My Career Story (Part 3): On Tribes, Alliances & My Support System
Some years ago, a magazine interviewed me on being a professional woman, and I shared stories
and my version of life-changing gems, as one would. When this was published in several media,
one of the comments took me out; she said something to this effect: “What? A Nigerian woman talking about her career and no discussion of husband and kids?
Sacrilege,” she was being sarcastic, of course – and I loved it. Yes, the ‘F-word’ – and I get so, so bored of hearing that question being asked to women in all fields – emphasising the inequity in the roles women still play in society. You will be pleased to read that I will not be caught talking about how to be a super-spouse, parent and industry leader and badass and humble all in one breath – that’s not my story, though; I am very proudly a queen of the ungrind – I do not believe I have to
work to my bones. I make my life very easy and digestible. I am, however, of the strong opinion that it took and still does ‘take a village’ to make a success of our lives.
The Road Less Travelled is Not a Void
One of the reasons I wanted to be an engineer – was the need to go where ‘they said we couldn’t’. Now in hindsight – the fact that, as a world, we branded engineering ‘not for women’ is laughable. Then again, we’ve done it with many other things. I digress.
Even the roads that don’t seem very popular are paved with examples – shoulders of giants that we can walk on. Media loves stories of the lone ranger who ‘made it all on their own’, and yes, we love a good, rags-to-riches story – for most of us, that is not the case. At the very least, we have been and are being cheered on by clouds of witnesses.
What was new in our situations – had been done somewhere else. I remember meeting a woman who was an engineer when I was about 12 years old (at this time, I had been toying with the idea of being an engineer who built refineries – like the one my Mum worked at), and she was the immediate possibility for me.
We really do not have to do it alone – and I know the stories of people pulling us down, naysaying
and putting actual roadblocks are real and also make for fantastic headlines. My observation, though, is that your tribe, −not always your actual family− could sometimes surface like diamonds in the dirt.
For every group of negative people you encounter, a handful will see your light, your chi, your inner
god – it’s not fantasy. It is usually people we do not expect and sometimes overlook. Listen, I have been scared enough times to be able to tell you not to trust anyone, but the truth is, that would be a disservice, and what choice do you have?
Create The Tribe
Whether you believe in a particular god, the universe or higher intelligence or your own genius, all yield the same result – this is truth. By being who you most want to be, by living your life in your own truth, you will offend people – not because you’re doing something wrong, but because light leads and clarifies but also, if looked upon the wrong way, dazzles. Not everyone is ready to acknowledge your light, but some people are.
By not focusing on negatives nor participating in seemingly inevitable doom – you will attract your kind. I have seen this so many times in my life – at the airport, in the supermarket, at the café,
on the train and sometimes in your home. My biggest cheerleaders in the industry are people
who look and sound nothing like me – and are not even in my generation but somehow see me. Maybe later, I can dissect creating your career tribe, but one thing I know for sure about us all – we
have our people.
I talked about workplace politics, people being favourites etc. – one thing is for sure; when ‘ish’ hits the fan, almost everyone gets hit. We may not always be hit in the same way and some people have received legs up at different times more than you – but your day, time, and chance will come. Being acquainted with your path, your way, and your tribe keeps you on the journey – maybe not at the same pace all the time, but you are moving. You have gathered so much more momentum than you give yourself credit for.
Embrace The Breadth Rainbow
Within my tribe and the alliances that I am building (because you keep going), everyone plays a different role. It is important to appreciate people for the role they play in your life but not overload them with unfair expectations. During one of my’ transitions’, a particular friend of mine played such a pivotal role in keeping me focused. Her role?
She called me every morning to ask, “so, what are your plans for today or for this morning”– that was it. Her thing was to help me bite-size what I needed to do. There are others who start speaking on your behalf, making calls you did not ask them to – and putting you in connection with key people.
Some others book a restaurant and drinks to get you out. My point is – to embrace them all. If we let the wounds of the past stand in the way, that same past becomes a revolving door and will repeat itself. It is possible to bless the past events (or even last week) and look forward with a more positive disposition. In the end, we will all realise that – there was no need to ‘do it alone, we had the support all along and that our VIBE ATTRACTS OUR TRIBE.
Nigerian born, Valerie Lawson is a 20-year Oil & Gas Industry veteran, currently a Products & Technology Leader with Baker Hughes an Energy Technology Company, headquartered in Houston, Texas.
In 2002, she began her career in the United Kingdom as a Process Engineer in the Engineering Procurement & Construction segment of the Oil & Gas Industry. She has since worked with such companies as TechnipFMC, KBR and Worley Parsons. She also spent over four years with TOTAL E&P playing a pivotal role within its largest Deep-Water Field Development project.
Valerie has a Chemical Engineering (BEng) Degree from the University of Bradford, U.K, a MSc. From University College London (UCL) & London Business School (LBS) and expecting a Global Executive MBA from IESE Business School, Spain.
She’s passionate about, health, knowledge, cycling and traveling – and has lived, worked, and conducted business in over 15 countries across several continents.
She currently lives in Houston, Texas, USA.