Welcome to Bossed Up Boot Camp.
These women want to be professional media moguls, educators, wellness instructors, consultants, Secretary of Defense, campaign managers, social workers, jet-setters, opera critics and non-profit directors. Hailing from across the DC Metro area, 50 unique women gathered at 1776, a start-up hub, during the last weekend of July for an extra pump up session before strutting back to work (and “real life”) the following Monday. Under societal pressure to have life, love & career figured out by age 35, these ladies found themselves quickly approaching the benchmark age feeling unfulfilled by their current positions, burnt out, self-conscious about speaking up and hesitant overall about planning their professional careers moving forward.
Boot Camp provided a jam-packed schedule of motivational and informative lectures, break-out discussion groups, morning fitness classes, a Saturday night happy hour and healthy snacks options. During breaks, women swapped health tips and work-out regimes.
The first lecture, “Goal-Setting: Vision, Ambition and Courage” by Erin Vilardi & Tomika Rodriguez from the Barnard Athena Center for Leadership kicked off the morning with an interactive approach. “Who can tell me two things they are an expert at?” Erin asked. Silence. There were a few hands meekly raised. There sat a room full of 50 women, dressed to impress, without the confidence to voice their expertise. Everyone looked around the room in realization that they had a long road ahead of them, but at least they were in it together. For the next hour, Erin and Tomika gave strategies for self-advocacy, envisioning a positive future and re-evaluating measures of success. “What if”, Tomika proposes, “qualities for which women have long been known for, became the leadership qualities of the 21st century?”
In a positive risk-taking workshop, the women were asked to write down their biggest workplace fears. The woman next to me scribbles down her fear of crying during a meeting. Many confided that their biggest fears are being fired from their jobs, at which point a few women shared their stories of being fired and how they were blessings in disguise. Some of them were afraid to leave positions they hardly enjoy because they are not confident in their ability to make a career switch.
Nicolette Pizitola was a bundle of information on how to be effective, powerful communicators through verbal and non-verbal language (i.e., no head tilting, over-apologizing or slouching inwards.) Nicolette dared attendees to take up space and own their voice. My favorite take-aways were when she said “every connection is a transfer of energy” and “conversations are very much about ritual.”
The afternoon kicked off with skill-based breakout sessions on resumes and cover letters, social media branding with social-media guru Abigail Collazo, networking or “social jiu jitsu” and salary negotiation. Pamela O’Leary advised women to stop using the word “assisted” on their resumes instead of more active verbs. Heidi Neil recommended going into a networking event with three things in mind that you “bring to the table” to boost confidence and points at which to start conversation. The workshops were followed by an Expo of financial advising, nutritionists, professional head shots and business-wear advice — all on-site!
The discussion-based break-out groups facilitated the sharing of experiences and support. By the final panel, many women openly reflected upon failures, and were able to laugh at themselves — ultimately concluding that “having it all” is forever a work in progress.
On the first day, THEY asked, “Who has read lean in?” and more than half of the room raised their hands. But during the panel on Sunday, many debated the value of defining “lean in” as one direction and “leaning out” as the opposite direction because success can be defined so many different ways. The most important part is knowing then lean back, relax and say, “ahhhh.”
I was able to speak to Emilie Aries, a brown graduate s the woman behind the plan.
Bluestockings: How many women applied to Boot Camp?
Emile Aires: Just under 100.
BS: Why was there an application process?
EA: Bossed Up Bootcamp is an intimate experience crafted for women ready and eager to transform their lives. We make sure that all our Bootcamp attendees recognize this opportunity and bring something special to our incoming class.
BS: How did you advertise/recruit attendees?
EA: Most of our attendees heard about Bootcamp through word of mouth or Facebook.
BS: How did you feel about the turn out?
EA: Wonderful! We only wish we’d been able to accept more of those who applied.
BS: When did you first get the idea for Boot Camp?
