Jeanne Zweck is Founder and CEO of Mint Marketing. She’s also a Premium Member who travelled to New York on the 2019 Knowledge + Study Tour. For more information about the 2020 New York Tour (yep, we’re going back!) click here.
Rooftop bars, 5th Avenue shopping, walking the highline – what’s not to love about a week in New York? But I have to admit, it was with some trepidation that I signed up for last year’s Business Chicks Knowledge + Study Tour in the Big Apple, and it wasn’t just the decade-low exchange rate for the Aussie dollar bothering me.
Fear had seized my insecurities and was flaunting them in my ageing face.
Fear of being too old.
Fear of being a has-been, or worse – a ‘never will be’.
Would I be too unfit to handle the New York City Fire Department training drills after my appendix surgery? Is my mind too frayed and my memory too faded to get anything out of the MBA program? And as for visiting the headquarters of Instagram – this is millennial territory! How could I possibly be relevant or creative enough?
Fear was further amplified when the agenda for the final night announced: ‘fancy dress party – come as your favourite NY icon’. Casting my quinquagenarian mind back to my distant 40th, I remembered squeezing my mum bod into an I Dream of Jeannie costume (my namesake) and swearing I would never wear fancy dress again.
Beyond these fleeting surface niggles, my deep-rooted fear was whether I would measure up. I felt like a fake. Could I really place myself among this group of exceptionally talented and successful businesswomen without being called out as a phoney?
But the siren song of the city that never sleeps proved too seductive, and ultimately I joined an incredible group of women of all ages – including over-50s – who were driven, determined and passionate to make the most of this experience. Buoyed by their spirit and confidence, I too threw myself into the journey and, in the end, neither age nor worth ever even came into play as one of the best weeks of my life unfolded.
Day one, Stern School of Business, New York University, learning about future trends such as the New Age of Digitisation and AI, The Agile Organisation and Future of Work and How to Disrupt was electrifying. My mind loved the exposure to deeper thinking. It was like a light was switched on that I didn’t even know I’d turned off (probably when I turned off the lights and said goodnight to my kids every night for the past 18 years!).
I loved ‘thriving’ and the hedonistic fun of our insta-moments at the head offices of Thrive Global and Instagram on day two, but the standout was the iconic Diane Von Furstenburg, queen of her domain, surrounded by the tangible evidence of her enormous success. The imitable DVF admitted she also is plagued by fears and doubts. Looking in the mirror every morning she repeats the mantra her mother taught her, ‘If you doubt your power, you give power to your doubts’. Hallelujah! I’m not alone. This is an emotion shared by so many women. We just have to put it in perspective and keep moving on.
The next day we visited the New York Fire Department and found what I anticipated to be a great physical challenge was actually relatively easy. No sweat in climbing seven flights in full kit, handling the jaws of life, extinguishing a car fire or winning a fire hose battle. The true challenge for me was one of courage, facing my very real claustrophobia to enter a zero-visibility, smoke-filled apartment wearing a breathing mask to rescue a ‘baby’. Having experienced it firsthand, it was humbling to meet the quiet heroes of FDNY, who step up daily to face mortal challenges for the sake of others.
For me, day four back at NYU sparked so many ideas and generated so many ‘searching conversations’ that are continuing and taking form now in multiple business ventures and partnerships. What better way to end than inspired to join with like-minded (not like-aged) women, creating change and driving disruption?
But what about that dreaded fancy-dress party? Let’s just say the last night was epic – rooftop bar, 360 views, skyline sunset, exclusive dinner party and a few too many cocktails while dancing the night away as the Statue of Liberty, alongside Ronald McDonald, Sarah Jessica Parker and a pilgrim – just to name a few! Unforgettable!
So in addition to the lifelong learnings, this experience made me realise, age is not a measure to be concerned about — at 50 I’m just getting started! Most importantly, we are the ones who control whether we think we measure up or not.
Ultimately it is attitude and not age that determines the opportunities we want to create for ourselves and others around us. If we are in the game of business we have to make the investment in ourselves to continually challenge and better ourselves. As we discussed at NYU we must find opportunities to disrupt ourselves. Ali Uren, Founder/Director Kiikstart.
Returning to Australia feeling emboldened, I’ve already initiated several new business ideas I’d previously just been thinking about. I’ve also personally committed to stop comparing myself and just stepping up (or dressing up!)
There’s simply no excuses anymore.
As the great septuagenarian Diane von Furstenburg insists: ‘Fear is not an option’.
New York, New York. I made it there; I can still make it anywhere!