Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in the February issue of DS News
My family immigrated from Poland a few decades back, and I am a third-generation American. The women in my family are strong-willed and opinionated—but my mom was not like that. She was more of a cheerleader. She wanted me to do more, see more, and be a part of something more than she ever could. As a single mother, she encouraged me to become whatever I wanted and to pursue success with confidence, humility, and honesty. My mom also warned me about letting my ego get in the way. She believed there is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive—between finding your voice but using it wisely.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” I think that is precisely what my mom was getting at. You never know how your journey is impacting others, so your voice needs to be positive for anyone you may be influencing around you.
It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, work for a mortgage company as a loan officer or have a role in default servicing, you must be able to stand up for yourself, your convictions, and your capabilities. To do this effectively, you must find your voice.
Where to Begin?
I define “finding your voice” as the process through which you determine your legacy. It defines who you are and what you aspire to be. Ultimately, your “voice” is how you want people to describe you. The result of this introspective journey is greater self-awareness and the confidence you need to speak up for yourself.
It’s important to go through the process of finding your voice for one critical reason: if you don’t, you run the risk of others defining it for you. Remember, it’s your journey and no one else’s. You can be inspired by traits in others and even admire those traits—but you don’t have to possess them. After all, if you adopt someone else’s approach but feel uncomfortable doing so, it will look and feel more like imitation rather than inspiration.
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.”—Judy Garland
Cheryl Marchant, SVP, Default at Freedom Mortgage, concedes that it was tough to find her voice early in her career.
“New to the business, I was eager to learn everything about mortgage servicing—specifically the default world—and that meant taking on challenges outside my traditional comfort zone. Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is where I experienced the greatest amount of professional and personal growth.”
Steps Along the Path
The first step you must take in your quest to find your voice is to uncover your passion. This can be a difficult thing to do with the non-stop noise, speed, and chaos that accompanies the day-to-day grind. So, make sure you are devoting enough downtime to ascertain what it is that you’re most passionate about. There are several ways to do this:
- Try new things! Step outside your comfort zone to see if something interests you.
- Determine if you need to say goodbye to certain people, work responsibilities, or other things that are a distraction and likely won’t be a part of your future.
- Try new things! Step outside your comfort zone to see if something interests you.
- Identify what makes you happy and try to leverage and/or incorporate more of those thoughts, activities, and philosophies into your career.
- Consider the values and characteristics of people who inspire you, or those who’ve left a positive impression on you. Then, nurture those qualities within yourself so they grow to be uniquely yours.
- Do your best to diffuse your fears and the vulnerability that manifests itself when faced with failure. Some of our best lessons are learned when we miss our mark.
- Be self-aware. Know your strengths and weaknesses, forgive yourself for mistakes made, and learn from them.
- Identify those values that are important to you—integrity, accountability, perseverance, adaptability, discipline, etc.—and cultivate them.
Once you have honed-in on your passion, hold yourself accountable to it. Pursue things that will foster your passion in both your work and home life. When you do this, you’ll begin to truly enjoy yourself. Having fun as often as you can is something we all can aspire to.
Strive for Work-Life Balance
For Lauren Thurmond, a Partner at Hutchens Law Firm in Charlotte, North Carolina, achieving work-life balance means “getting enough sleep, exercise, and time with my friends and family to be the best version of myself for my loved ones and colleagues.” She believes this can be best accomplished by being honest with your organization about what your expectations are regarding work-life balance.
“My expectations have changed over time as my children have reached school age and there are events during normal working hours that I do not want to miss. I value flexibility at this stage in my life more than I did earlier in my career.”
Marchant defines work-life balance as “being fulfilled in both your professional and personal life. It’s about taking time to enjoy the beauty around you at work and outside of it.” She advocates for surrounding yourself with capable individuals who you trust to gain a stronger sense of empowerment.
“When you’re empowered, you have a platform to use your voice by being a mentor,” Marchant said. “It allows you to share your experience to sharpen your team members’ skill sets and increase their overall knowledge of the mortgage servicing industry so they can be successful for years to come.”
