I’m super excited about our guest today, Lydia Fenet. As I mentioned during the show, it was fate that I had Lydia on. So many people kept recommending that I read Lydia’s finished book, The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You, so I took it as a sign and grabbed a copy. I loved the book and thought Lydia would be a good guest for the show. And do you know what happened? Poof! I received an email from Lydia’s podcast placement agency asking if she could be on the show. I was like, yes please!
And after the recording of this show, I recently finished her second book, Claim Your Confidence: Unlock Your Superpower and Create the Life You Want. The lessons in that book hit me even harder and I must admit, I shed a few tears while reading the end. I highly recommend both books. And you can read them independently, so you can start with Claim Your Confidence if it appeals to you more or vice versa.
Either way, Lydia was a joy to talk with and she really motivated and inspired me, and I’m sure she will do the same for you.
During our conversation, Lydia and I talked about:
- Her backstory as a powerful auctioneer at Christie’s and how she navigated Imposter Syndrome regularly to find success in her career.
- What led her to write her books, especially when she was working full-time and is a mom of three kiddos.
- Why self-promotion is absolutely critical for all working women.
- What the gavel strike is and how we can find our own to command attention in any room.
- How learning to love failure is a necessary part of success and growth.
- And finally, Lydia’s thoughts on the mythical work-life balance.
Listen to the podcast here
How To Become The Most Powerful And Confident Woman In The Room With Lydia Fenet
I’m so glad you’re here. How are you doing out there? I’m super excited about our guest, Lydia Fenet. As I mentioned during the show, I love the story. I can’t help but tell it multiple times. It was fate that I had Lydia on. Many people kept recommending that I read Lydia’s first book, The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You.
I took it as a sign because I kept seeing it everywhere and I just picked up a copy. I love the book and I thought to myself, “Lydia would be a great guest for the show.” Do you know what happened? Right after I thought that, within like a week, I’m telling you the honest truth. I received an email from Lydia’s placement agency asking if she could be on the show. I was like, “Yes, please.”
After the recording of the show, I followed up because I loved our conversation so much. I finished her second book, Claim Your Confidence: Unlock Your Superpower and Create the Life You Want. The lessons in that book hit me even harder than the first one. I must admit to everybody, I shed a few tears when reading the end. Not going to share any spoiler alerts but there’s so much goodness packed into both books.
I highly recommend both and you can read them independently. You can go to The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You or you can start with Claim Your Confidence. You can go either way. It depends on what appeals to you more at this time, so check this out. Either way, Lydia was such a joy to speak with and she motivated and inspired me. I’m sure she’s going to do the same for you.
During our conversation, we talked about her back story as a powerful auctioneer at Christie’s and how Lydia navigated imposter syndrome regularly to find success in her career. What led her to leave Christie’s, so I feel very blessed to be able to talk about this huge pivot in her life and her career to her own auction house, which share more details about during the show and what led her to write her books, especially when she was working full time and as a mom to three kiddos.
I have no idea how she did that. What self-promotion is and why it is critical for us to learn how to sell ourselves as a working woman in the world, what her gavel strike is, and how we can find our own gavel strikes to command attention in any room. How we can learn to love failure. I know it’s tough for us. Maybe you’re a recovering perfectionist or super ambitious. I know failure, we went there, and how it’s a necessary part of success and our growth. Finally, I asked Lydia her thoughts on the mythical work-life balance and you’re going to want to know her thoughts on that. Hang out with us until the very end.
Here is more about Lydia. Lydia Fenet is the Founder and CEO of the Lydia Fenet Agency, a boutique agency representing best-in-class charity auctioneers. Over her two-decade-long career, Lydia served as the Global Managing Director of Strategic Partnerships for Christie’s and reshaped the fundraising landscape as the World’s Leading Charity Auctioneer. She has single-handedly raised over $1 billion for more than 800 organizations and broken down countless barriers for women in the auction industry.
Widely recognized for her poise and power on stage, she has stood alongside celebrities including Bruce Springsteen, Hugh Jackman, Elton John, Matt Damon, and Jerry Seinfeld to raise record-breaking donations for the most notable charities across the globe. Lydia is the author of two bestselling books, The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You and Claim Your Confidence, as well as the podcast host of Claim Your Confidence in collaboration with Rockefeller Center.
Her first book was optioned by Netflix in 2022 for a series that will be produced by Chernin Entertainment starring Kiernan Shipka as the lead. Lydia is represented by the CAA and travels internationally to speak to companies about unlocking their sales potential, empowering people in the workplace, and the art of public speaking. You can follow her auctions, antics, and anecdotes on Instagram at @LydiaFenet.
Before we get started, if you’re enjoying Brave Women at Work, please make sure to leave a rating and review in Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you’ve already left a rating or review, I thank you so much for your support. It means the world to me, so thank you so much. Also, as a reminder, I have 1 to 2 spots still available for one-on-one leadership and career coaching.
If you’re a working woman who would like help with professional confidence, asking for what you want, negotiating the compensation and the benefits that you feel are in line with what you’re contributing at work, and overall getting to the next level in your career, jump on over to BraveWomenAtWork.com to see if coaching is a fit for you. Let’s welcome Lydia to the show.
Lydia, welcome to the show. How are you?
Thank you so much. I’m so delighted to be here.
I am so excited. I was telling everyone I’m going to catch you all up on my conversation with Lydia before we got on. I was finishing her first book, which we’re going to talk about. It is The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You then I got a call from your PR agency. I was like, “You’ve got to be here.” This is meant to be. Thank you again for being here.
