Be Your Own Champion

Back Commentary Mar 1, 2018 By Winnie Comstock-Carlson

When I was about 12 years old, my father said to me, “Pudsie, you’ll never amount to a hill of beans.”

It sounds cruel (the statement, not the nickname), but I didn’t see it that way at the time. We never got along particularly well, and I took the words as a challenge. It may be of little coincidence that I launched my first business that same year, making yarn dolls I sold to friends and family. I worked part-time for the materials (in fact, I started paying for everything but my own food and lodging that year) and enjoyed early success. Unfortunately, the enterprise failed — as I attempted to move into dime stores and novelty shops, it simply did not prove to be scalable. The dolls were cute, though.

Related: Leadership Can Happen Unexpectedly

As we were preparing this issue, our annual tribute to women in leadership, I was notified by the Sacramento Metro Chamber that I would have the honor of being named its 2018 Sacramentan of the Year. This recognition was totally unexpected and humbling, given the roster of accomplished leaders who have enjoyed the title in years prior, and it prompted me to reflect on how I and the women we are profiling in this issue got to where we are in life, and what we and many others in the community have in common.

It didn’t necessarily raise questions about the differences between men and women. Leadership is not defined by gender. It’s also not always easy to define. But, like art, it’s easy to recognize leadership when you see it, because it motivates people and fosters results.

We can debate endlessly whether leaders are born or made.  But no matter which side of that argument you believe, I think we can agree that leaders share certain qualities, even if their paths to success are not always the same.

Some of the women we write about in this issue are entrepreneurs, like myself.  But each year we highlight women who lead through a variety of venues — private-sector industries, nonprofits, government and the arts, as well.  For each of them, the path to success was personal and unique. None are the story of “every woman” any more than they are “every leader.” But there are many traits they share.

They are competitive with a will to achieve. These women have remained diligent in the face of setbacks and been willing to define success on their own terms. They are powerhouses within their respective careers and in their communities. They have relied upon building fundamental personal relationships through patience and professionalism — perhaps a touch of moxie when needed. Success in business is never easy. We must use the assets we have, be savvy enough to navigate around obstacles and remain willing to bust through barriers when the situation calls for it.

I’m not sure I have any nuggets of wisdom on how to become a woman in leadership; I never thought of myself that way. Times were different when I started the magazine 29 years ago. Today, we see a new generation of female leaders initiating important conversations. My generation is in a position to contribute to them, and hope perhaps we helped create a world more willing to listen.

But here’s what I can tell you about myself: I think I was born with a built-in drive to be successful. I learned through failure — prepared for it, even — and I refused to believe anyone who didn’t have faith I would achieve what I set out for. I looked for a niche that suited my skills and where I knew I could make an impact. I searched for problems I thought I could solve. As I gained more solid footing, I surrounded myself with the best talent I could afford, individuals with their own unique insights and skills who could do well what I could not.

I know my story is not every woman’s story. There is proof of so much within the pages of this issue and a myriad of additional stories throughout the Capital Region. More women are succeeding today in leadership roles that perhaps they never dreamed possible. I am grateful to share a handful of them with you here.

To the young women — and men — in their early days of aspiration, I say do not give up. The world can be an unforgiving place that at times may make you feel you are worth no more than a hill of beans. Do not heed this caution. Trust in yourself, your skills, your strength and your story. Push through; there is a mountain of opportunity waiting to be seized.