Be the First: 5 Actions to Break Your Glass Ceiling

“I have no choice but to be first,” declares Janelle Monae’s character in Hidden Figures while standing in front of the judge who will determine whether or not Monae’s character, Mary Jackson, will be allowed to take a math classes at a white high school. Imagine having to attend a court hearing just to take a night class, because you wanted to learn a skill necessary to advance your career? This is what women, especially women of color, had to face a mere 60 years ago. In the film, Monae reasons with the judge, asking him what trial that day would change the world. “Which one is going to make you the first?” she asks. The judge listens, and grants Mary Jackson permission to take the night class. Certificate in hand, Monae's character becomes the first African-American female engineer at NASA. Here's the best part about this scene: it really happened. Any of you who may have seen Hidden Figures in theaters knows, this is one powerful turning point in the movie. (You can watch the scene below). 

When it comes to changing your life or making strides in your career, where do you need permission? Every day we face our own hurdles. We come across roadblocks and barriers that appear to hold us back. We hear about the proverbial glass ceiling and how hard it is to break. As children we’re bombarded with affirmations. “Dare to be!” they tell us; or “The sky's the limit!” But in adulthood, the terms are changed. How many times are we told that our “big idea” is actually a “bad idea?” Instead of chasing our aspirations, we’re now told to “play it safe.” And when we finally start that dream side hustle, our friends advise us to give it up and stick to our day jobs. People continuously tell us our goals aren’t possible. But that shouldn’t be enough to stop us. No one can tell us we can’t succeed, no matter how hard our ambitions may be. Sometimes we need to be first.

What is going to make you the first?  Here are 5 things you can do to help break your own glass ceiling.

Don’t Discount Your Dreams

As I said earlier, when we’re young, we are told to reach for the stars. Our parents say it, our teachers say it, Buzz Lightyear says it. But as we get older, our aspirations fade into what we call “reality.” But why do they have to? I’ve read numerous articles lately about how the “dream job” is a myth. It’s true, not all of us are going to be astronauts or the President of the United States, but some of us will. Those who will become neurosurgeons or movie stars are often the ones who continue to dream. When we compensate our dreams, we diminish our own creativity, thus reducing ourselves and our abilities. Anything can happen. Every small step leads to the bigger goal--we don’t have to compromise. Aim high, as the saying goes, and fall among the stars. Dreaming will lead you somewhere

 Love the CRAP Out of Failure  

Failure sucks. Failure can hurt us or embarrass us or make us feel all of the above. When something goes wrong, it is natural for us to mourn and resent and get knocked off our feet. But those who succeed welcome failure. Failures are not setbacks to them but stepping stones. How do we learn if not from mistakes? Though failure may want us to take a step backward, every defeat presents a chance to leap forward--if we decide to take it. Those who come first take the word loss and turn it on its head. They don’t see a deficit, but see an extra opportunity. Failure welcomes growth, and to overcome failure shows strength.

"every defeat presents a chance to leap forward--if we decide to take it."


Be Persistent

Goals can take a long time to achieve. Some can take months, others years, and others can take lifetimes. In a culture of instant gratification, a long-term goal can make us wiggle with impatience. We are used to getting what we want and getting what we want now. But life doesn’t always work like Hulu. Goals take grit. Goals take time. We often give our goals deadlines, and when the deadline comes with no success, it is easy for us to give up. Those who come first do not give up. They keep trying… and trying and trying.

Have Patience

Like being persistent, being patient can take us a long way. Nothing happens overnight, and to be able to sit through discomfort or stillness, we need to have patience. Patient people can withstand the annoyances and setbacks presented when trying to reach a goal. They know that any complication is only temporary and not worth getting derailed over. Patience gives us the ability to keep on track, and the will to keep going.

Be A Trailblazer

Now, the most important ingredient to the puzzle--confidence! We can’t go far if we don’t believe in ourselves. Self-confidence is necessary for anyone to break any ceiling. But sometimes confidence can be hard to achieve in itself. What can we do? We can start celebrating the smallest of accomplishments. Sometimes I congratulate myself on waking up in the morning, and the fact that I did strengthens my confidence that I can do it again tomorrow. Celebrate yourself! Write affirmations on your mirror, your fridge, anywhere. When we see “You can do it!” continuously throughout the day, we start to believe it.

Role models exist to remind us that dreams are possible; “If you can, I can, too,” we are able to tell ourselves. But what if we don’t have that example to follow? That’s when we need to step forward and be the first. A lot of magazines and newspapers have recently written about how women have not yet broken the glass ceiling, but have only cracked it. I call bull. We are breaking the ceiling every day. Every female CEO, every female congresswoman and senator, every female who is winning in STEM is breaking the glass ceiling. Hillary Clinton may not have won the election, but when you look at it positively, she was the first female nominee of a major party to lose the election--and that’s a big deal. Granted most of us are not trying to become the first female president, our own goals, no matter how big or small, are just as important. Are you going to be the first woman in your family to earn 7 figures? Are you going to be the first of your friends to come out as gay? These are the accomplishments to celebrate. These are the accomplishments that make us the first.

What glass ceiling do you need to break? What leaves you no choice but to be the first to do something that your family members, friends, or members of your social circles might be afraid to do? Tell us in the comments!

Thank you a million times over for hanging here, adding your perspective, and enlivening this discussion.

If anyone you know could use a little a reminder on how powerful they can be, please share this post! 


Heather Catania