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Author of Bestseller <i>Hard Won Wisdom</i> Urges Women to Start Networking - 2003-04-23

Working women everywhere face many challenges. Yet, some dare to go beyond the established limits, testing themselves and the rest of the world to see how much possibility really exists. As bestseller author Fawn Germer writes in her book Hard Won Wisdom, women need to get the support and the advice of those daring women.

Fawn Germer began her career as a successful investigative reporter for The Washington Post and the Miami Herald. It was only when she got promoted and became an editor at the Tampa Tribune, that she realized she had huge challenges to face.

"All these things that made me a good reporter, really made me have problems," she said. "Being hard-charging, impatient, having a real sense of right and wrong did not work for management. I needed mentoring, and the women around me were not willing to help. The guys were willing to help me, but when I would do what they'd said, it would backfire. So, I needed to talk to women who knew what to do and had been there and had done their own hit and miss things."

That was in 1998. At the same time, Ms. Germer also discovered that most women have a misconception about success.

"A lot of women think that success is limited, that if there is only so much success available for women, that they want it for themselves and not to give it to you. Instead of thinking, if success is shared, the more we have, the more it will grow," said Ms. Germer. "I really believe that it is important to help one another because if I can help you to succeed and you do a good job, that means there will be more opportunities for me and other women. There is enough success for everybody."

The idea of women helping one another inspired Ms. Germer to interview more than 50 successful women in different fields and to write her book, Hard Won Wisdom.

"It was a lot like throwing a party," she added. "I started with people I knew I could get: my Congresswoman at that time, Pat Schroeder; then I got Helen Thomas, the journalist. I had General Claudia Kennedy; the woman President of Switzerland, Carly Fiorina; the highest-ranking woman in business, two Noble prize winners, two Academy Award winners, scientists, researchers. It was just more fun than I can tell you."

Fawn Germer says all the women's success stories started with a clear vision of what each woman wanted to do, as well as having self-awareness and endurance. What helped them to stand out and succeed was their willingness to take risks and even fail.

"The surprising outcome of that to me is to understand that when you lose, you win," she said. "Let me explain that. The power of risk taking is the most important element to success. But women do not like to take risks. That has been proven in studies. And why do we not like to take risk? What holds you back? You do not want to fail.

"So by not wanting to fail, you do not try things," continued Ms. Germer. "But we will never know where our limits are, if we do not fail a little bit. If you look at your failures and find what it is you're supposed to learn from, then that, in turn, creates success."

Ms. Germer's book, Hard Won Wisdom, was published last fall. Since then, she has organized "mentor circles," where women of power and influence share their experiences with other women.

"This is really exciting to me because a lot of the women in the book have been so good about coming forward and working to help other women connect," she said. "The whole idea is to bring women together and give them the strength to do what they need to do and to learn from each other. We've had some panels with General Kennedy, with Judy Williams who got the Noble Peace Prize for her landmine crusade, Helen Thomas, Bernadine Healy who had led the Red Cross, with Kathrine Switzer who is the first woman to run a Marathon."

Ms. Germer says women like Kathrine Switzer, for example, the first woman to officially run a marathon in 1967, make good mentors because they have a message.

"I love her message because when I asked her how do you start something that seems big? How do you make a change in your life, whether it is starting a fitness program or going into a new job? She says you just put on your shoes and go," said Ms. Germer.

Running legend Kathrine Switzer's message to other women is to realize their dream and go for it, without giving excuses or asking for permission.

"Women have so many opportunities today," said Ms. Germer. "However, the obstacles they still have out there are still huge. Globally, the issues are tremendous in terms of the fact that there are many cultural and social restrictions that women need to overcome. The message I have for them is if you do not have these opportunities, create them yourselves."

When Claudia Kennedy, the U.S Army's first female General, started her career, women's contributions in the military were pretty much limited to medical or administrative work. Over her 33-year career in the Army, General Kennedy says she had to face many challenges.

"Every few years, challenges were different," said General Kennedy. "In the earliest years that challenge was how to be very good at your work. Later on, it became how to figure out how to have your life and realize there are some elements other than the Army, because there is a tendency to devote your life to the Army. Later, when it is at the end of your career, you are trying to make your contributions. That kind of work is always very demanding."

While she was advancing in her career, U.S. Army General Kennedy says she encountered the negative side of work competition: jealousy.

"I think it is important to focus on the positive, because you can really get burdened by what you imagine to be negative," advised General Kennedy. "And in some cases it is, in some cases it is not at all. For the most part, I sort of went around people who were negative, whether people who did not want me to be in the Army or see a woman in the Army or people who were jealous of the progress one makes. I think it is important to define yourself by yourself, not as a reflection of whatever people think you are."

Author Fawn Germer says Hard Won Wisdom is a genuine effort by these women to pass on what they have learned. She hopes their suggestions help make other women stronger.

"Many of them have hard lessons about learning to balance and prioritize family," said Ms. Germer. "They talked about how they learned to make time and juggle and make the right decisions. But listening to them looking back, I think they realize that the most important thing they had was their family. That's inspiring to me, because a lot of us get caught up in work and that is just work. What matters is who we are and how we connect with other people."

Author Fawn Germer believes women are often too harshly critical of themselves. She suggests the biggest lessons she learned from her mentors are to make friends beyond work and enjoy living each moment.