dreams, what I really want to be and do. I work hard, put in the hours, give them my best energy of the day, and for what? A paycheck that doesn't feel like enough? Stress over having to please so many people?

The discouragement brought me to tears. I knew I had to pull myself together. I wasn't being paid to waste time crying at my desk. But how could I lift myself out of this sense of despair?

At that point I serendipitously thought of the young woman sitting in the office next door. Sandra and I had met the first day I started in the Jersey City office. I was her manager, and over the course of the last year, we'd become more than just colleagues; we were friends. I helped her discover some of her dreams and worked with her to map out a plan to align her job with those dreams. She had developed significantly that year, and the satisfaction I felt from having helped her was deeply rewarding.

Thinking of Sandra through my tears helped lift the heaviness. Perhaps she was one of the main reasons I was doing this job and working hard day after day.

Sandra often told me, "You are a gift, Lynette. You've helped me find my way." Recalling this reminded me that my efforts were worth it. Helping people and changing lives do matter. This realization helped me get back in touch once again with the real reason I was working.


Have you ever felt like I did on that Monday morning? There are times when a good job and an adequate paycheck aren't enough for the energy and inconvenience it takes to get through the workday.

Often in times like this we feel especially alone. Everyone else around us appears to be coping quite well. We may look like we're coping, but inside we wonder how long we can keep going. Can we find something that's better aligned with our bigger ideas and dreams? It's probably one of the most common, and important, questions people ask.

An extremely popular book in recent history is Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life. In fact, at the time of this writing, it is the all-time best-selling nonfiction hardback in America. This speaks volumes about where Americans find themselves in their work spectrum-most feel there is still something more to life than just work.

The success of Warren's book falls in line with a study conducted by the Barna Research Group, which shows that half of Americans are "searching for meaning and purpose in life." Author Os Guinness concurs. In his book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, Guinness explains, "Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves. Only such a larger purpose can inspire us to heights we know we could never reach on our own. For each of us the real purpose is personal and passionate: to know what we are here to do, and why."

Answering the "why" question is essential if we want to have rich, deep meaning in our careers. Women in particular seem to have something inside our hearts that demands we answer this question. We are made for meaning; we thrive by making a difference and helping others, by seeing our kids grow up to be successful adults who will make an impact on the world.

The reality, however, is that it's not easy to derive this deeper meaning from our work. Some individuals, certainly in the minority, know what their purpose is early in life. They see themselves doing something great and find it natural to forge a pathway to get there. They arrive in their twenties or earlier, when the rest of us are just beginning to realize we've been asking the wrong questions-or not questioning anything at all.

Most of us simply find ourselves on a certain path or in what someone else might call a "career." Yet outside of financial provision, this career often seems void of deep significance. We might have a college education or vocational training or now, after years of working, various experiences and company titles that are scattered across our résumés.

But all these credentials don't necessarily bring meaning; they don't easily come together in answering that all-important question that hangs somewhere in the background: Why?

Why this job? Why these coworkers? Why these responsibilities in this place at this time? Why not something else? Something better? The questions beg for answers-not regularly perhaps, but occasionally, like on a bad day when it's hot outside and you miss the train.

Uncovering Your Purpose

My dear friend Anne Page, president of her own communications company, and I were chatting awhile ago. She described a personal epiphany she had a few years ago, one that occurs for many women after years of working on their careers.

I stopped one day after reviewing a video I had just produced for IBM. It was a huge project; I had traveled to three continents, around the world in three weeks. It was a whirlwind, so thrilling and exciting. I'm sitting on my sofa, viewing the results, and realizing that I cannot relate to this piece of videotape. I cannot hug it or relate to it. It was such a successful project, such a pinnacle, and it was done. I could show a video, but it was just a video; it wasn't helping me live my life as a whole person. What a lonely and sad moment. At forty-seven, I realized there was a lot I had missed. Somehow I had it wired that this was what I had to do to be successful. So I had to ask, "Is this success, sitting in my living room with this video?" It may be a successful career, but not a successful life.

This epiphany moment led Anne to make significant changes in her life, ultimately finding more time for relationships (she met and married her soul mate) and taking time for other personal pursuits (fixing up their home). These changes have enhanced her career success while bringing greater satisfaction than ever before. In short, Anne discovered a deeper sense of purpose.

Purpose is a topic I've been studying in depth over the last five years. I've concluded that discovering our purpose is the foundation for living a satisfied life. This conclusion is nothing new, but its application certainly seems elusive to many working women, as evidenced by Anne's confession.

Over the years, I've conducted workshops designed to help people of all ages and vocations uncover their purpose-CEOs, business owners, executives, and college students. All of them are eager to answer the question, why? However, most of them, like Anne, have spent little to no time thinking about it. Most people, myself included, spend time focused on the what of our lives.

What am I going to do with my life? What makes me happy? What do I want in a mate? What can I change to be more satisfied?

There are small distinctions between the words why and what. But the implications of answering these questions are vastly different. When put to our careers, answering why requires knowing our purpose. Webster's dictionary defines purpose this way: "a result or effect that is intended or desired; an intention."

What, on the other hand, is answered by our mission-what it is we will do. Mission is defined as "a specific task with which a person or a group is charged."

We first need to know why we are where we are, and why we want to do a particular thing, before we can decide what we will then do. In simple terms, we should know our motives before we lay out our mission.

