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Joy Howard

"So the reality in business is that as a woman you’ll spend a lot of time in your career making men feel safe. It’s an emotional labor that women have to do and it’s exhausting, but necessary. At least for now."
Breana Teubner of TYB Reading Joy Howard 7 minutes

1: What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage it?

Since becoming a founder of a business a fear that arose for me was financial precarity. You know, I expected to fear doing something stupid, making clothes nobody wants, or creating a dumb marketing campaign everyone hates, but I didn’t expect to be afraid of financial precarity. It’s likely rooted in starting my career late, which was when I was about 35. I think I developed this idea that I was screwed for retirement and therefore would have to work as hard as I can, earn as much as I can, and save as much as I can. And this is how we managed that fear - my husband and I both worked, saved a lot, lived beneath our means, and learned the ins and outs of financial planning. When it comes to managing any fear, knowledge is power. Learning all we did about things like mutual funds, defined contribution plans, ETFss, and taxes, as annoying as it was, really benefited us in the long run and set us up with a solid plan for retirement. But I’m grateful for this fear.

"I don’t think you can relate to humanity unless you’ve experienced financial precarity, and I’m grateful that it forced me to understand the financial system and develop self discipline."

I don’t think you can relate to humanity unless you’ve experienced financial precarity, and I’m grateful that it forced me to understand the financial system and develop self discipline.

2: How do you define success?

For me, success is about being able to give back to the world. It’s taking the skillsets you’ve developed and using them for the betterment of society. I've always wanted my work to contribute to creating a better world, and now I’m at a place in my life where I really want to share what I've learned with others. You know, in the past, my vision for success was securing high-leverage positions and getting to make high-leverage decisions. I definitely had a natural drive, but what I was missing was the attentiveness to what was happening around me. And that level of attentiveness is a sign of success for me. Today, I really pay attention to what’s going on around me - I listen to the people around me. Now I’m more focused on understanding what’s not working and why, and identifying the highest leverage point to turn this thing around. Admittedly, to impart real change in this world you must also have a position of power. And the reality, especially as a woman, is you must parallel path this goal. Some of the most rigorous training that I had very early on in my career was around brevity and communication. When you talk, get straight to the point. And if you want anyone to open up to you, you’ve got to make them feel safe first. 99% of venture funding went to men in the last three to four years which means you have a 99% chance of having a male boss. So the reality in business is that as a woman you’ll spend a lot of time in your career making men feel safe. It’s an emotional labor that women have to do and it’s exhausting, but necessary. At least for now.

3: Who are your real-life heroes?

The first one who comes to mind is Reshma Saujani, the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. I really admire the work she’s doing. She’s an activist for working moms and she’s tried to create a Marshall Plan for women. She is someone who I see as successful because she’s focused her life on helping other women. Then there’s my friend, Chan Marshall, who’s music persona is Cat Power. She was a musician in the 90’s who is now having a resurgence in her popularity, and I admire how she’s using her platform to speak out about the issues that matter to her. And lastly, the mayor of Paris is a huge hero of mine. I think the changes that she's made in the city are extraordinary. She’s created bike lanes in the city and is working to make Paris swimmable. Making urban waterways swimmable is a great way to foster ecological awareness and ecological consciousness.

4: What is the best gift you've given yourself?

The best gift I’ve given myself recently is learning to ski and going on a ski trip with my daughter. I grew up in the south so I never knew anybody who skied, and therefore I never skied. But the desire to learn to ski actually stemmed from my daughter. In New England every year the kids get a February break which is called the “ski break,” but I’ve never been able to ski with my daughter and her friends because of work. This past year was my daughter’s senior year of high school, so I was determined to take the time off and enjoy some bonding time with her on a ski trip. My daughter and I took a trip to Niseko, Japan and I got to book myself private ski lessons.

5: What was the last win you celebrated?

My husband and I actually recently celebrated two big life events - our 20th anniversary and our daughter going to college. This was a super happy time for us. Yes, our anniversary was a big deal, but even more so knowing that our daughter is going to be okay, that she’s got a good shot at the rest of her life, and that she’s really excited and happy, called for celebration.

"My husband and I actually recently celebrated two big life events - our 20th anniversary and our daughter going to college...Yes, our anniversary was a big deal, but even more so knowing that our daughter is going to be okay, that she’s got a good shot at the rest of her life, and that she’s really excited and happy, called for celebration." 

We took the train to Fondation Louis Vuitton and saw the Rothko exhibition, and then had a wonderful dinner at an incredible French restaurant. It’s funny when your child goes off to college you realize you got used to doing so much stuff that you no longer have to do. Little things like waking a teenager up on the weekends. It’s not your responsibility anymore, and you can just spend your Sundays vibing out and doing whatever you want. A realization worth celebrating.

About Joy Howard:

Joy Howard has built the brands that other brands want to be. From Patagonia to Sonos to Nike, and more recently, her start-up, Early Majority, she's consistently shifting culture to build better businesses.

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