100 Women Building Bridges to Career Success

In my childhood, I was afraid of rats and bridges. 

With rats, it’s understandable, but the fear of bridges might seem unusual, if not odd. Well, as you may have guessed, there was a story behind it. I fell off the bridge when I was about four-years-old. It happened in my grandpa’s garden where there was a river; it was very shallow (more like a stream) and my Dad ran quickly to save me from the water. But somehow, that fear stayed inside of me and for many years I had recurring nightmares about a slippery, broken bridge in front of me. Sometimes that scary feeling has returned to my real life – in my studies, career, or in personal decisions. Life has often felt like a fast river of uncertainties with no ready answers on how to cross it.

Just recently I found out that I wasn’t alone in this. Even the most courageous, smart, energetic, and gorgeous women I’ve met have different variations of this same fear, and probably it’s only natural. But it doesn’t mean it should stop you. 

This realization came to me at a women’s career club which I co-facilitated with my colleague Marie Snider. Who knew that monthly gatherings of like-minded professional women could be so life-changing? But they were. And not just for me. 

Kyiv participants of “Window to Success”

Kyiv participants of “Window to Success.”

We launched “Window to Success,” a professional career discussion circle for women at America House in Kyiv, Ukraine, in December 2018. The program was designed for us by Rania Habiby Anderson, a global speaker, prominent businesswoman, and the author of a truly inspirational book UNDETERRED: The Six Success Habits of Women in Emerging Economies.

Rania conducted the research for her book by interviewing more than 250 professional women in developing and emerging economies around the world. She discovered that successful career and business woman share six habits. UNDETERRED is full of incredible stories of women, practical lessons, techniques, and recommendations. All of this made Rania’s book so relevant and timely in Ukraine. 

Rania visited Ukraine to speak twice, in 2017 and 2018. She became a fantastic partner, consultant, and a dear friend of the America House team. In collaboration with her and our Window on America centers, we launched our career clubs in Kyiv and in seven different cities of Ukraine, including Poltava, Zhytomyr, Kharkiv, Cherkasy, Ivano-Frankivsk, Khmelnytsky and Mykolaiv. 

Business breakfasts at Cherkasy (launched by Olena Lytvynova) Ukraine

Business breakfasts at Cherkasy (launched by Olena Lytvynova).

For six months, almost 100 professional women all over Ukraine read UNDETERRED and practiced the six habits of success. We met once a month and discussed our professional and personal challenges, hopes, goals, and aspirations. We shared our internal dreads, like our fear of failure, and even more daunting, our fear of success. 

That’s when I realized how similar we all were. Most of us were dealing with imposter syndrome, or guilt for being bad mothers (wives, daughters, friends or girlfriends), or a terrifying feeling that we can’t manage all the seemingly competing demands in our lives.  

Step-by-step we practiced the habits from the book and that is when the real changes occurred. 

Olena Lytvynova from Cherkasy (in red) leading her business breakfast project

Olena Lytvynova from Cherkasy (right) leading her business breakfast project.

Following Rania’s advice, blogger Olena Lytvynova (Cherkasy) decided to change the rules of the game. Being an expert in online businesses, she decided to go offline and launch a new project – business breakfasts for local professionals. The project became an immediate hit in Cherkasy with more than 20 professionals meeting and networking every month. 

Iryna Lytovchenko (Kyiv), who works for an IT company, found the courage to talk to her boss and finally received a well-deserved promotion. 

Young lawyer, Kateryna Shumeiko (Kyiv) always dreamt about opening her own law firm. By the end of our project she found two business partners to finally implement her dream. She also inspired and assisted her friends to launch their online business, which only proves Rania’s rule: real leaders are those who support others in their growth. 

Participants of the Ivano-Frankivsk club decided to combat their fear of public speaking in an unexpected yet effective way – they went to their local radio station and got interviewed about their “Window to Success” experience. 

Mykolaiv members attend local TV program

Mykolaiv members attend local TV program.

The stories of Mykolaiv participants were also featured on local radio and TV. During her interview at UA: Ukrainian Radio, Alyona Kolodko mentioned that UNDETERRED, as well as meetings with like-minded women, had an invaluable impact on her life. She had always been unsure of her appearance, but through the program she found the confidence to pursue her dream and landed her first gig as a fashion model on a real catwalk.  

Some of us changed the ways we interact with our family or business clients; others undertook deep self-exploration. My co-facilitator Marie Snider shared with the group her personal definition of success: “Meaningful work, like teaching, and quality-time with my husband, family, and friends – these are the things that matter and make me successful.” 

Looking back at those past six months, I reflected on the changes, big and small, that happened to me. I broadened my network of contacts and revived important friendships that I had abandoned for years. I revived hobbies I had been passionate about, like studying Spanish and practicing creative writing. I have been promoted and will be taking over the day-to-day leadership of America House at my organization, IREX. This will undoubtedly open another new challenging and exciting chapter in my life. 

But somehow the most important change that occurred  in these last six months was the insight I had at one of our final meetings. I was listening to the stories of my fellow club members and suddenly realized: life really is a fast-fast river of uncertainties and there are no ready answers how to cross it. 

Sometimes the bridge in front of you will be broken and you will have to jump. Sometimes you will need to build a new one, or swim, or even wait for the flood to be over. 

There are no ready answers and recipes, but you will find yours, woman, because you are undeterred.

Members of Zhytomyr club

Members of Zhytomyr UNDETERRED book club.