Helene Lerner is no stranger to learning how to navigate the stresses and strains of becoming a successful entrepreneur and leader in the world of business. Having begun her career as a teacher, and later working her way up through the management ranks of The New York Times.
In 1994, she also founded WomenWorking.com; but, along her journey, served as a television host, Emmy award-winning executive producer, workplace consultant, and prolific author of fourteen books. Today, her following in social media is 19 million and growing. And, as CEO of Creative Expansions, Inc., a multimedia company, her mission is to empower women and girls around the globe.
Her new book, Confidence Booster, How to Boost Confidence, Set Boundaries, and Practice Self-Care in the Changing Work World, is about how to navigate the internal and social barriers people face in their daily lives. It offers guidance in the form a five-step program, which is filled with practical tips and inspiration to boost confidence. Recently, I had the chance to speak with Helene about the book and some personal experiences that she has found to be supportive in guiding her along her journey of success.
BRIAN: You have been a champion for women's advancement and empowerment for a long time now. With the release of your latest book, it seems that you have identified another highly important aspect of creating and living great life. What led you to decide to write this specific book?
HELENE: I think we're all exhausted. It's been two years [in the pandemic]. There's no "dot at the end of the sentence," [per se]. If we knew in two months, we have an end to a lot of what we've been going through, I think it would be easier for all of us to cope. But we don't have that. So [as] women and men are involved in childcare, elder care, working issues, going back to the office, [we say] "Oh, no, we're not going to go back in November." Then, because there's a new strand, [it becomes], "We'll go back in January." It's from one, to the other, to the other. Change, change, change. And we're exhausted. Mental health issues are up [and] the challenges are there. I wanted to give women and men a grounding; so that, if their confidence has waned a little bit, they [would] use their energy productively and move forward in their career and personal lives and get what they need.
BRIAN: I was reading about the fact that, because of the pandemic, many women are suffering from re-entry anxiety. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, Americans are now experiencing the highest levels of stress since April 2020, with 84% of adults reporting feeling at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress in the past 2 weeks. Do you find this to be true with the women you interact with on a regular basis?
HELENE: [Its] Huge. But, not just women, Brian. [It's happening for] the men, too. Women carry the brunt of childcare and elder care, plus our normal job. However, I've been hearing it from the men, as well.
Look, if we say "No," NO is a way of saying YES TO OURSELVES. And, if we say "No," we can do it graciously. We can offer another person who might be available to help out. We can say, "Look…my bandwidth…I don't have any right now. I'm just too stretched. But call on me in two weeks." We can do it graciously. And then, if people are used to us saying, "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…" and, they don't like the new you…well…are they really the people you want to be around? So, it takes courage to say "No," but in the end, you're saying "Yes" to yourself. And so, boundaries are very important.BRIAN: Let's talk about the five-step process in your book, Confidence Booster. I think that is something important for readers to understand.
HELENE: A lot of what's happening in corporations and companies is that in order to negotiate what you need and want, it's being left (in many cases) to the manager or the supervisor. And not all supervisors and managers have [or developed] people skills. So, I think it's very important, and that's what the five steps to boost confidence, set boundaries in the work world, in the changing work world, is about.
So, Step One. I think it's very important for people to GET CLEAR on what they want because if you go to someone with 10 issues, no one's going to listen to you. We [typically] don't have the bandwidth for one. So, get clear on what's most important to you. And, in the book, I talk about what's non-negotiable about that request and what's negotiable.
Step Two is to SPEAK UP. It's not okay anymore not to speak up. What usually happens if we don't is we hold on to resentment and we look at what other people are getting and it's just an energy drain.
Step Three is KNOW WHEN TO LET GO. You've said it in the way you've roleplayed it. [For example], it's clear you've gotten either a "Yes," "No," or "Maybe," or, "Let's talk about in three months." Don't hold on. Get on to something else. If you need to revisit [it] in three months, make sure you do.
Step Four is CREATE BOUNDARIES. We cannot be all things to all people. I've tried it. Now, I have my red hair turning gray.
BRIAN: You have me clapping and waving a handkerchief on that one.
HELENE: And Step Five, KEEP TAKING SMART RISKS. I wrote a book, Smart Women Take Risks, [and I say,] "You don't want to jump into a pool where there's no water." That's not the risk I'm telling people to take. But, when things line up, you've done the "pluses and minuses," and [even though] you know you're scared, you know in your heart it's the way to go, it's time to take that risk. I mean, what's the worst thing that can happen if you don't achieve it, but you grow in the process? So, it's taking what I call, "Smart Risk."BRIAN: What are some of the experiences you want women to walk away from after they read this book?
