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From Barbie to Business: Defining Success from a Doll (and Other Unlikely Sources)

March 25, 2024

By: Andi Sims, Vice President of Business Development, HPM

“It is literally impossible to be a woman…we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.” — Gloria (America Ferrera)

As we continue to celebrate the achievements of women through the focus on Women’s History Month in March, I would be neglectful in my own acknowledgement of the occasion if I didn’t pause to reflect on the commercial and artistic success of last summer’s blockbuster movie, Barbie, and its effect on me personally and professionally.

It may come as no surprise to most who know me well that I was a “Barbie girl.”  In fact, my childhood closet doubled as my own makeshift Barbie Dreamhouse, complete with multi-level rooms, cobbled-together furniture and furnishings, and make-believe scenes and sets of my own.

In my little-girl imagination, Barbie could be anything.  Therefore, I could be anything!

At this point, you can only guess I was stoked to hear of the Barbie movie’s premiere and its kitschy spin on my childhood obsession.  Seemingly like the movie producers, I too grew up with a fairly healthy view of Barbie and her potential.  Sure, she probably contributed to the body dysmorphia I experienced as a teenager and young adult, but her implied confidence, diverse talents, and obvious independence eclipsed any cognitive dissonance I experienced toward her social stereotypes of women and their resulting oppression of my gender and our roles in society.

My Barbies actually got out of the closet “Dreamhouse” and literally got dirty.  My parents had just built our family home in the late 1970s and couldn’t complete the landscaping for several years. So, my brother and I had unlimited access to piles of dirt, sand, rocks, and debris.  It was a wonderland for his GI Joes and my Barbies – who regularly intermingled in pretend worlds of grand adventures, power struggles, intense battles, and the occasional social extravaganza. (Sorry, Ken…my Barbies hung out with heroes!)

Fortuitously (or maybe not?), my brother made a career of the US Army, and like most women, I became many different things…

Banker. Homeowner. Writer. Ballet teacher. Wife. Marketing director. Public relations consultant. Mom. Volunteer. Business owner. Project manager. Salesperson. Editor. Non-profit executive. Arts advocate. Sunday school teacher. Landlord. Long-distance runner. Political campaigner. Researcher. Disney expert. Travel blogger. Football and golf mom. Social media influencer. Career coach. Spokesperson. Fundraiser. Master scheduler. World traveler. Keynote speaker. Vice President. Mentor. Mother-in-law. Board member. Business developer. Frequent flyer. Grandmother.

Certainly, my life and my career have never resembled a straight line or a ladder typically thought of in plotting one’s vocation or in career mapping. Actually, if you laid out my path chronologically, it would look more like the childhood game of “Chutes and Ladders.”

Now, as I ready myself to speak at a women’s conference later this spring, I’m looking backwards and forwards in my career to find patterns and processes for others possibly to emulate.

But if I’m honest with myself, my course looks as confusing and as replicable as a plate of spaghetti!

Maybe it was the season of my life. Perhaps it was my priorities or those of my family. Maybe it was just the right role or opportunity to make a difference or to achieve a milestone.  Maybe it was simply some needed income or a welcomed distraction.

Sometimes, I took two steps forward or was called to the front of the line by someone else. At times, I stepped back or even got out of the game entirely because of choices my husband and I made together. I even turned the gameboard sideways and upside down to take positions or go into industries in which I never thought I would work. And on occasion, it was because I was quite intentional and worked hard to make it happen.

However you look at it, my path hasn’t been traditional or typical, but it’s been successful in the aggregate because I took calculated risks and pivoted when things simply didn’t go my way. I learned from mistakes and reinvented or reinvested in myself when it was appropriate or prudent. Each role has provided me with skills and experiences – no matter how mundane or seemingly unsuccessful they were at the time — which have knitted together my value beyond a predictable and procedural career journey.

It’s been employers, clients, colleagues, family and friends who recognize that unorthodox value in me and my life experiences and who have benefitted from my resulting confidence, diverse talents, and independence – just like the Barbie from my childhood and in the movie depicts.

Everyone doesn’t see or recognize my worth, and that’s okay. I have to expend my resources of time and energy on those who do. And I can’t waste any of it on the voices – internal or external.  (You know the ones.)

As a woman, your value also is intrinsically and inextricably tied to all of the roles you play in your life and all of the experiences you’ve encountered thus far. That’s why work-life integration versus work-life balance is more conducive to the female career path. (But that’s a blogpost for another occasion.)

Like the purpose of the Barbie doll and the theme of the Barbie movie, you are so much more than the sum of your parts or the collection of work experience on your resume. In a world where we’re told we’re nothing if we’re not extraordinary, I encourage you to look back and peer ahead in your life and in your career to find your unique value in everything you are, were, and will be.  Then, learn how to advocate for yourself and for others.

Yes, it’s difficult for everyone in business and in life, but it’s particularly hard for women who are expected to have it all but not be too much. The Barbie movie and particularly America Ferrara’s role of Gloria aptly expressed our collective sigh as women with, “I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.”

I don’t know either, but I’m going to keep trying everyday to make it better for my daughter, my granddaughter, and for you. Because isn’t that what I was made for?

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