District Boss: Emilie Aries of Bossed Up

"When you feel strong emotionally and physically, you show up fully at work." - Emilie Aries, Founder and CEO

The fierce Emilie Aries founded Bossed Up to provide women the programs, tools and resources necessary to set the pavement to become pioneers in their careers and personal life. She gets it. How? Because she has been there and understands the struggles women face on a day-to-day basis. 

Here, she educates us on the broken system that wasn't designed for the success of women, shares a few of her company's most compelling stories, and reminds us that there is no road map to follow in life. Enjoy, BOSS!

1// What is your business? Tell us a bit about yourself.

Bossed Up is an innovative personal and professional training organization that helps women break the cycle of burnout and craft sustainable careers. 

I’m a writer, speaker, and career consultant. I founded Bossed Up to help others do what I did myself: go from burnt out to bossed up and in control over my career and life.

2// What lead you to where you are today?

Like a lot of millennials, I entered the workforce in the midst of the Great Recession. Over and over I was told I was lucky to have any job at all. I watched as my highly-accredited peers were passed over, “too big to fail” firms collapsed, and our entire generation learned a humbling lesson about the value of a hard day’s work — any work.

That narrative made me professionally risk-averse. I took the first job that was offered to me. Along with 93 percent of my female peers, I didn’t attempt to negotiate my starting offer. I felt grateful, even indebted, to have any job whatsoever. Once I had the job, I struggled with feelings of inadequacy, wondering at every turn when someone would realize what a fraud I was.

These seemingly “safe” choices, however, set me up for rapid burnout. Two years in and I had gone from being a college athlete to not even having a gym membership. I was often working right through my lunch hour without a break, much less a meal. I lost touch with friends and didn’t make time for fun other than schmoozing at political fundraisers and networking events in the evening. Complicating all of this, I found myself in a toxic relationship with a partner who brought me down instead of lifting me up.

No one had prepared me for the realities of the workplace. No one told me that if I don’t draw healthy boundaries for myself, I wouldn’t have any at all. Hell, I didn’t even think I needed any!

My life until then was about getting an A: pleasing, performing and perfecting. The workplace calls for a completely different approach, one I hadn’t learned. And with women out-performing our male counterparts in academics, it’s no wonder our tried-and-true strategies that help us excel in school are so hard to shake after we enter the workforce. Up until then, they worked!

As a result, I was burnt out before 25. Emotionally, physically, economically — I was drained. Things came to a head with a dramatic end to my relationship, which had a ripple effect in the rest of my life and spurred me to relocate and seek out a new job opportunity in the city where I’ve always wanted to be: Washington, D.C. This was the beginning of my transformation to living life with the understanding that work, love and wellness are connected. To show up fully at work, things need to feel right at home.

I learned to advocate for myself in that transition in ways I hadn’t imagined before. I landed two job offers at the same time, and that gave me the confidence to negotiate hard for my next career move. As a result, I was able to pay off all the credit card debt I’d incurred through my breakup, I started leaving work at work every day and re-discovered my love of volleyball (my college sport). Being physically strong again brought mental strength, and as I began building a community around me once again, I was better able to recognize toxic people and patterns I was repeating quickly enough to keep them out of my life altogether. I was thriving.

It was in looking back on that seemingly magical transformation (that took almost two rocky, isolating years to come to fruition) that I realized: I want to devote my life to helping other women accelerate their lives and careers in the same way.

That’s when I started down the entrepreneurial path to creating Bossed Up, which started with launching our flagship training program, Bossed Up Bootcamp

It’s an immersive weekend that helps women bring work, love, and wellness together to get clear on the vision of their ideal life and career, gain some skills that will help accelerate their progress, and leave with an action plan and a community of accountability for making it a reality.

My life until then was about getting an A: pleasing, performing and perfecting. The workplace calls for a completely different approach, one I hadn’t learned. And with women out-performing our male counterparts in academics, it’s no wonder our tried-and-true strategies that help us excel in school are so hard to shake after we enter the workforce. Up until then, they worked!

As a result, I was burnt out before 25. Emotionally, physically, economically — I was drained. Things came to a head with a dramatic end to my relationship, which had a ripple effect in the rest of my life and spurred me to relocate and seek out a new job opportunity in the city where I’ve always wanted to be: Washington, D.C. This was the beginning of my transformation to living life with the understanding that work, love and wellness are connected. To show up fully at work, things need to feel right at home.