HELENE: I want women to acknowledge how resilient and strong we've been. I want them also to realize that it's been very stressful for all of us and that it's so important to reach out for help. That no one can do it [alone]. I also want them to let go of those things (or attempt to let go) of those things that don't work for them. In my book, I call it, "Mad mind chatter," where we're saying things like, "We should have done it better," "I couldn't be there," "I wonder what happened when I said, 'No,'" or, any kind of stuff we tell ourselves that is really draining our energy – which might have come from a parent, a teacher, an old boss putting their stuff on us and we've [now] internalized it. We don't have that much energy these days, [so] why have a negative vacuum cleaner that's just draining us? And I want them to speak up because I want women to know that their voice counts, and this is the time not to hold back.
…my definition of confidence is moving forward.
And my definition of confidence is moving forward. When you think you can make a difference, change the conversation…offer up an idea. [Even if] you're not sure if it's going to fly, you do it…even with shaky knees. I want them to know "no one has the confidence we think the other person has." I've interviewed enough high-level women [to know this]. No one has that confidence. So, we might as well pick our issue and speak up, even with a shaky voice, or even with our knees shaking under the table. Not only will we help ourselves, [and] our families, but we may help our other sisters, our other brothers, [and] people who also need whatever we're going to say.BRIAN: I don't want to forget to congratulate you and your team on the incredible success of WomenWorking.com, which is now the number one page on Facebook, with over 19 million followers! With this success, I am sure that the journey has been filled with many "ups and downs," as well as, "twists and turns." What are some of the things you have learned about coping with greater heights of success?
HELENE: Well, I think sometimes people are afraid to be visible. We say we want the acknowledgement. We say that we want the prizes, the whistles, the prizes. But, when we're visible, we can have impact, which is terrific…but we're also going to get criticized. Not everyone's going to like us or like what we say. But for me, the goal is "to be of service." And when I'm "of service," that trumps my fear; it trumps my negativity. When I think I can really make a difference in some way, whether it's a small way or a large way or whatever it is, that keeps me going.
…for me, the goal is "to be 'of service.'" And when I'm "of service," that trumps my fear; it trumps my negativity.
I think there's always going to be obstacles. I mean, no matter what level you're at, whether you're starting out, whether you're staying, you've been someplace for two or three years, whether you've been someplace for 15 years, whether you've achieved a lot, there are always going to be obstacles. But what always has been interesting to me is not the obstacles, but how we move through the obstacles. How do everyday heroes [do it]? Because we're all everyday heroes. We're all on the line.
We've had wonderful people working in hospitals…doctors and nurses…truckers and everyone else…even the people at Target and Walmart…all those people that have helped us get through two years of constant challenge. But we're the everyday heroes when we get up with our families (and we don't feel like getting up, but we get up anyway). When we give a kind word to a friend or a neighbor who looks down. When we bring a little light in the room. [Since] we have huge mental health challenges now, that can be turning on the light for someone else. And very often, we do not see or realize our impact. So, our impact doesn't have to be 19 million people (God bless. Thank you, God. I mean, I'm very appreciative).
The bottom line is if we can help one person and show a little kindness…I mean, I think what upsets me these days is that I see so much divisiveness. And I really think that no one…no celebrity…no President of a country…no one had a handle on what went on in the last two years. In other words, there wasn't a way that [anyone] could get through it without being touched or scathed. We all were part of this. And, if we can reach out and help someone else…I know that I usually feel better when I help someone and connect with someone.
We're all going to be born. We're going to die. We all have blood in our veins. And where is the humanity? Instead of reaching for the fear, I would like people to reach for connection more.BRIAN: For the women who are entrepreneurs, executives, and employees, what is one thing that you find they all have in common, when it comes to confidence, as their world goes through shifts and changes?
HELENE: Well, I'd like to redefine my definition of confidence because I think women are smart…we're strategic…and we know what's needed. We have a lot of insight, but sometimes we haven't spoken up; and there is no one that we look at that has it all together. We may look at certain people and say, "Oh, she's more confident. He's more confident." Well, I've interviewed a lot of people…and 'yes,' there are people with varying levels of confidence…but no one has it all together. So, [as I stated earlier] my new definition of confidence is, "you move forward, even with shaky knees or a shaky voice." [Remember that] when you think you can make a difference, change a conversation; offer up an idea. [Even if] you're not sure it's going to fly, but you know it's important, you do it.
The time to be silent is not now. Everyone needs your resourcefulness. STEP UP!
BRIAN: Helene, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us, here at Soulivity Magazine. We wish you great success with this amazing new book, as well as, continued success with Womenworking.com.
You can learn more about Helene Lerner and Womenworking.com by following them on social media:
To buy Helene's latest book, click here to purchase: Confidence Booster, How to Boost Confidence, Set Boundaries, and Practice Self-Care in the Changing Work World