Who Would You Rather Be – Elsa or Anna?

Lei:  I am excited to introduce a new Executive Author to our Soft Skills Gym – Cindy Wong-Zarahn.  I only met Cindy last year but feel like we have been old friends for years.  She has close to 20 years of experience in the corporate world with plenty of battle scars as well as very sage advice.  I already personally benefited from her advice for my own career. Click here to read her bio and why she wants to join our community.  You can also follow Cindy on twitter @CZarahn   

Below is her first of many articles in our Soft Skills Gym.  Welcome Cindy and thank you for bringing more insider knowledge to our community!

frozen-elsa-annaLike most 5 year old girls, my daughter Abigail’s favorite game is “Frozen.” There is no shortage of Frozen-related merchandise in our home, on TV, or in stores, so I’m not surprised.  I was however a little surprised when I read in the WSJ that Elsa was outselling Anna items by 2-to-1.  I’ve even read other stories indicating that it’s 3-to-1 for particular items.

Yes, everyone, including Abby, wants to be Elsa. And why not?

  • Elsa has the best outfits
  • Gets to wear a crown
  • Sings really, really well
  • And most important, as I’ve learned, she’s “the Queen.”

I’m really hung up on this “queen” concept. Why? Look at the facts – her sister Anna:

  • Saves the friggin’ kingdom by sacrificing herself
  • Finds true love with Christoph, and
  • Is generally the nicer, kinder, sweeter of the two sisters

But none of this matters, since she’s not “the Queen.”

This has bugged me to no end, I think, because it mirrors the average workplace.  Perhaps I’m projecting too much, you think? A bit of stretch?  Maybe. But as I watch and listen too my child and the things she says about why she chooses Elsa over Anna, I’m not that far off.

When I think about what it takes to get something done at work, it often requires a senior-level stamp of approval. No one really wants to hear about what I think and why it’s good for the business; they only care when the “big boss” approves the idea or considers it worth pursuing. And with that, as with so much in corporate America, it makes me question what it really takes to drive results and affect change, and how it influences what I teach my child in the future on how to navigate success.

I come from a first-generation immigrant family. For most of my life I’ve been led to believe that hard work and effort eventually pays off. Unfortunately the corporate world doesn’t adhere so fittingly to this formula. I can honestly say I’ve been more disappointed, than pleased, by the results when I’ve tried to follow this advice. I’ve seen more “business success” if you will, from people, particularly women, who:

  • Have managed to make the right alliances
  • Aggressively moved into a more senior role, and then
  • Used the power that comes with senior management to get things done

Yes, I am generalizing, and yes, I’m sure there is some selective memory here, but in my long corporate career, I can tick off the names of at least a dozen people who’ve been able to get people to do as they say, simply because of their seniority or title, versus only 1-2 names when I think or someone who has become successful as a result of their work ethic, integrity, and sheer brilliance.

So getting back to my daughter Abigail – what I should teach her is not clear –

  • Continue to aspire to be an Elsa and focus on the coveted title and all that goes with it, or
  • Focus on having the heart of an Anna, and like Anna in Frozen, hope that all will turn out for the best?

The one thing I’ll say is that in having this narrow of a conversation, I am implicitly linking success with happiness, and that’s not right either. Even in the movie, Queen Elsa was brooding, sad, and quite lonely. And while my child focuses on throwing off a cape as she belts out “Let It Go,” she’s embracing everything great about “the Queen” and none of the bad, which I know is not realistic.

One of my mentors once said: “at the end of the day, no matter what you do, you need to be able to look at yourself in the mirror.” So when my ideas at work get the big kibosh because I’m not a certain level of management, it’s easy to get frustrated and see the world as the Elsas vs. the Annas.  However, I also look at some of the senior people around me, and I see how they have gotten where they are – both the good qualities as well as bad.  Well for me, if I were one of these senior people, I couldn’t look myself in the mirror.

So the lesson I teach Abby as she gets older is what I tell myself every day, all the time. Do and be who you want, but make sure that the decisions and choices you make are ones that you can live by. She won’t always make the “right” decisions and that’s what life is about. Today, she wants to be “the Queen.” And there’s nothing wrong with that – for now.

Your comments: Who would you rather be – Elsa or Anna?  Tell us why?  We look forward to your comments

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Best wishes to your career success!

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Thanks Cindy for writing this article and remind me who I truly want to be 🙂 For the first 10 years or so of my career, I was all about becoming Elsa. I was chasing after recognition, status, and power in terms of fast promotions, big raises, sponsorship to business school and then on track to partnership. Was I happy? Not really. I was more stressed than happy in those years. Every achievement invoked a short lived glee and I immediately turned to the next goal to strive for, forgetting to enjoy the journey. It all crashed down when I… Read more »