Personally, I am not a fan of the phrase “work-life balance.” The definition of balance in verb form reads: “to keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall.” That definition itself puts pressure on us to not let something fall by the wayside. To me, it seems impossible not to let something fall every single day, and therefore we are setting ourselves up for failure.
Perhaps we should throw balance out the window and instead simply strive for harmony. This calls for work and life to blend together as one, providing opportunities for a disciplined structure to the management of your day. Be alright with allowing home to take priority over work sometimes and vice versa. Don’t feel like you are choosing one over the other but rather the needs of one are the focus to keep harmony. How is that best accomplished?
- Start by working with realistic expectations. As a new mother, I have never felt so insecure or guilty about … well, literally everything. And you don’t have to be a mom to feel this way. Women naturally try to be everywhere for everyone and everything, but realistically we can’t. Identify what is overwhelming you and resolve it. Don’t let it fester and become a bigger problem.
- Be present. As masters of time management, women are always thinking about the next task. Sometimes, we need to just take in what is right in front of us. If we are thinking about tomorrow, we are wasting the opportunity of today.
- Our schedules sometimes include social events that stress us out because we think we don’t have time to enjoy them. Try to avoid falling into this trap and instead, focus on having fun.
- Listen to your mind, spirit, and body. It is important to find some downtime just for yourself.
- Leverage a variety of support groups that share your passions—be it career mentors, trusted confidants, or spiritual mentors.
- Give back. Pay it forward by volunteering or championing a cause. Use your voice and the experiences of your journey to inspire others.
Using Your Voice in the Workplace
Mastering how to use your voice in the workplace is certainly an art, not a science. However, there are some concrete things you can do to ensure your voice is not only heard but also understood.
Thurmond suggests prioritizing your tasks every day and focusing on what is truly important. She also encourages women to prepare for the long haul.
“Ensure you take care of yourself, so you possess the endurance necessary to be successful over several decades,” Thurmond said. “Schedule time for yourself and with loved ones and treat that time with the same importance as a meeting with a client.”
Thurmond has also adopted a “Delegate or Die” approach to work—something she pulled out of a book and placed in a little notebook that she carries around in her purse.
“The idea is to stop being a control freak. Do not insist people do things exactly the way you do them. Regularly reminding myself of that has served me well.”
Marchant echoes the same sentiment, recalling that “Oftentimes, in order to learn a new task or take on additional responsibilities, I had to work a non-traditional, much longer work-day in order to get the job done. Recognizing the power of teamwork, I learned to embrace the value of delegation and appreciate its impact on the amount of progress an organization can achieve. I also found that when people feel empowered to make decisions, they realize the value of their contributions more and it instills in them greater confidence for any future decisions they may make.”
Here are a few additional suggestions that will help you use your voice in the workplace:
- Choose your battles; don’t let battles choose you—When a battle emerges, walk away, take time to process it, and respond respectfully. You might also consider talking to a confidant or mentor if you need help processing the situation or need advice.
- Be confident in your abilities so you can accomplish what you set your mind to—Listen to your voice and not your inner critic. Push past resistance from others and know you are capable of doing great things.
- No matter your gender or race, expect discrimination at some or multiple points in your career—Finding your voice can help you to identify and process discrimination and seek support rather than internalizing your feelings. Also, be sure to discuss the situation with your manager or HR.
- When someone says something offensive, pause a moment—Take time to process the comment and determine if it really is offensive. If so, talk to the person. You might find they didn’t intend to offend you. You might also consider notifying your manager or HR.
- Don’t try to manage people’s perceptions of you. It’s not possible—If someone interprets your tone or actions incorrectly, simply explain that was not your intent and ask what you could have done differently. Know that it’s okay if people have a misconception about you. Embrace it and look for ways to change their opinion.
No matter what your role is, within the mortgage industry or outside of it, finding and using your voice is something women must endeavor to do not only to achieve professional success, but also to realize true personal satisfaction. It’s the key to achieving work-life harmony while demonstrating to other women in the workplace that confidently expressing yourself is an invaluable tool for finding real fulfillment.