I love that story. That makes my entire week. I love it when things come together when they’re supposed to.
Why don’t you share and you can jump in anywhere you want to but I love women’s stories. Share your background story and how you’ve gotten to where you are now. This question is interesting for you because you’re in this huge pivot exciting transition time in your life and career. Tell us all the details.
My work story started decades ago as an intern at Christie’s Auction House. I started in college. I interned there for the first time after reading an article in Vanity Fair Magazine about the sale of Princess Diana’s dresses at this incredible place called Christie’s Auction House in New York City. I grew up in Louisiana. My parents were not art collectors but something about the story captivated my imagination.
You’ll realize that this is a little bit of a theme with me. If I see or hear something, I’ll stay on it until something comes of it. In this case, it became an obsession of mine to work for Christie’s. I got the number for the internship coordinator and stalked her until she let me take an internship that summer, which is the best way to say it. It doesn’t sound like the greatest thing but I did stalk her. I called her every single day for two straight weeks, even though she told me the internship program was full.
At that point, I turned into the intern who did everything. There was nothing I didn’t want to do. I was happy to empty the trash. I was happy to shred 6-foot-tall things of paper, just anything to be within the 4 walls of this company. I was offered an internship after I graduated from college and took that internship long enough to land a job there. Once I was there, I never wanted to leave.
One of the things that define my time at Christie’s is when I was 24, I tried out to be a charity auctioneer for the company. It wasn’t something where you ever saw women. When I was training, I was one of the women trying out but I was the only one who passed that year. At the time, I was one of the only charity auctioneers who was a woman who was on stage in New York City. There might have been a couple more but they were usually trained as art auctioneers first and I was a charity auctioneer.
That became what I was known for. I was on stage in those first years. Maybe 50 nights a year after work then 60 nights. There was one year I did a hundred auctions. I was taking sometimes 2, even 3 a night if the timing worked out. That has been something that I am known for. I’ve been known for it for a long time.
I was laughing I was at a book event for one of my best friends, Mary Giuliani, who was doing her third book. She was doing a reading down in the West Village. It was a very New York Night. Dylan Dreyer, the meteorologist from the TODAY Show was there. She was saying, “I’m going to go home and get into bed.” It was 8:00 at night. I was like, “My night’s just getting started.” I was in my cocktail dress at this very dress-down party.
I was like, “I didn’t dress like a princess for Mary. I dressed like a princess because I’m going on stage in an hour and a half,” but that’s my night. I run around and jump on stage. What you alluded to before is what I told you right before we got on the show. I have always believed if you are someone who wants to create your path, you can. I am always looking for the white space to do that. Over the past years, I transitioned from a full-time role at Christie’s where I had worked for many years into an ambassadorship role, which essentially meant that I was still taking auctions for the company.If you are someone who wants to create your path, you can. Click To Tweet
I didn’t have any day-to-day responsibilities anymore. This worked so well because I’ve been growing my platform on the side as a motivational speaker, as a show host, and as an author. I found that my passion and my drive were in those things. They weren’t in the job that I was doing day-to-day anymore. It’s interesting because I am the breadwinner in our family. There was so much of me that was scared to take a leap. I was putting all of that on me after so much time where there was a job that was the crutch for that.
What I realized over this past 2022 was the notion that the four walls in a company were the reason that you were successful. In my case was not at all the case. What I’ve watched is how people don’t even know where I work and frankly, they don’t care where I work. What they want is the skill that I’ve worked many years to perfect.
A few months ago, I started telling people, “I’m thinking of starting an auctioneering agency to represent the best auctioneers that I’ve trained to find new amazing charity auctioneers and to reach out to nonprofits and say you don’t have to have someone’s uncle up there or a weatherman. You should have someone who’s trained to motivate and inspire an audience into giving for your nonprofit and hopefully, raising a ton of money for your operating budget in the coming years.”
I took the leap. I resigned from Christie’s and started my own auctioneering agency. It’s been an unbelievable first week. First of all, I had no idea there were so many people who wanted to be charity auctioneers. I got 40 reach outs in the first couple of days. People who’ve been auctioneers like public speaking. On the flip side, all of a sudden, my inbox is swamped with auctions coming in from around the country who want this need. It’s an exciting pivot and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next couple of years.
I feel so privileged that we’re on the precipice of your pivot with you. This is cool. I was originally going to ask about being an auctioneer and imposter syndrome but let’s reframe that because you’ve done that for so long. You’ve graduated and now, you’re going to train the next generation. What about this new pivot? Have you faced any imposter syndrome as built in the last few months since you’ve been making this decision? How have you managed any feelings of doubt like moving away from Christie’s onto this new endeavor that you’re embarking on?
Steve Jobs has this great quote where he is like, “Life is about connecting the dots backward,” and I’m paraphrasing. That’s some way he said it but I do feel like everything has led to this. I have suffered imposter syndrome over the course of a twenty-plus-year career. Those early years for me were all about imposter syndrome, especially as an auctioneer.
I truly believe imposter syndrome is something we put on ourselves but I can tell you without any hesitation that in the first decade of my career, the imposter syndrome was coming at me from all sides. When I was walk-in as an auctioneer, I was often told something along the lines of, “You’re not the auctioneer who’s going on stage because that would be a guy.”Imposter syndrome is something we put on ourselves. Click To Tweet
The funniest part about it was that I also agreed with them. I was like, “I understand but I’m the only person who can do it, so you’re stuck with me.” It was always a guy and because of that, the imposter syndrome piled on. I write about it a lot in my second book. I have a whole chapter on imposter syndrome and what I’ve done to get over it.