The process of answering why is not that difficult. In fact, most of us already have a sense of the answer. We just don't take the time to think about it, ponder the elements that comprise it, and write something down so that our purpose is clear to ourselves and others.

Wouldn't you like to know why and to be able to answer for yourself and others, in a succinct manner, not only what you do but why you do it?

Envision yourself at a typical party or networking event. You strike up a conversation with someone who asks the usual question, "What do you do?" Rather than giving your job title, you instead tell the person why you do what you do. For me, it might go something like this: "I am passionate about helping people discover their purpose and live out their dreams. Speaking and writing are my favorite ways to do this."

Imagine the response. The individual has just been given a glimpse into my heart. He or she understands why I get out of bed in the morning. I bet it makes me more memorable, too, a woman with passion and purpose instead of only a name and job title.

Now imagine that you and I are on my front porch and I ask you the all-important why question. Describe your deepest desire and dream. Then tell me why. Why do you want to do it? Why do you believe it will bring you fulfillment? The answers you share with me are clues to your purpose. They will help point your mind to the things your heart already knows.

On the pages that follow, you will find a more thorough exercise that should kickstart you along the path to clarifying your own personal purpose. It will get your juices flowing and help you write a personal purpose statement that captures the spirit of who you are and why you do what you do.

Articulating Your Purpose

Recently I was working with a group of executive women, women who have skillfully climbed the ladder to places of significant success and influence. Many of them are now asking what their next move should be. We ventured through this same exercise, which helped them think about their purpose. I loved looking across that room as these dear, brilliant women took time for themselves (something they rarely do) and thought about the bigger questions in life.

I asked them to circle words (like you will do in a minute) that spoke to them and excited them most. I then asked them to share with a partner why they chose those words. The room buzzed with excitement, laughter, and enthusiasm. The faces of these women brightened as they thought about what they love to do most and why.

Then they took the three or four descriptive words they circled and began putting them in a sentence to form their purpose statement. I told them to focus not on the flow of words but on getting the concepts together in a way that speaks of who they are.

Several of them shared their first stab at a purpose statement. Some of them had crafted statements that sounded eloquent, while others were still laboring to pull together phrases that hit the mark and made their hearts soar.

Bridgette Heller, president of the global baby and kids division of Johnson & Johnson, was one of these women. Not only did she write her purpose statement, but she shared with me a process of discovery she had gone through during the previous three years.

While vice president at Kraft Foods, she had enjoyed significant success. However, her daughters would soon be teenagers, and she needed to reassess her own definition of success.

I was now sitting at a place in corporate America that I never imagined I'd be, needing a definition of success that extended beyond where I was. So I began thinking about what was really important-a solid, happy family life, service to the community, and the personal/spiritual piece that is the foundation for everything else. I needed to define what success looked like in each of those realms.

The easier realms were family, community, and spiritual. The biggest struggle was the professional side. People will chart your progress and figure out if they are keeping up; they'll sabotage others. This had been draining and was inconsistent with my spiritual journey.

I came to grips with this as I decided to leave Kraft. I went through a grieving process, asking myself, "What am I doing walking away from everything I know to something I don't?" After three years of lots of soul-searching, I chose Johnson & Johnson.

My husband, chief of cardiology at a hospital in the Bronx at the time, watched how my soul searching brought me closer to our girls and gave me new clarity around what I wanted to do. It inspired him to quit cold turkey. Now it's his turn. He is taking classes and spending lots of time with our daughters, taking them on camping trips and having conversations that help them learn and grow.

Our purpose is not something we can sit down and think about for a few minutes, then write with perfection. Rather, it's the start of a process to unlock our hearts, like Bridgette did. It is something that takes time, reflection, and thought.

Rarely do we give ourselves the chance to do this. We have a schedule to keep, kids to get to school, projects to finish, people to manage, planes to catch, e-mails to answer. But discovering our purpose is time well spent, time that sets the foundation for everything else we are hoping to receive or achieve.

There is something powerful about articulating truth. Have you ever heard someone describe something in a way that just perfectly captures a thought you've had or an idea you've pondered? You hear it phrased in just the right way, and you say, "Yes. That is what I've been feeling all along."

So it is with your purpose statement. It becomes the aha moment, that simple yet profound way of saying something that brings all the many facets of who you are and hope to be into focus. Your purpose statement becomes, in many ways, your compass, guiding you to the activities, people, and places that will bring the deepest satisfaction and delight.

The exercise that follows will coach you through a stimulating process of articulating your own purpose. It is a tool I have used for years with women of all ages and stages in their careers. The process is not rocket science and will only help you begin discovering and articulating answers to the whys of your life. But as you dive right in, this exercise will get your creative juices flowing in the right direction and help ignite new enthusiasm in your many endeavors.


Before you can articulate your purpose, you must first determine exactly what it is. Rarely is this a quick process or a one-time effort. Your purpose will evolve and change over time based on the season you are in and your level of self-knowledge.


Excerpted from CLIMBING the LADDER in Stilettos by LYNETTE LEWIS Copyright © 2007 by Lynette Lewis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Lynette Lewis has been inspiring women on the topics of vision and purpose for over twenty years. Her eclectic career has taken her from PR and fundraising at a major universityto the senior marketing leader for the NationalWomen's Initiative at Deloitte & Touche in New York City. Lynette maintains an active speaking schedule through Maxwell's Maximum Impact Speakers bureau, NCAA teams, andmany national and international corporate women's forums.

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