By the time she was 28, Jaclyn Johnson had sold her first business and launched Create & Cultivate, a rapidly growing conference and online platform for women who want to create and cultivate the careers of their dreams. The organization's national conference, launched in 2012, brings like-minded women together and has featured speakers like Kim Kardashian West, Meghan Markle, Gina Rodriguez, Gloria Steinem, and Issa Rae. On August 21, Johnson will release her first book, WorkParty, a rallying cry for women in the workplace. WorkParty is Johnson’s career manifesto, and in it, she shares how she turned distrust into determination, frustration into fuel, and heartache into hard work—and how readers can too. Read on for our exclusive excerpt from the book.
I’m not a stiletto boss. I’m not perfectly put together all the time. Ask anyone who’s seen me running around on-site on the days leading up to a Create & Cultivate conference. I rock my Nikes and a fanny pack (so I don’t lose my phone) and basically spend three days not once looking in the mirror because it’s pure adrenaline, pure passion, and pure exhaustion.
But if I take a hard look back at my younger self, this wasn’t always the case. For a long time I thought that I had to prioritize looking good. If I was to be taken seriously, I had to be the perfect package at all times. The road to respect for women is difficult AF. Not only do you have to be the smartest, most capable person in the room but also the most desirable, the prettiest, and, oh yeah, likable.
When I was starting out, I giggled and hair-flipped my way into more meetings than I would like to admit. I brushed off blatantly sexist and ageist remarks along the way and pretended not to hear one too many remarks about women’s bodies or the way they dressed from male colleagues. I had everything to lose and nothing to gain from pushing back when people said my rates were too high for such a “young girl” or when clients refused to pay for no good reason other than they had “a lot of lawyers, so don’t even think about it.” Hell, did I even know a lawyer? Vulnerability can be a bitch, and men can smell it from a mile away. They will also happily prey on that financially, sexually, and emotionally when it comes to business. I wish I could tell you I have all the answers on how to navigate those situations, but it all comes back to one thing: confidence. Or at least faking it.
I’m going to drill this in one more time. Confidence begets confidence begets confidence.
A few long years into my entrepreneurial ventures, I got confident. I knew what I was doing and I had household-name clients to back me up. I had an office and a lawyer (I finally knew one!). And I wasn’t putting up with it anymore. What does that mean? Well, let me tell you about “Richard” (’cause he was a dick). Dick repeatedly tried to lowball the retainer I pitched him and begrudgingly signed the contract at the rate I had pitched. Two days into officially hiring us as his marketing agency, Dick started sending manic rapid-fire emails about how we were doing our jobs and why we weren’t doing it “fast enough or good enough.” I kept talking him off the ledge, showing him results instead of retaliation. People say success is the best revenge, but results are often the best retort.
That is until one day, once again, something wasn’t to his liking again, and he very unprofessionally ripped one of my employees a new one. He repeatedly referred to her as “sweetie” in one of the most condescending emails I have ever read over something so minuscule. So petty and unimportant. I’d had it, and I finally had the power and means to tell him so.
So I fired him. I picked up the phone and called to let him know I didn’t think we should work together anymore, it wasn’t a good fit for us, nor did it seem to be a good fit for him. He was furious. “You’re firing me?!” I remember him raging into the phone. Yes, I was firing him. I was being assertive, independent, compassionate (for my employee), self-sufficient, individualistic, and adaptable, and most importantly, I didn’t need his money. (Honestly, I did, but I didn’t want to get it like this.) This was a pleasure I had never known—taking the power and not apologizing for it. Have you done this before? If so, give yourself a pat on the back, because Fuck. Yes. My. Friend. It’s not an easy call to make, and sometimes you aren’t in the position to make those kinds of calls, but as one wise person said, “If you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for everything.”
This power came from a wellspring of confidence and experience, but it also came from the fact that I had money in the bank and power in practice. What do those things have to do with each other? Well, turns out, a lot.
From WorkParty by Jaclyn Johnson. Copyright 2018 by Jaclyn Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.