Why Professional Personas are Overrated

founder fodder

Welcome to Founder Fodder, a new series in which DailyWorth's founder, Amanda Steinberg, gives an unfiltered, behind-the-scenes look into what it's really like for female entrepreneurs.

I never planned on being a public figure. Actually, that's not entirely true. When I was 15, I decided I was going to be mayor of Philadelphia.

But somewhere between 15 and 37, I forgot about my political goals and decided instead to travel as deep into subcultures as I could. Meditation retreats, West African villages, East Village art scenes, Hawaiian biodynamic farms. Layer on top of that living at ground zero on 9/11 and caring for an Iraqi bomb victim. Add love, babies, entrepreneurship and venture capitalism. It's been quite a journey.

And then, just a few years ago, I became a public figure as the founder of a thriving Internet startup. Not exactly mayor, but public by way of TV, magazines, social media and conference stages. Now I’m struggling to reconcile the wild child I was with who I am becoming, and settle into this new role of “polished leader” (like Sheryl and Marissa). But as hard as I try, my insatiable appetite for adventure can (and does) get me into trouble.

Last year I attended #Stocktoberfest, a business conference about investing on Coronado Island near San Diego. Naturally, as the founder of DailyWorth, I wanted to spend time with people who make financial products (loan platforms, payment apps, robo-advisors) to create business opportunities. But the problem with people in finance, myself included, is that we’re competitive. Add socializing to the mix, and boom, I'm downing a bottle of wine with a banking executive with whom I want to have a respectful business relationship.

The last night there, I found myself in the ocean at 3am with senior decision makers from media and technology companies. I left the conference confused. Yes, I want to build relationships, but must they form in the ocean? Apparently at the time I thought so. In fact, I probably initiated the swim.

Fast forward to last week: I'm back at #Stocktoberfest 2014, only this year I resolve to act more professionally. The first night I make it to my hotel room by 11 pm, reputation mostly intact. The final night I spot the ocean crew from the previous year. They're winking at me. When the clock strikes 9:30, I stand up and declare my night over, as if to say, "The public figure has emerged, and she's too grown-up for all you troublemakers. Humph."

The conference was productive. I learned a lot about millennial investors and their penchant for automated trading platforms. But I didn't build the same kind of connections as I had the previous year. Upon further reflection, I realized the business deals I developed for DailyWorth following 2013's conference happened because of the friendships I made. I created some new contacts this year, but I can't call them friends.

Lesson learned: Contrived public personas are not only overrated, they're counterproductive. My wild child refuses to go to bed, and most people probably prefer her company anyway.


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