There are so many things that I find that I do to myself. When I would go out on maternity leave and I would come back, somebody would make a comment about my kids at home. I would immediately think, “They’re thinking that I’m not at work. I need to go to work more. I have to show them.” Instead of thinking, “Maybe they’re asking about my kids. Maybe they aren’t but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.”
If not, why even worry about that? What does that have to do with what you’re doing in this drive and this life you want to live? Imposter syndrome has this amazing way of stopping you from doing things because you think you shouldn’t be doing something. One thing that I say is to stop counting yourself out before you even have the chance to get into a room to try. If someone puts you forward for something, say thank you and do it. Don’t give them fifteen reasons why you shouldn’t be the person. Often, we opt out before we even have a chance to get in the room where we can try and fail.
You talk a lot about failure and I love that. I know that you probably had failures. I read you had a couple of snafus in your first book, which I mentioned. We’ll talk about the second book but I love that you are not willing to stay complacent. Is that a decision you made earlier in your career or how are you not afraid of failure?
I’ve seen the benefit of failure so many times because if it doesn’t work, it’s not serving you. That’s the same thing as failure. When I started strategic partnerships for Christie’s, it was many years ago. The interesting thing was if I looked back at the beginning of strategic partnerships versus the last day of my time in strategic partnerships, it was so different than I ever thought it would be.
In the beginning, one of the things that was always such a detrimental part of my idea about strategic partnerships was that it had to be what I thought it was going to be. What you learn over time is there are so many other ways to look at something. You as one person coming in it with one angle, that’s one way to look at it but how do other people view that? How do they see that? What can you take from it?
I’ll give you an example. During COVID, I started a masterclass. I did this because I took a 40% pay cut at work. Everyone in the company had been asked to take a big pay cut. Mine was massive. As I said, I was providing for my family. My husband had lost his job and it was a scary time. I also make money from being an auctioneer on stage and there were no auctions on stage. Money left overnight. It was like everything was gone.
In that situation, it’s so easy to be fearful and stuck. How do I do anything? I’ll stay here and hide. The other way of looking at that is action leads to action. What do I do to make more money? How do I make that happen? I have to figure that out. No one’s going to come to me and be like, “We figured it out for you.” I decided that I was going to do a masterclass. I was going to launch it on my Instagram and I would offer up things that people were asking me about during COVID.
I would get a lot of DMs and things on LinkedIn, asking me about networking, negotiation, public speaking, and sales. As someone who loves sales, to me, when you start to see that inbound, you realize there’s a white space and you move into that white space. What I did was launch the masterclass. I would do it every Sunday night and I would “drop the idea” for the masterclass for a Thursday class on a Sunday night. Whoever could sign up, I only had 25 spots. It’s a sample sale model. There are limited spots. You could come.
The first one I did was on sales. I told everyone about it. It dropped and then it was totally sold out within two hours. It was $20 a seat, a 90-minute class done, great. The second one, negotiation, great networking, and public speaking, sold them all out. I had some people who wanted to do all four. It was interesting watching the way that it took on its own themes.
I’d had such success the first time, I decided to do it again a second time two months later. I did it a second time. The interesting thing was the first one I dropped, it was sales again but it took a lot longer than two hours to sell out. I realized that I was going back to the same pond. I was fishing from the same pond and therefore, were these going to be as well attended? The answer was no.
What I realized every time I dropped one that I had already done was that it wasn’t going to fill up in its entirety. I remember one at the end there was less than half the class. I remember saying something like, “There was a buyout for half the class or something like that.” Always the salesperson but what I did learn was that there were other things that people were interested in. Maybe they couldn’t attend at that time but could I sell them the video or do one-on-one coaching?
That entire masterclass model for me flipped into coaching for a very long time after that because I realized that there were just as many people who wanted one-on-one coaching. It gave me less of a better understanding of my schedule and being able to schedule them weekly. It was something I enjoyed. That’s what I mean. You could look at that and be like the masterclass failed because you did it twice and by the third time, there wasn’t the demand anymore.
I see that as a learning lesson because what I realized was the first time, “Great. Awesome. I’m so glad I did it.” The second time, “Great.” The third time, “I don’t need to do it again.” What pieces can I take from that and move into another business model? That’s what I mean by not being afraid of failure. I don’t see that as a failure. I see it as the evolution of a business.
Many of the women that are reading this show are ambitious, recovering maybe perfectionists. We can be hard on ourselves, so that’s a great example. Thank you for sharing that.
Don’t be scared of failing. People try to hide that from other people. The greatest unifier is when you are vulnerable to failure and things that have not been successful. You’ll be amazed how people open up when something like that happens. They’ll be like, “That happened to me too. I’m sorry that that happened to you. Here are things I could do to help you.” It’s amazing. You don’t always have to be successful. It’s helpful sometimes to be a failure because people like failure. They like to be able to help.Don't be scared of failing. The greatest unifier is when you are vulnerable in things that have not been successful. Click To Tweet
It’s like an underdog story. I love a good underdog story.
We all do.
You’ve mentioned a couple of times the white space. I’m curious why the white space and maybe this is because you were telling jokes and stories. You’re a very powerful salesperson. You decide to become an author and I don’t know if you’re like, “Jen, it’s natural. This is an option of an auctioneer,” but I’m curious, why did you decide to become a writer?