I learned to advocate for myself in that transition in ways I hadn’t imagined before. I landed two job offers at the same time, and that gave me the confidence to negotiate hard for my next career move. As a result, I was able to pay off all the credit card debt I’d incurred through my breakup, I started leaving work at work every day and re-discovered my love of volleyball (my college sport). Being physically strong again brought mental strength, and as I began building a community around me once again, I was better able to recognize toxic people and patterns I was repeating quickly enough to keep them out of my life altogether. I was thriving.

It was in looking back on that seemingly magical transformation (that took almost 2 rocky, isolating years to come to fruition) that I realized: I want to devote my life to helping other women accelerate their lives and careers in the same way.

That’s when I started down the entrepreneurial path to creating Bossed Up, which started with launching our flagship training program, Bossed Up Bootcamp. It’s an immersive weekend that helps women bring work, love, and wellness together to get clear on the vision of their ideal life and career, gain some skills that will help accelerate their progress, and leave with an action plan and a community of accountability for making it a reality.

3// What brings you the most joy when you’re working with Bossed Up community members?

My favorite is seeing the women in our community apply the lessons they learn at Bossed Up Bootcamp to their lives and make real progress. It’s one thing to sit in a powerful workshop together and discuss the ways in which we can move closer towards our goals in work and life, but it’s another to see that progress play out in real time.

Since we all stay super connected in our online community after the Bootcamp weekend, I see first hand how much progress our bosses make. It might be a huge career leap - like how Nina went from paralegal to programmer or how Michelle finally got promoted into the top spot she’d been working towards in the same international company for almost nine years.

Or it might be progress in terms of achieving lifelong goals that have nothing to do with work - like how Kaitlin quit her day job to train at a globally-competitive level and raced in two Olympic Trial competitions.

Our communities celebrate each other's success and supports each other through setbacks. So really, we might be celebrating progress in terms of resilience and overcoming huge setbacks like how Caroline persevered in the face of her mother’s early passing or how Carmen’s staying focused on living with gratitude and joy even though she’s been diagnosed as having stage IV breast cancer.

Whatever comes their way in life after Bootcamp, I love seeing how ‘bosses’ in our community apply the lessons learned in order to step up as the boss of their careers and lives. To me, that’s what this work is all about.

4// What’s the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur? The best part?

There’s no road map, really. When you want to make something no one has made before, you’ve got to embrace the value of experimentation in figuring it out. So for me, the financial insecurity and getting comfortable with risk is often the most challenging part of this grand experiment. Trust me, I know how to make more money doing other work (see: political consulting past). What I’m doing with Bossed Up is about the long-game. So some short-term financial risks are tolerable, especially because bootstrapping (as opposed to taking on venture capital) has allowed me to not compromise my values in growing Bossed Up into the community I want it to be, in the way I want it to grow.

But all that aside, the best part is the ownership over my time, and the freedom that comes with deciding which projects to invest your time and energy into. It’s a challenge, but a fun one. It’s a problem, but it’s the best problem. Entrepreneurship can be great for problem-solvers like me.

5// How do you stay motivated and continue to grow, personally and professionally?

It’s all about who I surround myself with. I truly believe that we’re all the average of the company we keep. As such, our tribe of trainers, my peers, and colleagues in the feminist space, and my advisory board help push me to my growth edge, and catch me when I stumble. I also really believe in the power of mastering other domains. I listen to and play a lot of music, I am always working to improve my beach volleyball game and hone my yoga practice, and my newest challenge is mastering vegan cooking - especially vegan Japanese cooking. When you’re growing and learning in other domains in your life, I truly feel like you’re more open to experimentation, strategic risk-taking, and learning at work, too. Also, life is way more fun this way.

6// What’s one piece of advice you would give to other business owners?

Everything takes three times as long as you think it will, budget accordingly. Also: don’t go it alone. It’s less fun, way more scary, and you’ll be less effective. Ask for the help you need, and ask often. Collaborate with people who make you feel good, and cut out those who don’t. Remember: there’s no ‘right’ way to build a business, so now is the time to stop chasing success and start defining it for yourself.

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