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My five career mistakes

I started Know Your Value – a movement to empower women in the workplace – because it took me over 20 years to realize my own value. Here's what I did wrong.

I’ll be the first to admit where I’ve messed up. It took me too long to speak up when I was overlooked and undercompensated at work. The reason I started Know Your Value – a nationwide movement to empower women in the workplace – is because, frankly, it took me over 20 years to realize my own value and communicate it effectively in the workplace.

I don’t want it to take that long for others, and I hope that by candidly sharing my professional missteps, I can help other women – of any age, background or field – grow their value and sense of worth in their careers. Here’s what I did wrong.

1. Being my own worst enemy:

For a long time it seemed like everything I said and did undercut what I was trying to achieve. I can’t blame my challenges on any of my managers or the network – it was my inability to communicate my value effectively that got in the way of my goals. There was one instance where I tried to act like my male co-host and approach our boss just as he would—with intensity and confidence, raising my voice at times, hanging up if necessary, and threatening to quit if I didn’t get what I wanted. As a side note, I was ready to walk at that point; never say you will walk if you don’t actually mean it. Needless to say, the encounter was awkward and forced, and only led to my boss calling my executive producer to ask if I was crazy—a valid question. I didn’t get the raise because I wasn’t acting like myself. I was scrambling to find a way to close the deal when all I needed was authenticity.   

2. Botching the bargaining:

The first time I asked for a raise, I failed miserably. It was not pretty. I failed to vouch for myself and explain what I brought to the table. Don’t undermine yourself during a negotiation by starting off with an apology or sob story. Don’t play the victim either – we all have to bills to pay and kids to take care of. That’s not your value, it’s your life – and your life is not your manager’s problem and should never be a part of the conversation. Your value and what you bring to the table in your line of work is the only thing you should be discussing when a bonus, promotion or career opportunity is at stake. You deserve it; you just need to communicate why.

3. Trying to be everyone’s friend:

People-pleasing and focusing too heavily on being liked (by everyone) will undermine your professional goals. For too long, I was hung up on being everyone’s friend and winning the approval of my colleagues. Not only was this a distraction for me, but it kept my professional relationships from commanding the respect I deserved and needed in order to flourish at work. Women are too often trying to make everyone feel comfortable, and in the process, we lose the footing needed to gain respect and authority in the workplace. Stop worrying about it, do your job, get those around you to respect you and your work. Friendship will follow. I vividly remember one instance when I had taken a stance and refused to read a script about Paris Hilton on Morning Joe. A top executive at the network, who was a woman, told me that if I kept pushing back no one would like me. This nagged at me as I sat in her office wondering what people would think if I kept taking a stance against reading scripts that I didn’t find newsworthy. If I had simply told her that I was not there to make sure everyone liked me, but instead to produce a show that was informative and hard-hitting, she probably would’ve respected my ability to stay strong in my convictions—and we might even be friends today. 

4. Feeling too grateful:

After losing my job as an anchor at CBS news, I begged MSNBC to hire me. When I was finally working again – in a low-level, part-time position doing news cut-ins – I was unthinkably grateful to simply badge into work each day and hear that 'beep' that made me feel like I belonged again. This has gotten in the way of my career. I’ve too often thought “I’m so grateful they gave me a deal!” rather than “Of course they should’ve given me that deal!” At a certain point, we need to stop feeling so over the moon to be given the opportunity to work. We deserve this. We’re skilled, qualified and smart. Gratitude is certainly important to an extent, but not if it’s distracting you and your colleagues from your value and the caliber of your work.

5. Feeling too comfortable:

For too long, I was afraid to step out of my comfort zone. I now realize that it is important to challenge yourself in order to perfect the art of negotiating for yourself. I am extremely uncomfortable with public speaking to this day, but I continually put myself out there to make sure I remember how it feels to be on my toes. This is important for all of us. When you go into a negotiation, a business meeting, whatever, you’ve got to know what you are coming up against. You’re on stage. You’re being analyzed. A negotiation shouldn’t be comfortable and easy, or something you hope just works out. It is similar to practicing for an interview, and it is definitely not going to be comfortable, so try pushing yourself. Practice communicating effectively by finding opportunities in your personal life to mess up—a toast at a dinner party or reading at church. It’s the only way to bank confidence for when it really matters.