Grow Your Value finalist Diana Evjen has three sons and over 200 dancers. As the director and owner of a dance academy in Connecticut, Diana’s days begin at the crack of dawn and it’s full speed ahead: packing lunches, taking her sons to school, managing payroll, ordering costumes and scheduling for her dancers and then heading to the studio where she shares her lifelong passion with students at the Evjen Academy of Performing Arts, the business she started ten years ago with only six dancers. She shares career advice and her experience with the Know Your Value movement here.
If you could go back in time and give yourself as a 20-something one piece of advice, what would it be?
Best advice to someone working in my career: you can’t please everyone and you will lose sight of your purpose and mission if you try to. If you believe in yourself, your brand and the product you create, then stand behind it. This doesn’t mean to be so rigid that you cannot change or grow. Be a genuine person. It’s okay that not everyone will agree with you or believe in you. You have to believe in yourself to be the best you.
What do you think is the most important issue facing women in the workplace?
Confidence. Finding and using their voice. The ambition to be successful is there for so many women, it’s just finding the voice and confidence to show it that can be hard. This is still a man’s world – or so many people keep saying it is and fueling that thought. We all have something to offer, and we sometimes just need the confidence to show it.
Who is your role model?
I have a lot of role models. With every life experience that comes up, I find someone that makes me focus and keep going. To name my most influential role model, one who always has been my rock: my mother, a breast cancer survivor who previously had emergency heart surgery. She has never given up. Even in her darkest, most trying moments, she pushed through and survived. She reminds me that everything works out – maybe not the way we plan – but as long as we have faith in ourselves and whatever it is we believe in, we can live a life well lived. And another important role model: my son EJ. He doesn’t know it yet, but when something makes me want to give up, I think of him and how he will fight for his whole life to manage his Autism and all of the sensory and social challenges brought with that. EJ and my mom: two fighters, two people who make me strong.
How has being a mother shaped your career?
My kids force me to create balance between my career and my family. They give me perspective on what is important and help me to prioritize. Without this focus, I could easily lose myself in my work and all of the events and situations that arise in and with the studio. I am able to step away – I have to step away – to take time for them. Then when it’s time to work, I have a patience that comes directly from being a mother. I can empathize and sympathize with the other parents. I can be caring and nurturing, as well as critical and tough with my students. I treat them as my own kids and I can do that because I have a lot of experience with being a mom, I can be gracious and kind and still tough and strong willed, because I am a mother of three boys.
What's the most rewarding part of teaching dance to girls?
I am a dancer and doing what I love for my career is fulfilling beyond words. With my studio, these young women have a place to forget about their problems, to take the daily struggles that they face and leave them at the studio door. Dance saved me many times in my life. I struggled with confidence and body image. I’ve lived this and I am aware of how hard life can be. Dance is their break from this crazy brutal world, as it still is mine. My studio is their safe place, my safe place. These young women look to me for guidance and strength and I coach them to be their own biggest fans, to be goal-oriented and strive for success. Ambition is essential to succeeding in this world; an empowered young woman is a confident young woman. I feel empowered when I am dancing and when I am teaching. I am an artist. I do what I love and I love what I do, and that is a reward in itself.
Why would you encourage other women to enter the Grow Your Value bonus competition?
That’s why I did this in the first place. Part of me said, if someone sees me – a regular working mother of boys, who stands for the empowering of women, women’s rights and good old girl power – maybe another woman would take the chance and click send on her video. This contest has been life changing, even before Chicago. This contest is everything I stand for and believe in. Share our stories and encourage each other as we all have our own real life situations and struggles, and we fight to survive and push through.
What do you hope to gain from the Know Your Value movement?
I found what I was looking for. Myself. I’ve always been me, I like who I am, but I was just so caught up in the chaos of this life, this world, that I felt lost. The Johnson and Johnson Human Performance Institute teachings and leaders forced me to dig deep; there were more tears shed than I imagined possible. And for that, I am forever thankful.
You can catch Diana and the other Grow Your Value finalists compete for a $10,000 bonus at Chicago’s Know Your Value event this Friday, September 25 at msnbc.com/knowyourvalue where we’ll be livestreaming the event. And if you want to attend in person, you can still snag tickets. See you in Chicago!