Passion or Profit?

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I recently returned from an international women’s conference where I met with one of the nation’s top marketing strategists. During our meeting I outlined my current business objectives with her. The Cliff Notes version: I am utterly devoted to helping women empower themselves; to helping them step into their own unique style of leadership.

When I signed up for the session it never occurred to me that the focus of my career was up for grabs. I just assumed that since this is my life’s purpose (and greatest passion), we would address the “how” question — not the “if.”

Here’s what she said: “You can never go to women first. You’re going to have to back into the market. You can’t be a speaker for women and make the kind of money you’re talking about.”Here’s what I heard: “You must decide if you’re going to stay with your passion and stay committed to women and their issues, or if you’re going to make the money you say you want.”

Now wait a minute. For the past 18 years, I have traversed the country proselytizing the virtues of living on purpose, of using every gift and talent, of being passionate, of following one’s heart in a career. I preach that if you do what you love, etc. etc. Did this mean that everything I’d taught all those years has been pure bull?

As I tried to digest her advice, I began to realize that at this point in my life, I can’t separate my “self” from my business because the latter was born out of the former. Now I was being told I’d need to default to some cultural norm if I wanted profit commensurate with my passion?

The meeting ended. My rant began. I paced and panted like some frustrated animal caged in by the very things that made my life so worth living. I railed about the injustice of it all because, in truth, there were more than a few things this woman was right about: Women do not get paid as much as men. Women listen to men and men listen to men before either listen to women. And I know from too much personal experience that it is often assumed that I will accept lower wages just because I’m a woman (or is it because I’m not a man?).

By the time I returned home, I’d received three calls asking me to speak. All of them were to women’s groups. None of them offered monetary compensation. Was this some kind of message reinforcing this expert’s advice? Or was it a challenge for me to stand up for what I say I believe in?

Then I remembered two things: There is an AND to every leadership conversation. That AND is in bold when it relates to women. Yes, it is true that we earn 76 cents on the dollar. AND what is ALSO true is that just because that’s the way it is, doesn’t mean that’s the way it will be. Just because what I want to do hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it won’t ever be.

I also remembered who I am. While she may have been the market expert, I’m the expert on me. This wouldn’t be the first time that some professional had held opinion contrary to mine. It won’t be the last.

Passion or profit? I won’t have to make that choice, unless I think I have to. I’ll keep you posted. I’ll follow my path knowing I have a choice. I’ll also let you know (when I find out) if purpose can truly birth profit or if some market trend will determine my destiny.

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