The M3 Interview: Jennifer Gilhool, author Sheryl Sandberg, China & Me

Jennifer GilhoolJennifer Gilhool, founder & CEO of Pink Streak Ink, and author of Sheryl Sandberg, China & Me, doesn’t want a balanced life. Hopefully she won’t apologize for that.

Where/when do you feel most successful? I really had to think about this question because when I feel most successful is actually hard to pin down. The obvious answer of when I’ve completed a task, achieved a goal or been promoted are actually quite hollow experiences. If I am honest, I always know that I will complete the task or achieve the goal. And, until recently, I thought that would also mean promotion but that naive idea was recently forced from my head. So, I sat on this question for a day and then realized that the answer was directly in front me on a Facebook message from a woman that I have not seen or spoken to in decades.
I feel most successful when someone — man or woman — reaches out to me to tell me that I made a difference in their life. The act of reaching out to say thank you or share the impact one has had on your life is a deliberate, thoughtful and generous act. I feel most successful when people share that generosity with me because it is a proof point that I made a difference — no matter how small it may or may not appear to me, personally.

What is your number one rule for achieving success? For me, the key to achieving success is to not set myself up for failure. By this, I do not mean that I set lower standards or goals but I have realized — over time — that trying easier is better than striving for perfection. Perfection is not achievable and striving for perfection just sets you up for failure. Whether searching for balance in my life or trying to create a team in Asia Pacific & Africa, my “rule” is to just take each day as it comes, do what I can do on that day and keep moving forward.

With what do you struggle? Self-doubt. Like many women, I struggle with self-doubt. I write about this in my book, Sheryl Sandberg, China & Me. For a good part of my life, my going in assumption was that I was getting by on a combination of luck and hard work. Mostly, luck. When challenged, particularly when challenged by men, I would second guess myself. I had no trouble standing up for my team but standing up for myself was much harder.

Fortunately, for me, I was backed into a corner. This might seem a strange thing to call fortunate but, for me, it forced me to be honest about my abilities in order to make sense of & manage the situation. The truth is that I am smart and capable. It was time to own my strengths and stop apologizing for them. I continue to work on the challenge of self-doubt every day.

What one thing do you wish you had more time for? My husband. There is never enough time for everyone — our children, me, us or even the dog. This is a common issue for men and women who are working today. Our 24/7 work culture has contributed to the destruction of family life in America. I’ve worked in Asia Pacific, Europe and in the States. I was much younger when I worked in Europe but my experience is that the quality of life in Europe is higher than in the States. There are other issues in Europe that can be tied to that quality of life but it suggests to me that there is some place in the middle to compromise.

The person who suffers the most from my pursuits is my husband. He is incredibly supportive but often is forced to the background while I try to move forward, spend time with our kids or write. There is no person I would rather spend time with than my husband so if I had one wish it would be for more time with him.
With what do you wish you had more help? When we were living in China, we had an Ayi (a full-time housekeeper) and a driver. It was an incredible privilege to have a driver and an Ayi. I would love to have more help at home with the small chores. Laundry, grocery shopping, errand running all takes up time and when you are working constantly or what feels like constantly, it is a huge relief to have someone handling the day-to-day drudgery. I miss that and I think my husband misses it too. It was a nice perk.

Is the life you’re living now, the life you imagined at age 25? No, not all. At 25, I was just getting married and was in law school. I expected I would work in a law firm, make partner and work on social justice issues that mattered to me. I did work for a great law firm, Jenner & Block in Chicago, Illinois, and then a small boutique firm in Birmingham, Michigan. I was able to work on social justice issues from domestic violence to the death penalty while I practicing law. But, I didn’t stay in private practice. I moved in-house at Ford Motor Company and eventually left the OGC for the business side and, that, in turn led me to China.

If you went back to age 25, what would you change? Nothing. If you change even one thing, then you change everything. I would not risk losing my husband, my children or even our dogs. Looking back you can always point to things you could have done better or things you wish you would have done differently but I would not change those things but they informed who I am today and I like who I am today.

