When Whitney Johnson grew up, girls weren’t supposed to be ambitious, but she always went after the brass ring.
She grew up in the ’70s, so in high school, the highest she could get was becoming a cheerleader. That’s exactly what she did. She’s kept this same attitude all through her career.
In college, she majored in music and played in a jazz band. When she moved to New York with her husband, it was the ’80s, so the big prize was Wall Street.
Johnson was a music major and had never taken a single economics, accounting, or business class. She got in through the side door as a secretary. Plus, as a woman, that was the only way they would let her in.
“That was the only thing they would hire me to do because I typed really quickly, and this was my entree or my initial foray onto Wall Street,” Johnson said.
Johnson worked hard to get to where she is today, but she didn’t go down the traditional path.
“I was definitely a late bloomer because I did not graduate from college until I was 27,” Johnson said.
She worked as a secretary for three years before becoming an investment banking analyst at age 30.
“What I have learned is that, yes I got a late start, but what matters is your trajectory, how quickly you can do from once you start, how willing you are to work,” Johnson said. “And so, I found that, yes, I started a little bit later, but once I kicked in and got that foothold at 30 years old, and I worked really, really, really, hard, then I started surpassing a lot of people who had graduated from college at 21 and had gone to schools that were arguably better … I really do think that most of life is about how much you are willing to show up and just put in the work.”
Johnson started a list with Christina Vuleta, “40 women Over 40 to Watch,” because they believed that women gain momentum later than men do. Women are doing a lot of different things and often have to be more qualified than men to gain momentum. Vuleta and Johnson wanted to acknowledge these women to encourage them to keep going and give role models to women in their 30s and 20s.
After accomplishing her dreams, Johnson had a lot of conversations with women about what their dreams were and often found they weren’t dreaming of anything or felt they couldn’t achieve any of their dreams. These conversations led to her first book, Dare, Dream, Do. She’s helping women to dream and go out and be inspired to chase their dreams.
Her latest book, Disrupt Yourself, is more for business, but can be taken to heart in personal careers, too.
“We talk all the time about disruption: Uber’s disrupting yellow cabs and Airbnb and hotels, but if you really want an organization that is innovative, you’ve got to start with personal disruption and figure out how not only to be the agency but also the subject of disruption,” Johnson said.
As for taking a more personal tone to this message, Johnson thinks it’s especially important for Millennials because this group will be changing the landscape of jobs. She said a person has to know how to disrupt herself to keep on top of the learning curve and always be doing something new.
Johnson always wants to be moving forward, making progress in her career.
“I think there are the people who bunjee jump and that kind of thing. I am much more prevention-focused, meaning I am more afraid of standing still, of not moving forward,” Johnson said. “Being stuck always propels me. For me, being stuck is kind of, and I would hate to say this, but I would rather be in something really hard than feel like I’m stuck … It would suck the meaning out of life for me, and I don’t want that.”
Mandy is the managing editor of Bold.global. She’s obsessed with TV and with that passion she created Primetime Addiction that she grew to reach 25,000+ people a month. Mandy holds a master’s degree in magazine journalism from England. She’s contributed to publications in New York, Florida and the United Kingdom.