When Levo League co-founder and CEO Caroline Ghosn reflects on the triumphs and setbacks of her career, she thinks about her grandmother’s unmet aspiration to attend school and become a doctor.
Raised in a large family strapped for resources, Ghosn’s grandmother stayed home while her brothers went to school. Instead, she was encouraged to seek marriage over what she wanted most: an education.
While Ghosn’s mother attended high school a generation later, she never graduated – yet another layer of missed educational opportunity that motivated Ghosn as she matriculated at Stanford and later became the first woman in her family to earn a college degree.
She never looked back. Ghosn has since started her own company and emerged as a thought leader in millennial entrepreneurship and social change – working to empower young women through mentorship and career-coaching. In 2013, she was listed in Fast Company magazine’s “100 most creative people in business.”
Three years after college, she co-founded Levo League – a mentoring platform aimed at guiding millennials in their careers. The female-focused networking site is now the largest for millennials, reaching a reported eight million women. The company announced last year that it raised $7 million in angel funding to grow its services and has since launched Thinking Talents, an app to identify career strengths. Of Levo League’s earliest investors is one of Ghosn’s own mentors: Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
Levo League helps recent graduates in the early stages of their careers by providing mentors, tools and resources for professional growth. How have you crafted and honed skills that don’t come naturally to you?
There are many skills I had to and continue to work at continuously to improve. A skill is something that you aren’t inherently talented at and that isn’t an effortless action the way your thinking talents might be, but is something you can become excellent at nonetheless.
Speaking publicly as an introvert is something that I am always working to get comfortable with, but that I have significantly improved upon over the years (and thanks to Bill McGowan’s advice). The challenge is coming back to your center when nerves knock you out of being mindful and by definition operating from a place of strength.
You speak candidly about your shortcomings. Why is it important to face our weaknesses head on?
I have a million career weaknesses, and although it’s uncomfortable, I believe that authentically acknowledging and working through your vulnerability is more powerful than the delusion of perfection.
The latter is something I have struggled with for a long time, and something that has created a longstanding voice in my head of dissatisfaction (“Why couldn’t I have been better or perfect at X?”), self-penalization (“I don’t deserve Y because I didn’t perfect X”) and self-doubt (“Because of my epic fails around X and Y, I am not as good as I could be or as they think I am”).
These are toxic messages and ones I am still working on eliminating in order to self-realize as a love-based leader and not stay trapped in such fear-based places. Salvador Dali said “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.” I love that release from the delusion of perfection because it’s the first step in moving towards leading from a place of authenticity and centeredness.
You’re an outspoken believer in the power of mentorship. Where do you draw your career inspiration and support?
I draw inspiration from different aspects of different people, and view the concept of “role modeling” as a bench of attributes to learn and grow from as opposed to one individual who you expect to embody a 360 degree model. I admire people who operate from a place of love and who have gone through the rigorous process of finding and articulating their purpose, whatever it may be. There is an authenticity and strength that comes from alignment with a clearly articulated purpose that I wish everyone could experience – this is part of why we collaborated with Gabby Bernstein on a course to make this accessible and possible.
You graduated from Stanford in 2008. What guidance would you offer yourself as a fresh college grad new to the ‘real world’?
Take the time to think about what you want, which you can determine through self-discovery and purpose articulation, before you make a move. Your moves will be more meaningful and result in more impact once you do that. And trust yourself—you will figure this out. The entire reason Levo exists is to help you do that—you aren’t alone anymore.
Trying to win over others’ approval and friendship can be a distraction for women. How did you combat that ingrained desire to be liked, by everyone?
This is definitely an ongoing exercise for me, and it’s really difficult! It’s about conscious choice and self-affirmation: You choose how you let others make you feel, and whether, in Steve Covey’s words, “you are your own weather.” It is much easier said than done, and it’s a tough thing to take responsibility for but it’s the place I strive to operate from and what I keep working on getting back to when I lose perspective. The only person who needs to approve of you is you—this goes back to articulating your purpose and delivering against it in alignment with your values. I realized that my ingrained desire for approval is a weaker influence the more I trust myself and draw energy from my purpose.
Many of us also deal with ‘imposter syndrome’—unable to take ownership of our success and truly internalize the accomplishments we deserve. You discuss doubting yourself in your Lean In story. How can we overcome this?
You are bigger than your self-doubt. Remind yourself of that each and every day. I believe that asking for feedback and working to operate from a place of love and “enough” – not a place of fear and “never good enough” – creates a greater alignment between who you are and how you may perceive yourself to be, removing that syndrome from the equation.