How often do you get back up and keep fighting?

Today is September 11 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you get back up and keep fighting?” One of the most common themes among those mentioned in the Navigate the Chaos series is the ability to get back up and keep fighting. Falling down is an inevitable byproduct of translating dreams into reality. Adena Friedman is someone who understands today’s reflection from years of fighting.

In a May 2019 article “The taekwondo black belt who runs the Nasdaq” published by the BBC, Kieron Johnson summarized Friedman’s struggles that helped her navigate the chaos of her career. Johnson wrote: “Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman says that being a black belt in taekwondo has helped her become more fearless in business. The 49-year-old boss of the Nasdaq took up the martial art more than a decade ago, after taking her two sons to classes from a young age.”

According to Friedman “It is a great discipline for my body and mind. It has impressed upon me the idea that success is in my control. It has also helped reduce the fear of getting [metaphorically] punched. I know that I can get hit, and it's not the worst thing in the world. I just need to decide to get back up and keep fighting."

Friedman, who has been the chief executive of Nasdaq since January 2017, is one of the world's leading female business leaders. Forbes magazine rates her as the 16th "most powerful" woman on the planet. She first joined the business back in 1993 as a 24-year-old unpaid intern. Over the next 26 years she rose slowly but steadily to the top, spending all but three years of that time at the firm.

Like so many people who navigated the chaos, Friedman’s career path was windy, unpredictable, and unsure. After watching Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into space in 1983, she had dreams of becoming an astronaut. Life in space turned to the political arena as she graduated Williams College with a political science degree. A brief stint working for former US Vice President Al Gore back when he was a US Senator left her unfulfilled so Friedman instead settled on the world of business, where she felt she could have "more immediate impact".

After earning her Master of Business Administration degree, she joined Nasdaq. Over the years Friedman rose through the ranks by working hard, and happily taking on unfashionable projects, where she could show that she was able to make a big, positive difference. Friedman has noted she "would like to be known as a great leader, not a great female leader" and has introduced policies to help more women get senior roles at Nasdaq.

Friedman said she judges herself based on a few simply questions: "Well, have I achieved everything that I could have achieved with the skills that I have? Have I brought my best self to the job every single day and do I treat every day as day one? Because that to me is the most important thing that I can do for the success of the company." What is interesting is her question about ‘do I treat every day as day one?’ This point of reflection is important because it speaks to the energy, excitement, and optimism that many, if not most, people have the first day on a new job. The positive feeling of day one lingers for a while but then dissipates after weeks, months, or years. Friedman put in the daily grind for over two decades with an understanding that her success, her ability to navigate the chaos, was linked to maintaining that day one enthusiasm throughout the years.

As you navigate the chaos today spend a moment to think about where you are in your journey and ask yourself the additional question of ‘am I as excited about what I am currently doing, the path I am currently traveling, as I was when I started?’ If you answer ‘no’ too many consecutive days you may need to seriously reflect upon a change. After all, how many days do you want to live your life unmotivated, unhappy, and unsatisfied with your career? And if you do maintain that level of unsatisfaction in your career what repercussions does that have for your personal life?

Friedman’s mother demonstrated by example how she decided to make a change to navigate a different life path. In a Business Insider podcast, Friedman recalled her mother’s story:

“My mom grew up in a world where being a stay-at-home mom was very much the path of choice. And she was a stay-at-home mom, and she was awesome at it. But when I was 9, she realized that she really wanted to have a career of her own, and she had a real desire to become a lawyer. Her dad was a lawyer, and I think she really had great respect for what he did. And so she went back to law school and then became an estates-and-trusts lawyer, and then became the first woman partner in her firm. And just watching her progress and really transform her own life into something that was just so meaningful for her was really, really important for me to see.”

How often do you get back up and keep fighting?