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Career Development & Advice

Dana Perino: Why relying on others is crucial for personal strength

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Fortune
Fortune
 2021-04-30
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Dana Perino on set at Fox News studios on Oct. 17, 2018, in New York City. Steven Ferdman—Getty Images

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Once I got a call from a young woman in Washington, D.C., seeking some advice. She had a problem at work and was quite upset. Her office supervisor wanted her to do something that she was very uncomfortable with—make a public statement under her own name using language and a tone that she thought was disrespectful and unproductive.

“Then don’t say it. Absolutely do not do it,” I said.

“I don’t think I can refuse,” she said. She was afraid she’d be fired if she didn’t comply, that she didn’t have the gravitas to decline.

“I’m not Dana Perino,” she said.

“Well, how do you think I became Dana Perino?” I asked.

I’d had times in my career when I faced the same problem. I knew that pit of worry and fear that can make you nearly sick to your stomach when you think you’re trapped or stuck (you’re not!).

I suggested she rewrite the statement in her own words. If her name was going on it, then she had to take ownership of the opportunity. You see, while she was worried that she was going to lose her job or be pushed aside, hurting her career plans, I had an alternative view—that if she didn’t stick up for herself and do the right thing, the experience would chip away at her confidence and could hurt her career in a different way in the long run.

I told her that personal integrity is her most valuable asset—she had to fiercely protect it. And that suggesting the changes to the statement with dignity and grace would make her stronger the next time she confronted a challenge.

And the good news is that she rewrote the points in a way that made her feel comfortable and that satisfied her boss. Win-win.

Looking back to when I was going through my quarter-life crisis, I thought that I was the only one who couldn’t get myself on track. As if I were the only young woman who wondered about her career path, worried she had stayed too long in a job, or puzzled over how to meet a guy I’d want to spend my life with.

What made a difference for me was sharing my worries and insecurities with a few trusted friends. By allowing myself to be a little vulnerable, I got good advice, learned from what they’d gone through, and could apply those lessons to my new outlook.

This is a pattern that repeats itself. When I got promoted to press secretary at the White House, I reached out to friends who understood that I felt overwhelmed and somewhat inadequate for the job. Turns out that nearly everyone feels that uncertainty when they’re moving up the ladder.

I picked up advice along the way. Here is some that I remember and that I’ve passed on to others:

• Don’t try to do everything at once—you’ll never catch up. So prioritize.

• Listen way more than you talk at first. Get a feel for how everyone thinks and what their strengths are.

• Find your allies and forge strong bonds with them.

• You’re new—no one expects you to know everything, so use this time to your advantage.

• Avoid comparing yourself to your predecessors too much. Embrace the opportunity and be yourself.

• Set boundaries early, such as best times to reach you when you’re away from the office.

This is also true for new mothers deciding how best to handle day care, daughters who are helping an elderly parent transition to assisted living, and moms with young adult children struggling to get a foothold after college. Talking things over with trusted friends or colleagues can relieve you of the burden of feeling that you’re alone. And you might pick up some good tips that you can apply to help solve your problems.

Think of it as a relief. You’re not the first to have this problem, and you’re definitely not the last!

Dana Perino is coanchor of Fox’s America’s Newsroom, cohost of Fox’s The Five, and author of the New York Times bestseller Everything Will Be Okay: Life Lessons for Young Women (From a Former Young Woman).

This commentary is excerpted from Everything Will Be Okay with permission from Twelve Books/Hachette Book Group.

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