Going back to what I said at the very beginning about reading that article in Vanity Fair instead of setting my sights on something and wanting to do it, I had thought about writing a book for a long time then I told the New York Times. They were interviewing me for a day in the life piece. I told them that I was writing a book but I wasn’t writing a book. I’d written one paragraph of a book.
I did my best friend’s agent who said, “You have a book in you. It’s just not this book.” When I received the transcript back from the Times, I had told the reporter this when I was pregnant with my third child and I was exhausted. She was following me around for this day in the life piece. I don’t even remember saying it but she asked me what I did when I got home after getting off stage. I said, “I never read a book. I never read anything on screens. I don’t do anything that would wake me up again. I don’t watch TV or flip through my Instagram. I write this book that I’m writing.” I was not writing a book.
I’d thought about writing a book but I wasn’t writing the book. When I saw it in the transcript, I had that moment where I was like, “You’ve been talking about this for so long. You need to do it or stop talking about it. You can’t keep doing this.” When I told her that the transcript was good, I had six weeks and maybe it was the pressure. Maybe it was that I was at the right time in my life.
I literally sat down and cranked out the words. It all came together. I sent it to my best friend’s agent and she said, “This is good. If anyone is interested in this, I’ll post that you are writing this book when the piece comes out in the Times. If anybody reaches out, I’ll get back to you and we can take it from there.” I was like, “Whatever. Nothing’s going to happen,” but then what was interesting was, it was two weeks after the Harvey Weinstein scandal hit.
Two weeks after that piece comes out, another piece comes out about a young woman, a senior executive at the world’s leading auction house writing a book called The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You. It was like everybody wanted it. We went into the major publishing houses in New York City and we sold it in a preempt five days later to Simon & Schuster, which was the same building I had worked in for many years.
It was the craziest story. At that point, I had three and a half months to write it from start to finish. There was a lot of crying. I was like, “What have I done? Why did I do this? Why do I do this to myself?” I sat down and I wrote 1,000 words a day until it was done. By the way, my youngest child at that point, was my third child and was not even a year old. I was still nursing, working full-time. I had auctions at night.
It was without a doubt, one of the most incredibly stressful but more like, “You have to dig deep, Lydia, and get this done.” I remember submitting it and my editor came back and said, “I’ve never received a manuscript on time.” I was aghast. I was like, “What?” She was like, “No one ever turns this in on time.” I was like, “I didn’t even realize that was an option.” That’s how little I knew walking into the process. It was a labor of love and I’m still so proud of having done that, having dug in because I do think so often we don’t realize how strong we are until we’re pushed. We’re amazing as humans that we can do all of these things if we choose to do them.
Let me recap quickly. You had 3 children, 1 under 1. You were working full-time at Christie’s. You had auctions in the evening. You were writing this book in like three and a half months.
It was crazy. People were like, “How did you do this?” I would start writing after I dropped my kids off from school in the subway, which is about 25 minutes. Whatever came to mind that day, I would put it on my iPhone or it was my Blackberry at the time. I would start writing and I would send it to myself in the office.
If there was any downtime, like when I was eating lunch or even right at the end of the day before I had to get the kids. Any downtime over the course of the day, I would pull it back up, look at it, and then do it on the subway at home. If I had an auction, often, instead of sitting for dinner, I would go backstage, sit in the dark, and write on my phone. I would forward it all to myself at night. There were times I would fall asleep with my computer on my lap. It was an interesting time in my life.
I hope you took a break after that. Did you take any breaks after that or not? Probably not.
I have a 4, 2, and 1-year-old or 0-year-old. They were babies.
You didn’t have a break. In the first book, I love this part and I want to talk about your gavel strike. Tell us about your gavel strike. Women reading might be like, “No kidding.” Often, as women, we don’t have that commanding attention. We don’t come in and do that. Can you tell us what your gavel strike is? Maybe how we, women that don’t have a gavel, can command attention when we walk into a room?
The way that I look at the gavel is when I’m standing backstage and painting the picture for people. You may think of an auction if you even have ever thought of an auction as something that you see on TV where people are selling art. People are seated facing the auctioneer quietly whispering. I take charity auctions. I get on stage late at night at galas where people are seated around tables. They’ve been eating and drinking for hours by the time I get on stage.
They’re usually hundreds, sometimes over 1,000 people staring at me. I have five seconds to make an impression before they all turn and start talking to each other again. What I’ve learned over time is I have a little gavel. It’s like a pocket size that I bring with me because I’m an auctioneer. We’re allowed to bring gavels, you see. I bring it on stage and I hammer it down three times every single time I get on stage.
For me, it’s almost like something that brings me not only the energy that I need to rocket when I get on that stage. Also, it helps calm my mind because I know when that gavel hits, I know what I’m going to say next. I never have to worry about the words getting stuck or not being able to say what I want. I know that when that gavel goes down, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is, “Good evening, everyone. My name is Lydia Fenet. I’m so delighted to be here this evening,” then I throw in a joke and that is it. In any stage, anywhere in the world, sleep, no sleep, it doesn’t matter.
The gavel strike can be brought on in any way, shape, or form you want in your own life. You need to think about something that helps you summon strength. You need to think about something that makes you feel strong like you’re coming in from a powerful position every time you walk into a meeting, a presentation, or frankly, even a difficult conversation.
I have a friend who sits in front of every Zoom presentation. She hits the table right before she goes on, like, “Here we go.” I have another friend who has a red pebble that she found after she read the book and she’s like, “I bring it with me everywhere and I hold onto it like in my pocket before I start anything.” It can be physical. It can be a mantra that you repeat reminding yourself of why you’re there or it can be, frankly, getting a gavel.
Get something that you can physically tap down but then just as important, what is coming next for you? What comes out of your mouth after that? That’s what trips people up. If you think about getting on stage, presenting, or anything where you’re feeling that adrenaline, if you start tripping up, it makes it worse. Make sure that whatever you want to say, you are ready with an entry line and from that moment on, you feel strong and ready to go.
You don’t overprepare though. It sounds like you have your first line or first joke and your gavel but from then just because you’ve worked through the imposter syndrome and the nerves over so many years, it flows, correct? You don’t overprepare though.
I don’t overprepare. Someone said something interesting that I’ve never forgotten about public speaking. I gave a speech. This was probably 10 or 12 years ago. I was reading from my notes, literally reading from start to finish. The speech was good. It was a good speech. She said to me after, “That was a good speech. You need to lose your notes.” I was like, “What do you mean?” She’s like, “Lydia, no one knows what you’re going to say when you’re up there. If it doesn’t come out exactly as you’ve scripted it, who cares?”
It was the best advice I’ve ever been given because it is very unnerving to get on stage without notes. People who speak without notes are so much more interesting to watch. To the extent that, again, presentations, anything like that, don’t bring notes. You don’t need them. What are you going to say? Come up with almost markers along the way. Start at the beginning of what you want to say and think of places maybe 5 or 6 places that you need to check in over the course of your speech. Make sure that those things are front of mind. Those are the things you’ve memorized when you get up and go back to them as you’re speaking. They’ll help you course correct if you will.
One thing that I’ve taken notes on stage is not as big as 1,000. It may be up to 100. That’s about the biggest I’ve gotten but still scary for the average person. When I have notes with me, I lose my place and I find that I’m more nervous. I find when I’m in the audience watching someone with like no cards or a piece of paper, I’m more nervous for them because then, it almost is a telling sign that they’re nervous. Does that make sense?
If you think about it, if you’re watching someone, first of all, the flipping of the page. I was at a friend’s event and she was reading from a book. Every time she had to flip the book, I remember thinking, “It’s a shame because she was so engaged in the story.” It was like, “Then I,” page flip. I was like, “You’ve got to get rid of the page flip.” I do think it makes a huge difference for the audience.
I completely agree with that. On the line of presenting, you talk a lot about and the underlying thing that you teach, I believe, is about selling and self-promotion being okay for women. I LOVE that you do that because women are not taught that. I come from a family, where we were taught. My mom always told me, “Be humble, Jen.” I always was the one figuring out that head down, working hard, and eventually getting recognized.
It never happened. Maybe like here and there but it never happened. There were times where I would fight for a promotion and other women would say, “I’m a self-promoter or I’m an opportunist.” I would feel bad about myself. Can you change the narrative for all of the ladies reading? Why are selling and self-promotion critical skills for women that are working?
If you don’t have them, nobody takes you seriously. I know that it’s hard to hear criticism about self-promotion. I’ve heard it many times over the course of my career and it hurt the first number of times I heard it. I would like to say it’s been a number of times. It hasn’t been like once but many times. You’re in good company, ladies.
The most important thing to remember is at some point, who are you living your life for? Are you living your life for people who are looking at what you’re doing and succeeding and making snide comments? Is that who you’re living your life for? At the end of the day, people who are saying nasty things about people who are succeeding. It’s usually because they are bringing out something in that person that makes them feel like they’re not doing something they want to do. I call it the shoulda, coulda, woulda. After I wrote the book, I can’t even explain to you how many people said to me, “I should have written that book,” to my face. First and foremost, I was like, “You’re not an auctioneer but okay.”
What do you say to that?
What I would say to them is, “You want to write a book? I’m happy to help you write a book.” I honestly will do whatever you want. My best friend gave me her book proposal. We share the same agent because she called her agent and told her to represent me. I have benefited from a strong female friendship my entire adult life.
What I say to people is, “You want to write a book? I would be happy to help you. What can I do? I will send you my proposal. If I will send your proposal to my agent, she will tell you whether or not she likes it. I can’t take it any further than that but do you want me to check in? I’m a good checker-inner as a friend. I can come and make sure that you’re doing things.” No one ever does it. That’s the thing.
No one ever does it but they’re always happy to sit there and punch holes in someone else who’s doing it. When it comes to what you’re doing in your career, don’t look from left to right and wonder what other people are thinking about what you’re doing. If you think you’re doing the right thing, living the life you want to live, and you feel confident about what it is, don’t let other people diminish that.
At the end of the day, you’re only left with what you’ve done. Those people might move. They might not even work at the company in years ago. You may leave a company that you worked for for many years. It doesn’t matter what other people think. It matters what you think about what you’re doing. Stick to your guns, keep your head held high, and try to brush it all off.
One other thing that’s coming up as you’re saying is that when you are taking bold steps and brave steps like we talk about on the show, IT probably stirs up other people’s angst and fears and makes them like freak out a little bit. You made the bold decision to leave Christie’s, start your own firm, be a writer, and all these things. I’m sure that there are people, whether they said it or not, who are like, “Why do you have to do that? This is career suicide. You shouldn’t do that.” Maybe you didn’t but I’m sure that there were probably people silently poking holes in your plan but good for you that you pushed forward and said, “This is where I want to go regardless of what you think.”
I had someone say to me and this was a friend who I adore. She’s like, “Was it not enough to be like a Christie’s ambassador and have the books and the show? That wasn’t enough? You had to start your own agency?” I was like, “I’m getting started. I don’t think you realize this is the beginning.” There’s so much more coming but that’s my vision. Not everybody has that vision or wants to have that vision.
I can’t make anybody else go along for that ride. I’m doing this for me, for my family, and to motivate other women who have this fire in them because this is such an amazing way to live life. The agency is called the Lydia Fenet Agency, my new charity auctioneering agency. When I posted about it, Instagram is an amazing thing because you can gauge how people are reacting based on whether or not they like it.
The response was so overwhelming. It was like wow. Even when I was reading the comments afterward, it was like, “Oh, my God.” People literally did not see this coming. In my mind, I was like, “Do you see what I’ve seen this whole time?” I wanted to say, “Do you see it now? This is the white space and this is what it means to move into it.”
Anyone can do that at any point in their career. You have to find the white space and keep moving into it. You can’t be complacent. You can’t do the same thing everyone else is doing. That is not what makes you live an extraordinary life. You live an extraordinary life where you find something that no one else is doing and you jump in with both feet. It could fail but what if it doesn’t? How great is that?You have to find the white space and keep moving into it. You can't be complacent and do the same thing everyone else is doing. That is not what makes you live an extraordinary life. Click To Tweet
Even if it does, it’s not like you can’t go and be an auctioneer again. Someone would probably be like, “We’d love to have you.”
Also, I could be an auctioneer for myself. Even if it’s an agency with two people, I could still have an agency. What is success? It’s not defined by other people. It’s defined by my vision and as we’ve talked about, it’s not failure. It’s an evolution. I don’t know. I feel like it’s such an inspiring topic to think about doing something that makes other people think, “Maybe I could do something like that. Maybe I could start my own business.” That’s exciting to me to be the first to do it first.
On that note, let’s talk a little bit about your new book. We talked about the first book that was very successful. The new book Claim Your Confidence: Unlock Your Superpower and Create the Life You Want. What motivated you to write this book?
During my book tour for The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You, I started getting a lot of questions about confidence. This was 2019, which was a very different time now. I remember hearing the same questions over and over again. “You seem very confident. How do I get to be more confident? Can you give me some tips for being confident? Do you have imposter syndrome?”
I started jotting these things down during the Q&A because again, we keep talking about the white space but there it is. People have questions about it and they’re asking me. What do about that? I thought I was going to start my second book in 2020. I thought that January 2020 was going to of be going to be the moment when I started saying out loud to my agent again that it was time for another book. It was going to be the turning point. 2020 came and I don’t know if you were aware that a global pandemic was coming but I was not.
I did not know.
I did not see that coming, nor do I believe it was coming. That was a real-life reset for everyone, obviously. For me, it took the writing of a book off the shelf. As I said, my husband lost his job. He’d started a new job that he loved a couple of months before the pandemic. Last one in, first one out and I took a massive pay cut. The last thing I was thinking about was writing another book.
As a result of that, it fell by the wayside. I was also homeschooling three children with my husband trying to figure out how to do all of this and be a school cafeteria worker while running a global team and living in a city that was being completely decimated overnight. The interesting thing about it all was I can’t remember when it occurred. It was probably a couple of months after the worst of COVID had hit. I was with my family. We were taking a walk and all of a sudden, there was a phrase that came into my mind.
This is often how I write. There’ll be a nugget of something and I write it down then I start writing around it like, “What is the point of this story? How do I get there? What stories over the course of my life would help support this story?” That happened that day. It was an action that leads to action. It’s the name of one of my titles. It was because I had been talking to a friend who was an artist and she got scared during COVID because she was like, “I don’t know what to do.”
Similar to my husband, her husband had lost his job or his business was drying up. She’s like, “I don’t know what to do.” I’m like, “Do you have any art?” She’s like, “Yes, I can’t stop painting. It’s like my outlet.” I said, “You need to get out there and tell people about it.” She’s like, “I have a website that I’ve had forever.” I was like, “Are you reminding people that you’re there because that’s how clients find you? Clients don’t find you. You have to find them. Get it out there. You need to start putting that stuff out there.” That was the conversation. I remember thinking that action leads to action. We have to start this stuff on our own. I wrote it down. That ultimately became the first nugget of that book.
I’d always wanted to write a book on confidence so that stayed there. I noticed that other people were starting to reach out too. It was coming over DM. It was coming over LinkedIn and the questions were always about confidence. When l launched that masterclass, I sent out sheets of paper to people beforehand with a couple of questions to try to get to know them a little bit better.
One of the questions I asked was, “Why are you here?” 92 out of the 100 questionnaires that I sent for the first one, the word confidence came up. I remember that is it. That is the white space and that’s where I need to start writing again. I started to write and I didn’t have the crazy deadline that I did with my first one. I spent my time crafting the proposal and sent it to my agent. He went to Simon and Schuster.
I’d already pitched a girl’s adaptation of The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You, which they’d passed on. They were like, “We’re not loving this.” I sent this one and that one was pretty immediate. They were like, “Confidence is something people are going to come out of COVID needing for sure. Let’s get this in the works.” They gave me six months this time. I was like, “Make it small. I do better under pressure. It might be too long. I don’t know.” I ended up writing my second book in six months, which was the time allotted and I got that one in on time too.
One thing that hit me, I was reading a portion of it. This is a quote in the book, “Confidence doesn’t mean perfect.” What does that mean to you? When you wrote that down, what does that mean?
I opened the book, I opened my second book by telling the story of my first book tour in New York, which was like the high of the high of my life. I had launched in New York City. I was at Christie’s with all of these incredible people, incredible power women then I went to the TODAY Show and to CBS.
It was one thing after another for two straight weeks. Every party was well attended. Every one of my friends turned out. It felt like such a huge blanket of love. I went to San Francisco and my first book event was lined up for the morning that I arrived and I’d arrived the night before. It was a pitch blue day, a bluebird sky. I took a picture on top of the Golden Gate Bridge holding my book like, “San Francisco, here I come.”
As a result of that, I was running late. I was in the Uber on my way to the bookstore and I was like, “I might miss this talk that I’m giving.” It was a moderated talk with a charity auctioneer from San Francisco. There were 50 people who were supposed to be coming in for a big book signing. The time’s getting later and later and I’m getting more frantic. I had seven minutes to go when I ran down the Ferry Building in San Francisco and threw open the door to this bookstore and there are 50 chairs. There’s one person in the front row. I remember looking at the bookseller and saying, “Did I get the time wrong?” She was like, “No. There’s no one here.” “We’ll wait for a couple of more minutes.”
I’m such an optimist. I kept turning towards the door like, the floods of people had been getting lunch and had all come together. We’re missing the 49 that are coming in. I tried to recruit people from the bookstore and I remember walking up to this one woman and being like, “Hi. My name is Lydia Fenet. I’m giving a book talk on The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You. Would you like to come?” She was like, “No.”
It got worse from there. My sister’s best friend showed up, so then there was a witness to this whole thing. The last piece was there was a woman who showed up who pulled a shopping cart filled with magazines. It was clear that she was homeless. The bookstore owner said to me, “Do you mind that she’s here because she comes in, she can be a little disruptive, but she means well.” I was like, “No. There are literally four people here. I don’t care who comes. Just get some bodies here, please.”
I started the talk, the moderated conversation. There are 2 of us speaking to 5 or 6 people. I remember the woman in the back started heckling me very loudly. Everything I said, she gives feedback. It was just the low of the low. The last thing I said was, “Does anyone have any questions?” She said, “No, but the next time you do this, you should make it a potluck.” I said, “I could do that but at Charity Auctions, we often have our open bar too because that makes it fun.”
She said something like, “No, that’s how I ended up on the street in the first place.” I remember thinking like, “Is there a lower low than this? I don’t think so.” When you asked me about when I say confidence isn’t perfect, I thought about that story for so many years afterward because the bottom line is, if you look at my Instagram on my book tour, it is Mary Sunshine Pollyanna. I am flying high. The picture I posted that day was of me on top of the Golden Gate Bridge with a book saying, “San Francisco, here I come,” and 25 minutes later, I’m at an empty bookstore with no one coming, getting heckled.
Confidence is not born when you are successful. Confidence is born in those tough moments where you feel like you want to sink into the floor but you realize that you won’t die and you will be fine. The next time, you’ll be able to get through it even easier because you’ve already gotten through it and survived. That’s what I mean when I say confidence isn’t perfect. You don’t become confident because you live in a safe bubble. You get confident when you throw yourself into things that may not work out, knowing that you may get into a situation where it doesn’t feel great but you’ll survive it and you’ll be able to try more the next time because you know you are unafraid to do it.
I love that and I’m not saying that this happened here. I know you had some resounding success in other spaces and places with your first book and I’m sure with the second but you didn’t let that experience decimate you. A lot of us would say, “Does this mean that I’m not a good author or this is a failure of a tour or whatever?” We let our minds run wild but even if you have those moments, you don’t let them define you, which is awesome.
By the way, I did have those moments that day. I have that moment when I finished where I was like, “All of this? I’m in full hair and makeup. I’m wearing a colorful outfit to my first book,” which is not easy. It was red and pink. I’d put some forethought into making sure that was going to be a great event and it was not a great event but the one that I did the next day was better. The one that I did that night was better.
That’s always the point. By getting up, you experience something else that could be worse but likely will be better. It’s hard to lower rock bottom than that one. I tell that story because I want people to understand that the stakes are high the higher you get up there. The fear of failure gets bigger the bigger stage you’re on but if you don’t try, you’re never on that big stage in the first place. Why not give it a go?
I agree with that. An undercurrent is like a theme with a lot of the things that you’re putting out. You are doing a lot at the same time. I get this question too from women at a much smaller scale for my show. I also have another book coming out of women’s stories and things like that. Women will ask me and I want to ask you about the idea of having it all. I always tell women, “You can have it all but not all at the same time,” which is an ape or a rip-off from someone else that was not mine. What are your thoughts on having it all, especially with all of the things that you’re doing at the same time?
Having it all makes no sense because who wants the same thing as someone else? What is your all? A lot of people would look at my life at the pace at which I go. My very best friend says this to me, “I would literally die if I were you. I have no desire to be on a plane all the time or to be on stage every night.” This drives me. Do I feel like I have it all? Sometimes. I also feel like sometimes it’s hard when I’m traveling so much because I miss my kids a lot.
I also know that I’m doing all of this for our family. I will take that for now and in the moments where it slows down, I am so immersed in being a mom and doing everything that I want to do to make them feel like I’m 100% there. The bottom line is my all is different from anyone’s all. Can I have it all? Sure, I can have it all if I want what I want but that doesn’t mean that it takes anything away from anyone else.
