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Career coach Tiffany Dufu on her best advice for young people right now

Tiffany Dufu, founder and CEO of The Cru, is on a mission to help women connect and network without the pressure of trying to be perfect.
"When I started dropping balls left and right, none of the things that I was terrified of happening actually happened. No one called to tell me that they didn't love me anymore because I missed an event or I didn't text them back. I didn't get fired from my job."
"When I started dropping balls left and right, none of the things that I was terrified of happening actually happened. No one called to tell me that they didn't love me anymore because I missed an event or I didn't text them back. I didn't get fired from my job."TODAY Illustration / Courtesy The Cru
/ Source: TMRW

We are all works in progress; even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we're sitting down with the people that inspire us to find out: How'd they do it? And what is success really like? This is "Getting There."

Tiffany Dufu is making it her life's mission to help as many women as possible connect and support each other. She is the founder and CEO of the peer coaching group The Cru, a platform for women looking to accelerate their professional and personal networks. Dufu is also the author of “Drop The Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less," which teaches women that while it's great to be ambitious, it’s also OK to let go. As she puts it, “You don’t have to do it all to have it all." In a chat with TMRW, Dufu shared her best advice for young people on how to advance their career while navigating this tricky time and why women shouldn't be afraid to drop the ball sometimes.

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During the pandemic, many young professionals have been ridden with anxiety that their career goals have been put on hold. What advice do you have for our readers who might be having that feeling due to COVID-19?

This is just an unprecedented, unrelenting time for all of us. This has been the biggest crisis and upheaval in our lifetime for those of us who are under a certain age. Keeping the expectation that you should be able to continue as it is — that you should be able to simply pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and that you should be able to just move on — is so unrealistic and damaging.

The first thing that I would say is, take it easy. Do what you need to do to thrive and get through each day. Right now is the time for a vulnerability like you've never experienced before. The first thing that you should be thinking about when you're challenged should not be, 'How am I going to solve this problem?' Or, 'How am I going to get through this?' It's, 'Who is going to help me get through this?' Before you start brainstorming and trying to figure it out for yourself, find out who can help and start texting the person, calling the person, emailing, etc. If it's a group of people, whatever you need. I have relied on my crew over the past year to get me through this crisis.

"This is the point of The Cru: We take the work out of the networking so that you can give us information about yourself and we can match you with a dynamic group," Dufu said.Jenny Groza

It's a particularly challenging time for people that are trying to pivot in their career. What tips can you provide for our readers that might be attempting to enter a new career journey or path?

First of all, LinkedIn is your friend. Right now, the friction has been reduced for connecting with people. There used to be a time when someone contacting me would ask to meet for coffee, which required me to commute, find the coffee shop, spend five bucks, sit there and talk to them and then commute again. This easily took two hours out of my day. Right now, because we're in this virtual environment, it's nothing for me to hop on a 15-minute or 20-minute Zoom to answer someone's questions and get to know them.

"The first thing that you should be thinking about when you're challenged should not be, 'How am I going to solve this problem?' ... It's, 'Who is going to help me get through this?'"Courtesy The Cru / Elizabeth Lippman

I've said yes to more people reaching out to me on LinkedIn than I ever did before. Secondly, this virtual world has reminded all of us of the power of human connection. It is not how many followers you have, it's the conversation people have about you because of their real experience with you. So this is the time to go back to people whom you have worked with in the past and say to them, “Hey, since COVID-19 hit, I've been thinking about all of the people who made a difference to me, let's connect.” You would be surprised how many people would love to connect with you.

The last tip that I have is, be clear about the purpose of your outreach and be clear about what you need to ask of someone. Time is so precious. People want to help, they do. When you give them a way to do that, it's just a way of you again reinforcing your brand.

The title of your book is fantastic, “Drop The Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less.” Can you explain what originally inspired you to write this book?

I wrote a book called “Drop The Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less” because I used to be terrified of ever dropping a ball. I used to think that dropping the ball meant that I was failing to take timely action, that I was disappointing myself, my family, my co-workers, and that dropping the ball was a bad thing to do.

I've released the imperfect quest for perfection, and I've gotten clear about what matters most to me.

As a young professional, I was miraculously able to keep a lot of balls in the air. So, I didn't reach my drop-the-ball moment until the birth of my first child. That's when I found it very difficult to manage all of the responsibilities that I held as a wife, then as a mother of a daughter, as a worker and as an ambitious professional.

What happened to me and helped inspire my psychological journey and transformation is that when I started dropping balls left and right, none of the things that I was terrified of happening actually happened. No one called to tell me that they didn't love me anymore because I missed an event or I didn't text them back. I didn't get fired from my job. So I began to question why it was that I felt so much pressure to keep all of those balls in the air to begin with. Over time, I started to reappropriate the term. So, for me now, dropping the ball means that I have released the unrealistic expectations that I'm supposed to be doing it all and have it all together. I've released the imperfect quest for perfection, and I've gotten clear about what matters most to me. Most importantly, I've learned how to get help from other people along the way.

Why is it so important to cultivate connections and branch out beyond your personal circle?

There's a couple of things. The first is that, for you to realize a goal in your life, for you to realize your human potential, there's a lot of research that shows that you have a much higher likelihood of success if you have a person or a group of people that you've committed to and if you have regular check-ins with that person or that group of people. Yet most of us do not have an accountability circle for our lives overall, meaning that there's no regular cadence with which we're sitting down with any group of people and saying, 'These are my personal and professional intentions.'

"We say that the crew relationship is more intimate than what you might have with your co-workers, but it's more objective than their family or friendship; we call it a Cru ship."Jenny Groza

If you're stuck, you have that group of people help coach you through whatever you might be stuck on. Most people do not have that. So this is the point of The Cru: We take the work out of the networking so that you can give us information about yourself and we can match you with a dynamic group.

What should your crew look like?

There are three aspects of the group that are important to driving you forward in terms of your success.

  1. The diversity of a group is incredibly important. I think right now we're in a moment where people are recognizing the power of having a diverse network and a diverse community. The Cru matches you with a group of people you wouldn't have otherwise met, and our algorithm prioritizes diversity. So you're going to be in a crew with people that come from different industries, that come from different backgrounds, that come from different family configurations. We are very quick to tout the benefits of diversity in the workplace.
  2. When you meet with your crew, you should be thinking before you show up to the Zoom, 'What have I done?' and you should feel some level of pressure to have made some progress. If you're not, if you're happy to catch up with them, they're probably not a real accountability circle for you.
  3. Then the third piece is objectivity. Part of the value of the crew is that it's a separate social category. So it's great to have a group of people who care about you but have no investment in your decision-making because it's not going to impact that. There's a level of objectivity. So we say that the crew relationship is more intimate than what you might have with your co-workers, but it's more objective than their family or friendship; we call it a Cru ship.

You have talked about how you changed your mindset about work from ‘What do you do?’ to ‘What difference can you make?’ Can you tell me a little bit more about what you meant when you made that change?

I used to be obsessed with getting things done. I have multiple apps on my phone to help track my progress. The reality is that you have just one precious life. At the end of your journey when a family member stands up and eulogizes you, do you want them to say, “Well, she got a lot of things done on her to-do list?” No, you would want them to say something meaningful about your impact on the world. This is why I say what we do is far less important than the difference we make.