Nice Is The New Nasty

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In light of very recent events, when Trump so eloquently attempted to bring down Hillary by referring to her as “nasty,” I was very happy and encouraged to wake up to the outpouring of support among women jumping in to stand behind Hillary and redefine the word “nasty”.

The use of this word, combined with the “anything but nasty” reaction of women around the world, got me thinking how kindness and camaraderie are the new road to success. However, roughness and brutality are considered by some to be the pathway to success. But the opposite is showing in the recent polls. So what about business? A world often known as the more cut-throat you are, the more likely you are to succeed -- Is that true?

When I look at the most successful people I know, both role models and friends of mine who are rising to the top of their careers, one of the main things I notice that they have in common is generosity. They see success as abundant and operate as if we can all succeed by pulling one another up, instead of holding one another back.

That was how I always operated, and is the spirit I try to bring to Runway Passport by creating a community feel among emerging designers. But I also have been told how naive that is. I remember one of my “best” friends (aka frenemies) in college telling me it is all about competing and crushing those around you. With similar career goals, she made it clear she would “destroy me in a second” if need be, to get ahead. That never felt right to me, but was I just being blindly idealistic? That seemed like an awful way to live, but what if it was the harsh reality?

Now out of college and in the work world for awhile, I have happily noticed how wrong this “friend” was. However, many still do say you have to play very rough to get ahead. So I decided to check this out with real life examples. I posed the following question:

“What is a time you saw kindness and generosity help someone’s career and what was a time you saw meanness and competitiveness hold someone back? Which approach seemed to work best towards success?”

Jia Wertz of Studio15 based her whole company on kindness. After a trip to Uganda in 2013, she never forgot the generosity of the local women entrepreneurs. For example, “Some families who can only eat one meal a day insisted on cooking dinner for myself and the other volunteers. It was difficult to allow them to do that, knowing how little they have themselves and sometimes don’t even have enough food for their own families, but it was also difficult to say no when they were extending such a beautiful gesture to us; so we cooked and had a wonderful dinner together.” Because of their generosity, Jia committed to donating 5% of all her sales to support local Ugandan businesses. So far they have funded 30 businesses for women in Gulu, Uganda. “Kindness makes people remember you, it makes people want to reciprocate, and it comes right back to you.” And Jia and her thriving business are a major example of that.

Then there is Sara* (not her real name), a fashion stylist. She is doing very well, styling for major publications and collaborating with top bloggers. “ I really learned the difference between generosity and selfishness with my first two jobs out of college, assisting two VERY different fashion stylists.”

The first stylist she worked for approached everyone as if they were out to take away work from her. “She never operated from a place of abundance — not to sound too new-agey. She was jealous and competitive.“ For example, she told Sara that it was disrespectful and unethical for an assistant to do test shoots to grow their own portfolio. The final straw for Sara was when this stylist had a job with a major fashion editor who Sara dreamed of assisting one day. “This stylist couldn’t do anything without an assistant and then suddenly she didn’t need me on this one shoot? It was so clear she was trying to prevent me from making this business connection. She did anything possible to hold me and those around her back.”

When Sara finally left, she got a new job with a stylist who was LOVELY. “Everyone enjoyed working with her because she was both warm and professional, so she got many more jobs than the first one did. This stylist pushed me to make sure I worked on my own portfolio and would refer me for small styling jobs. “ Sara also noticed previous assistants would often reach out for career advice and this woman would always make time for them.

The “karma of kindness” was really driven home to Sara when a pivotal top level position opened up in the industry. Her current boss, her old boss and many other qualified people in the field were vying for it. In the end her kind boss got the position! It turned out the opportunity was down to three equally qualified candidates, but one of the decision makers was someone her mentor had gone out of the way for when she was a young editor and this decision maker was an intern.

Sara, now thriving herself, constantly shows the same generosity to those starting out. “It’s dumb to be mean to your assistant. If they are determined they will do well with or without you. And really why ever be mean to anyone?!”

Lauren* (also not her real name) does social media and customer acquisition for startups. She had a group of two best friends in the same field. “The three of us met doing a social media internship for a startup during our senior year of college and became inseparable. A few years later our old boss from our internship was recruited to another company and an amazing position opened up to work alongside him.”

The three knew they were competing for it, but Lauren assumed they were doing so fairly. “If I couldn’t have it at least one of my best friends would,” was Lauren’s approach. “Then I found out one of us, I’ll call her Meredith, ran into our old boss and a few other people we knew from the company. Meredith essentially implied that myself and our third friend, (I’ll call her Karen) were lazy and spent all our time partying. It was shocking. Even though I was making a strong case for myself, I still made a point to say Meredith and Karen were both very smart and qualified. I knew Karen was doing that as well, and we had assumed Meredith was.”

Luckily their boss saw directly through that tactic and was not impressed. He cut off ties with Meredith and ended up actually hiring Karen. Laurie couldn’t have been happier for her. Karen ended up getting the inside track on another amazing job opportunity with a different company and recommended Lauren — who got the job. Meredith is still struggling. She has an okay job, but nowhere near what she wanted.

“We don’t talk to her at all anymore, and Karen and I are planning to start our own consulting company in the next two years. We both know we can trust each other.”

I personally have seen both approaches in my own life. The friend mentioned at the start of this article who was obsessed with “crushing others to get ahead” isn’t doing so well. I don’t talk to her, but last I heard she is working for an Uncle she could never stand and swore she would never have anything to do with. And most importantly, doesn’t sound happy.

My current friends are very different. I am honored to be part of an amazing group of women entrepreneurs called Dreamers and Doers. Everyday someone is posting a generous offer or suggesting a way they can support other members. When a member posts a request for help, they are flooded with offers. I have also never heard anyone in that group say “if I do this for you, what’s in it for me.” They just want to help. These women’s careers and personal lives are constantly growing and I have no doubt it is not only because of their intelligence and hard work, but also their generous spirits.

To summarize, of course it is nice to say kindness instead of competitiveness gets you ahead, but wanting it to be so doesn’t make it so. However, when you start looking at specific people and situations it really is true almost all the time! Maybe you will get a few short term successes by cut-throat competitiveness, but a long term thriving career really seems to be a result of (among other things) kindness and generosity.