I say to people all the time, “What are your top three prior priorities in life?” Sit down and write those three things down. When you are ever in a place where you feel like everything is going sideways, look at that list again and see what it is that you’re doing that you can change to make sure that you are “having it all.” Again, I’ll give you an example because sometimes I think of stories better than anything. My auction business has tripled this year post-COVID. People moved outside of New York City and now I’m getting requests from all over the US.
I have three children and I want to be present for them. One of the great things about not being in a full-time job anymore is that when I’m home, I’m picking them up from school. I am 100% on in every single way but I’m also traveling a ton. As I look into 2024, the requests are coming in fast and furious now. I realize a lot of them are on Saturdays, which is not something that I’ve ever done before because, in New York, it’s Monday through Thursday. I realized that as I was looking down and writing down the dates of these potential auctions and I’m like, “I could literally be gone every Saturday for April and May of 2024. Am I okay with that?”
As a result of that, that’s going to be a conversation. I’m going to sit down with my husband and we’re going to talk about it. What does this look like? Should I be doing the ones that are day trips versus the ones that are overnights? It’s me. For him, he’s the CFO of my company. He’s the person who’s great about helping me create that backend and understand where we are and what every year is going to look like moving forward as we forecast.
From a bandwidth issue, for me, it’s a question of, “How can I handle this? Does that make me feel good? I need to make this much this year but do I want to do that every Saturday in April and May or do I pass those along to other auctioneers in my stable that I have in my agency now and do other ones in exchange?” Those are the types of things that I say. Having it all for me is not being gone every single Saturday in April and May but at the same time, I do want my business to grow and keep doing well. What do I do to tweak that so it all works out?
Maybe your schedule changes or varies. Maybe a whole weekend is for you on a Wednesday rather than a Saturday. I don’t know. You’ll have to figure it all out.
My kid’s no school on Monday and Tuesday. For now, you’ll go to school on Saturday and Sunday.
I ask all of my guests this and would love to get your thoughts. What are 1 to 2 ways that you believe women can be braver at work?
Don’t be afraid to raise your hand for opportunities. That is always the thing that I will say to women. You will find other people in the workplace have no problem raising their hand for opportunities. A lot of times, I look around or I looked around when I was in a corporate role and would watch women who were eminently qualified not suggest themselves.Don't be afraid to raise your hand for opportunities. Click To Tweet
Don’t be afraid of what other people think. Do what you want to do and try to think about the fact that you are living your life for yourself, not for someone else. Susie and Bob who may be saying things that are not nice about you might also not work in your company in two weeks. Don’t worry about other people. Stay focused on yourself and rock it. Live the life you want to live.
Where can women find you? I’m sure you have a website and your books online.
I am most active on Instagram. I love Instagram. It’s such a fun vehicle, so you can follow along because I pretty much post everywhere I am and everything I do. You’ll know everything you want to know. My website is LydiaFenet.com and the agency information, if you want to book auctioneers or if you have a nonprofit and are interested in learning more about what we’re doing, it’s all on there. I’m also on LinkedIn as well.
Those are the three places you can find me. The books are The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You and Claim Your Confidence. I also have a podcast with Rock Center called Claim Your Confidence, which is fun. I interview incredibly powerful women and hear about their confidence journeys. Some people who are at the top have taken some huge hits. It’s interesting to listen to people who have made it in such a big way and learn what it took for them to get there.
Everyone, go check that out. Lydia, I want to thank you for being on, and also for being so real. It’s like what you see is what you get. I like that about you because not everyone is willing to do that.
People have to understand what it takes and I do truly believe that we all have it in us but it’s up to us to share so that other people can do it too.
Lydia, I had a great time and love chatting with you.
Me, too. I loved your questions.
I wish you the very best in the book tour and all of your endeavors. I’m sure you’re going to be successful. It’s going to be fun to see you from afar what you’re doing.
Thanks so much. Thank you for the opportunity. This was great.
- Lydia Fenet
- The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You
- Claim Your Confidence: Unlock Your Superpower and Create the Life You Want
- Lydia Fenet Agency
- Claim Your Confidence – Podcast
- @LydiaFenet – Instagram
- Apple Podcasts – Brave Women at Work
- Spotify – Brave Women at Work
- Mary Giuliani
- LinkedIn – Lydia Fenet
About LYDIA FENET
Lydia Fenet is the founder and CEO of the Lydia Fenet Agency, a boutique agency representing best in class charity auctioneers. Over her two-decade long career, Lydia served as the Global Managing Director of Strategic Partnerships for Christie’s and reshaped the fundraising landscape as the world’s leading charity auctioneer. She has single handedly raised over one billion dollars for more than 800 organizations and broken-down countless barriers for women in the auction industry. Widely recognized for her poise and power onstage, she has stood alongside celebrities including Bruce Springsteen, Hugh Jackman, Elton John, Matt Damon and Jerry Seinfeld to raise record-breaking donations for the most notable charities across the globe.
Lydia is the author of two best-selling books, The Most Powerful Woman in the Room is You & Claim Your Confidence as well as the podcast host of Claim Your Confidence in collaboration with Rockefeller Center. Her first book was optioned by Netflix in 2022 for a series that will be produced by Chernin Entertainment starring Kiernan Shipka as the lead.
Lydia is represented by CAA and travels internationally to speak to companies about unlocking their sales potential, empowering people in the workplace and the art of public speaking. You can follow her auctions, antics, and anecdotes on Instagram @LydiaFenet.