What is your dream job? I am working on my dream job — creating my own space to be creative and to give back to the causes that I care about, including equal rights for women and girls across the globe. My dream job is to make a difference in some small way for women and girls. Every day I have the opportunity to that with my own girls and I am working on a broader plan. Watch this space.

What would you like to see women do more of? Everything. I would like to see more women in politics. I would like to see more women in leadership in civil society and academia. I would like to see more women thriving as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters as women. I guess what I am trying to say is that I would like to see women do more of what they dare to do whether that is in the work place, in politics, justice, academia, in the home or elsewhere. Women should have the same choices and opportunities as men and their choices should not be judged.

What would you like to see women do less of? I guess my last answer leads right into this question. I would like to see women be less judgmental of each other’s choices. Madeleine Albright said that there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women. I often cite this quote because I believe it. Whether you believe in heaven or hell, the sentiment is true. Women are 51 percent of the population. We should be working together to re-write the rules of society that hold us back from achieving equality in all aspects of society. I would like to see us come together and support each other more and I think that is beginning to happen. I believe there is tidal wave coming.

Who are your heroines? My grandmother AnnieKate is one of my heroines. She left Ireland when she was 19 years old and came to the United States for all the reasons that most immigrants come to the States. She was tough but she also made great apple pie.

I don’t recall having heroines growing up other than the women around me. My mother worked while having three children and helping my father get through law school. She had three more children and worked hard at educating us, keeping our home, feeding us and managing a household budget that was fueled by an inconsistent income. My father had his own law practice so there was no such thing as a “steady paycheck”. I never recall feeling any kind of economic squeeze but I know now that my mother worked hard to make sure we felt secure as did my father.

The words hero and heroine are over-used in our society. I was influenced by the women around me and by the women I watched on television. I watched Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett with my Mom but they aren’t my heroines. The women and men who raised me to believe I could do anything that I wanted to do are the people who shaped me the most.

What do you admire in/about other women? This is harder to answer than I expected. I admire the courage to speak up for what you believe in, to take the harder and perhaps longer path to your final destination. I admire tenacity and authenticity. I see this in more and more women not because I think women are becoming more tenacious, courageous or authentic but because more and more women are stepping forward out of the shadows. For a long time, women played supporting roles to men and that remains true even today. However, there is a rising tide of women across the globe who are raising their voices for themselves and for others. I admire the courage to step forward because I understand how vulnerable that makes you. I think this is a great strength of women — the ability to be courageous even when they are or feel vulnerable. It is compelling.Sheryl Sandberg, China & Me

What is your best habit? Saying thank you and meaning it. I don’t think we say thank you and mean it enough in our society.

What is your worst habit? Saying I’m sorry when I have nothing to be sorry for at all. Women — myself included — will pose a question by saying “sorry” before stating the question. I don’t know why women do this but we do it too much, in my opinion. If I have a question, why should I be sorry for asking it? Apologizing for everything also makes a real apology harder seem more hollow and an apology should never be hollow.

Is your life balanced? No and I don’t want it to be balanced. I have to say that I believe “balance” to be a bit of a myth and I wish it would go away because I think this is one way women set themselves up to fail. I am under no illusion that I can have it all. We tell ourselves that we can have it all if we redefine all but that makes no sense to me. All has a definition. If you redefine it, then it isn’t all. It is some version of all but it is now too personal to be “all” as we commonly understand it. If you have it all, I have nothing — that is the definition of all. All is too much. Balance is over-rated.

My life ebbs and flows like all others. It is the ebb and flow of life that makes it wonderful, joyous as well as sad and hard. This rolling tide is essential to life and, by embracing it, you have the opportunity to enjoy it rather than conquer it. I don’t want to conquer.

Read Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman for more on how women manage career and life.

1 comment for “The M3 Interview: Jennifer Gilhool, author Sheryl Sandberg, China & Me

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *