How do ordinary girls turn into extraordinary women? That was the question asked by child psychologist and author Sylvia Rimm in her books “See Jane Win” and “How Jane Won.” Her books, based on interviews with hundreds of now successful women, will be the basis of a speech Rimm is giving Wednesday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m. at Trayes Hall in the Douglass student center, 100 George Street in New Brunswick. The lecture is free and open to the public.
A child psychologist, columnist, author, and former correspondent to the “Today Show,” Rimm interviewed such successful women as Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former New Jersey governor Christine Whitman, news anchor Jane Pauley, violinist Pamela Frank, and retired rear admiral Marsha Evans.
Rimm’s research suggested the following 10 guidelines for action, as excerpted from “How Jane Won” (Crown Publishers, 2001):
Guideline for girls and women No. 1: Dare to compete. Take the risk of entering competitions in either your school or work world. Enter some competitions where you feel confident so you can experience the exhilaration of winning. But also enter some competitions in which you feel less skilled.
Not expecting to win helps you learn not to be too hard on yourself, and even small improvements can help you build confidence.
Competition and collaboration are not opposites. Selecting the appropriate occasions for cooperation and competition is part of learning to function successfully in a competitive society. If indeed you hate competition and don’t wish to learn the skills of competing, you might be happier investigating the more traditional career paths for women. They tend to be less competitive than the career fields that have been led by men.
2: It’s cool to be smart and work hard. Feeling smart doesn’t mean you have to be the smartest, nor does it mean you have to feel capable in every area. Finding your strengths and interests will help you feel good about yourself. However, don’t totally avoid or write off subjects or fields that seem difficult to you. Sometimes getting the right tutor or finding the appropriate mentor is all you’ll require to get over your fears, anxieties, or feelings of helplessness. For example, quite a few women in our survey had assumed they couldn’t do math, until they received appropriate help.
There were women in business, media, and science who deemed themselves failures before they received guidance from mentors. Your learning style may be different, and once you’ve overcome a difficult hurdle, concepts may become clearer. Your values may not fit with a particular job, and you may need to search for your own niche. Neither situation means you’re a failure, only that you must search creatively for your right place.
It can be quite difficult to be independent from your peers in school because there are so many pressures to conform. Being independent doesn’t mean you have to live a life of isolation without friends, only that you should select friends that fit with your values and that you should think carefully about those values.
3: Choose the school that fits you. Family economics and your own personality should be important factors to consider in making decisions about schools and colleges. Your parents have made your earlier decisions, but your input will be an important consideration in further decisions. You need to consider your personality honestly to determine whether you need to build assertiveness. If you are particularly shy or quiet, an all-girl or all-woman environment may encourage you to speak out. It may also provide you with more opportunity and more courage to accept leadership. Also, be honest with yourself about the effect of boys or men in your environment. They may or may not be a distraction, and only you can make that determination.
4: Choose friends who share values that matter most to you. Being social is neither bad nor good as long as your social life doesn’t interfere with your learning during your crucial school years. If you select friends who value learning, you’re likely to support each other in the process and still find time for fun. Extracurricular interests like music, sports, government, debate, drama, science, and math teams all combine learning and fun. Religious groups and specialinterest groups in high school, college, and adulthood often provide comfortable neighborhoods for friends, discussion, support, and leadership. Even if you pride yourself on your independence, research shows that teens and adults alike are affected by peer pressure. Thus, if you select or fall into a negative or boring peer group, with time you’ll find your behavior and values becoming more negative or boring, despite your assumptions to the contrary.
5: Get out and see the world. Enjoy travel with your family if you have the opportunity. In order to benefit from your experiences, you’ll need to be open to them. There may be times when you’d rather stay home, but for the most part, those experiences will simply blur in your memory. Travel is more likely to stand out as unique and help you grow as a creative person.
Try to encourage your school to organize a travel group. Participating in a student exchange program will give you a unique and unforgettable opportunity. If you’re a college student, consider spending a semester or summer in a different area.
6: Let your parents be a resource. Although adolescence and young adulthood is surely the time to establish yourself as more independent, don’t rule out parents’ recommendations that are based on their love for you and their experiences in the world. Although you should have many choices by this time in your life, during your high school years, your parents have the moral and legal responsibility for setting limits. Assume they are doing this in your best interests, even when you disagree with them.
7: Don’t let your siblings hold you back. Don’t let your birth order prevent you from taking the risk of leadership. Leadership may not feel as comfortable to you if you are the middle or youngest child, but do make deliberate attempts to take charge of committees or organizations so that you can learn to lead. If you’re the oldest in the family, don’t always insist on control. Stepping back and letting others take the lead from time to time may free up some creative energy and give you the freedom to make occasional mistakes. A balance of control and creativity is important for most careers.
When it comes to exploring your own talents, don’t avoid areas just because a talented family member seems to have claimed the spot. You may find you are equally talented, or at least more talented than you’d believed. You can have less talent than a brother, sister, or parent and still be very capable compared to the rest of the world.
8: Prepare to be challenged and get support to defeat obstacles. Your pathway to success is likely to be indirect. At some point, you’ll face lessons that will seem impossible to learn, challenges that will feel insurmountable, closed doors that you will be unable to open. Determining whether you should persevere, get help, or change directions will be the test of your resilience.
9: Balance passion with reason. Consider the values you want to derive from your career. Be realistic in balancing your love of the work with the availability of jobs, financial remuneration, time commitment, and its fit with your family and relationship goals.
There is wisdom in passionately loving your work, but despite your passion, you may not be able to achieve success, because some careers are simply too competitive. You may have to discover a passion for a new career.
10. Expect the balancing act to be a struggle. You may have many choices about the timing of your career and whether or not you want to combine your career with marriage or family life. You can expect to struggle psychologically with those is sues, and a race against the calendar for family planning is not unusual.
You may choose not to marry; you may choose to marry but not have children. Be prepared to struggle with some career choices in which you may never be certain if your success or lack thereof is tied to your abilities or to your gender.
Balance is a dynamic process. Sometimes things may get off-center in one direction or another. There’s not one perfect, ideal way to perform life’s balancing act.
Dr. Sylvia Rimm, How Girls Can Grow into Successful Women, Wednesday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m. at Trayes Hall, Douglass campus, 100 George Street, New Brunswick. Free. 732-932-7084, ext. 615