Are We There Yet?

by Nolan D. Henry, WH MBA ’08

“Are we there yet”?  – Every kid who has ever lived.

Many of us have had a moment – usually on a long road trip – where we’ve asked that question.  We are going somewhere we want to go, are eager to get to our destination, but are unsure of when that will happen, or maybe even how we are supposed to get there.  (Even when using navigation software, there’s always plenty of room for second guessing).  As an adult, I continued to ask the same question just in different ways.  Have I arrived now that I am armed with my graduate degree from Penn?  What level of career accomplishment will get me “there”.  How do I get there, and will I know it when I’ve arrived?

I spent my entire student life trying to equip myself with the right tools to help me get “there”.  Going to Wharton was an incredible experience and was particularly helpful in bolstering my knowledge toolkit for career success.  I received a strong foundation in finance, marketing, strategy and my chosen field of real estate, along with a host of other things I didn’t even know I needed to know.  On top of that, the connections I have made have been far more valuable.  I now know people all over the world in many different fields that I feel comfortable calling on to make a business deal or simply to inquire about something I don’t know. Just as important, I’ve made lifetime friendships that I can share important life events with, or just have a fun catch up over dinner.

But there were some things I had to face that school didn’t prepare me for.  Entering into the real estate industry where there are relatively few minorities, it’s fairly common to be the only person of color in a room, no matter how big the room is.  I attended a conference in Boston where there were over 2,500 people and I recall seeing a grand total of five persons of color there, four of which I already knew.  In many industries, managers have historically tended to hire and promote people they know and feel most comfortable around.  People tend to feel most comfortable around those they share something with, whether that be a culture or life experiences.  It’s an uphill climb when you are in a room full of superiors of which you don’t share any of those things.  While that is certainly changing, old habits can be hard to erase.

So how do you overcome these and other obstacles to get “there”?  First, stay determined and motivated.  There will be many obstacles that come up, some you will anticipate, and others you won’t.  Gaining success in any measure requires a willingness to work through the most difficult parts of the journey.

Second, try to find a mentor, a coach, a sponsor or at least a confidant within your field to help you along the way.  Having someone that can help you fill in the gaps and speak positively on your behalf can be an immense benefit.  There are mentoring programs offered through industry trade groups and there are some offered through Penn as well that are worth participating in.  You can also reach out to a coworker you respect, and you may be able to forge a new bond that’s lasts your whole career.  If you don’t find success with those routes, try looking through the alumni database and contact someone in your industry. For many professionals, it is an honor to be viewed as a source of wisdom and they take joy in helping the next generation gain a foothold in their industry.

Third, be prepared to take advantage when the opportunity comes.  You will be well prepared to start off, you went Penn after all, but you must stay prepared.  Thomas Edison said  “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  If you are willing be persistent and do the work, you will get there, and be able to look back on you journey and be happy you did.

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