EA: I spent countless hours talking with peers and mentors and organized monthly dinners to discuss issues surrounding work, love and wellness. I always wished there was a way to
invite more women and experts into that dialogue, and Bootcamp seemed like the perfect way to do so!
BS: Why do women need this Boot Camp?
EA: As an ambitious woman myself, I’ve found it challenging to pursue my career with passion while maintaining happy relationships, healthy habits, and planning for my personal and professional future. Yet investing in a sustainable lifestyle makes us better workers!
Bootcamp provides women the opportunity to pause, reflect and focus on their lives holistically. We examine our long-term goals, drill down on what behaviors are helping us get there and others that need adjusting, and become a part of an inspiring, motivating community of Bossed Up women.
BS: What kind of women attend Boot Camp?
EA: Women who are self-reflective, passionate about their careers, and seek happy, lovefilled lives.
BS: How long have you been planning last weekend’s training?
EA: About two months.
BS: What paths have led you to collaborating on a start-up?
EA: I graduated with a great degree and landed an excellent job. I rose quickly in my field and was proud of my professional achievement. But I was on a path that would lead to burnout before 30. I regularly skipped meals, was chronically operating on too little sleep, hadn’t had a gym membership in years (which for a former college athlete was a huge change), and was dating men who emotionally brought me down instead of lifting me up. I lost touch with most of my friends from college and considered networking at happy hours my only time for “fun.”
After reaching my personal rock bottom, I decided I needed to change, so I changed everything. Left my long-term relationship. Quit my job. Moved to a new city. And while managing those months of uncertainty were never easy and often isolating, I realized that I was stronger than I knew and it was up to me – and no one else – to shape my destiny.
My story is not unique. I hear this kind of thing from women all the time – some great event or tragedy leads to a turning point and then that strength appears. I firmly believe that we don’t need to wait for crisis, and I don’t want other women to feel as isolated and without recourse as I did when I decided to take charge of my life.
Bossed Up exists to provide a robust community of support and hands-on, practical training to help women navigate the choppy waters of change and advocate for themselves in work, love and wellness.
BS: What are some struggles for women in entrepreneurial endeavors?
EA: Being confident in and able to clearly communicate your vision.
Why is it that women struggle advocating for themselves in the workplace?
Women don’t struggle advocating for themselves just in the workplace – the same holds true with themselves internally (being willing to prioritize our own health and wellbeing, for instance) and with friends and partners (so many of us care for others without being cared for in return).
Everyone’s story is different, but I think a lot of why “women don’t ask” (to draw from Linda Babcock) boils down to not owning our power because of the social repercussions we’ve been conditioned to expect. Perhaps we’re afraid of coming off as a bitch, maybe we downplay our achievements to appear more attractive and demure to a love interest, or maybe we suffer from the imposter syndrome, in that we don’t believe we’re qualified to assert ourselves. Sheryl Sandberg concisely reviews the latest data in Lean In that particularly addresses how these patterns of behavior are detrimental to women and their workplaces alike.
Whatever the reasons, self-awareness is the first step to behavior change and that’s what we’re focused on at Bossed Up.
Cognitive psychologists Chip and Dan Heath write in Switch about a kind of change framework called solutions-focused therapy. In this approach, instead of digging into one’s past to uncover the deep-seated reasons for why we behave the way we do, people focus on clarifying their vision of the change they wish to see and are then challenged to identify a time when they last saw any sign of progress. They’re forced to focus on the bright spots – a time in which they’ve already solved their problem, at least a little bit.
This is extremely powerful in that it helps people realize our solution is already within us, and it’s just about tapping into that power and identifying where and how else to apply it to other facets of our lives.
BS: What do you see as the future for Bossed Up?
EA: We’re diligently focused on expanding our in-person programs while building out a digital community to help Bossed Up women connect, inspire, and motivate each other.
We’ll be unveiling future trainings that dive deeper on issues like motherhood and work, love & relationships for ambitious women, and personal finance. Stay tuned – lots of big things in store from Bossed Up!
Introduction and Interview by Chanelle Adams