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Things I Learned in Silicon Valley

7 months ago by

Photos Kyle Peters

Growing up, I was surrounded by women: I’m from an all-woman family (me, my Mum, my two sisters), and I went to a small, all-women school in rural England.

Less than a decade later I was working in Silicon Valley, managing some of Facebook’s most sensitive product policies. While I worked with many strong, amazing women in Silicon Valley, I was ultimately in an area and an industry dominated by men. I had to re-learn how to use my voice, and learn how to lead in an industry that embraces traditionally masculine ways of work and communication, without sacrificing my feminine strength.

Here are some of the most important things I learned.

1. Everybody poops

I always thought that once I made it to the top of a big, fancy company, everything would run like hot butter. Meetings would have clear agendas. Deadlines would be met. Balls would never be dropped. And yet when I started working with leadership at some of the world’s biggest technology companies, everyone seemed so human. People would make mistakes, or get flustered, or forget things. “Of course they do,” my best friend told me when I discussed this with him. “We’re all human. Everybody poops.”

I loved this phrasing and I hold it with me constantly. Ultimately, everyone is human, and we’re all prone to human error. We shouldn’t idealize perfection in anyone else, and we should be quick to forgive the very human mistakes that are inevitable in ourselves. It doesn’t matter how shiny someone’s job title is. Everybody poops.

2. It’s okay to shine

This sounds ridiculous, but as much as I felt I had to prove myself as a woman in Silicon Valley, I constantly found myself hiding my accomplishments. I remember one monthly status update meeting, in which each member of my team shared their progress on that month’s projects. I caught myself frantically deleting ‘things-I-crushed-this-month’ bullet points from my presentation because the teammate who shared before me accomplished a lot less that month, and I didn’t want to outshine him.

Where does this come from? I assume it’s some deep-seated patriarchal juju about not wanting to be intimidating or arrogant or unlikeable. Wherever it comes from, it’s B.S., and it had to stop. It’s okay to be great at what you do. And it’s okay to own the fact that you’re great at what you do. Overcoming this was extremely hard for me, and I still feel discomfort calling myself “great” at anything, but it’s so, so important that we advocate for ourselves. No one’s going to do that for us.

3. Say no, and say it without guilt

It’s one thing to learn to say no. It’s another to say no without feeling so guilty about it that you end up compensating with some other equally energy-draining task. I’m a chronic people pleaser, and before I learned to say “no” I was the team notetaker, newsletter writer, late night editor, and weekend-emergency-handler. Saying no (guiltlessly!) at the right times allows you to conserve your energy for more important, career-fueling work.

4. If it’s not right for you, it’s not right

If your office has free snacks, free nap pods, circus-colored decor and an arcade, and you’re not having fun, the problem has got to be you – right? Feeling unhappy at a company consistently voted the #1 best place to work will make you feel spoiled and ungrateful. But at the end of the day, if something isn’t right for you, then it isn’t right. It doesn’t matter what someone else enjoys – you’re the one waking up each day, living your life.

5. Work isn’t everything

I’m a career woman down to the marrow of my bones. If there’s a life dilemma, career comes first, always. I once went on a date with a man who said “Work is just something that I do to fund my hobbies,” and I stared at him in baffled silence until the entrees arrived. But after a half-decade of working my butt to the bone, commuting two hours to the office (each way!) and taking all-hour meetings, I realized something – work alone does not a full life make. It’s great to have a fulfilling career, but it’s just as important to find space for rest, and play, and to make time for cultivating relationships. If you trust me on any of these learnings, trust me on this one.

_________________________

Brie Noel Taylor has been a long reader of the site and reached out to us asking if we were hiring freelancers. Her thorough pitches and can do attitude drove me to meet for coffee. She’s since left Facebook and you can find more about her current work here and here.

17 comments

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  • Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us Brie! I loved your insights. x

  • therese April, 27 2018, 3:30 / Reply

    Wonderful thoughts. So hard sometimes to follow through on these points but ultimately, advice that is necessary to navigate work and life. We tend to not want to shine but that is what make us successful.

  • There was a nice article in Vogue about Margaret Atwood talking ambition at Tory Burch’s foundation. When Margaret Atwood started writing, she was asked “Do men like you?” and “How do you find time to do the housework?” and Tory Burch was once asked by a journalist “Are you ambitious?”, a question seldom asked to men.

  • Sabrina April, 28 2018, 4:05 / Reply

    Real women like Brie are the reason why I return back to Atelier Doré again and again. Love reading their stories. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  • Thanks, great post!

  • Florence April, 28 2018, 11:31 / Reply

    Je suis ambitieuse dans mon travail et très exigeante, mais ce que j’ai aussi appris, c’est que si demain ma vie devait s’arrêter, je ne passerais pas mes derniers moments au boulot et je m’en ficherais complètement…en résumé, ce n’est pas ce qui compte le plus. Si j’étais amené à devoir faire le point sur ce qui est gratifiant ce ne serait pas le travail en soit, sinon le fruit du travail et des relations humaines…En plus on a tout a fait le droit de n’avoir pas d’ambitions professionnelles.

  • I’m one of the few men who read and comment
    regularly on this site . I have always worked in environments that were mainly women and the opposite does not exist. My voice was always respected. However I did notice women we’re unkind to each other .
    The answer lies in the modeling of the upper level in any organization. I’m excited to see these things changing as the work place becomes more balanced in the amount of women in high positions. Bring it on I will always work for and with women .
    Jandrew
    Dress The Part
    http://www.jandrewspeaks.com

  • Danielle korneliussen April, 29 2018, 8:23 / Reply

    This was a short and concise read, Brie. Your list seemed really clear… I was glad for your sake that your list was not too long and circuitous.
    Now, about that EVERYONE POOPS idea! Check out your local bookshop for a kids book written/Illustrated by Japanese author Taro Gomi. I sold a ton of this charming book back in the Stone Age whe I owned a Children’s book shop. This will take you through some slippery roads ahead… And you will smile and laugh instead of parking your fanny in front of the freezer filled with slightly aging boxes of ice cream on a tough day at work.

  • July_di April, 29 2018, 2:32 / Reply

    I love this article! I truly believe that feminism is also about finding out about how to fit in and find your place in a world that traditionally was led by men, without loosing yourself or destroying everything.

  • Jennifer Holiday Quinn April, 29 2018, 3:32 / Reply

    Your article was great and your artwork is so gorgeous! Thank you for the inspiration and beauty.

  • Ah I loved this post! I’m a women working in the tech industry too – I really related to this, and Brie your advice was on point! Cheers :)

  • Please, more like this. I’ve never commented before, but I needed this so much today. I want to hear more from Brie about working in male-dominated environments. It feels like there is so little writing out there for the perceived mundane yet complex realities of corporate leadership, where there are SO FEW WOMEN. Especially in tech- it’s lonely! Thank you for this wonderful piece!!!

  • What I need to read on a Monday. Thank you!

  • Stefani April, 30 2018, 7:23 / Reply

    I really liked this :) Go Brie! X

  • Jacqueline May, 1 2018, 11:02 / Reply

    I don’t think that being a “career woman down to the marrow” is necessarily a virtuous thing….historically there are many women with this mantra who have made life difficult, if not unbearable, for other women in the workplace. Jealousy, competitiveness, and general mean spirited behaviors exist amongst women in the workplace stemming from one dimensional types who have based all of their self worth on a job.

  • One of the most beautiful things I’ve read, and happy to read you have freelance opportunities. The minimizing the success part is so interesting, a lot of us women need to unlearn that!

  • Loved this! I live and work in SV and I totally get everything you mentioned. Thanks Brie!

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