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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—Caroline Dowd-Higgins wants you to know you didn’t just “get” a degree. You earned a degree. You earned the award and you certainly earned that promotion.

“We don’t say the word ‘earned’ enough,” said Dowd-Higgins, a career and development expert. “When you talk about what you’re doing well in the world, talk about what you’ve earned. You’ve worked hard for it.”

Dowd-Higgins was the featured speaker at a recent personal branding event hosted by women alumni of the Evening MBA program at the Kelley School of Business Indianapolis. Titled “Start Your New Year Empowered,” the workshop involved active participation from the 30 women alumni and students present. Dowd-Higgins encouraged the group to take control of their own professional happiness.

“Managing your career is a leadership behavior,” she said. “Your job is to be the CEO of your own career. It’s not your boss’s job to manage your career; you have to be seen and heard. Network. You need to be planning your next move.”

Encouraging the audience to support each other as they live-tweeted during the event (#KelleyEmpowered), Dowd-Higgins encouraged participants to create their own destinies. A former opera singer, Dowd-Higgins realized she wasn’t playing to her own strengths and changed career paths. Starting as an academic advisor, Dowd-Higgins as since added to her résumé executive coach, adjunct faculty member, author, career columnist, Huffington Post blogger, motivational speaker and host of her own national radio and upcoming PBS shows.

"Find an opportunity that allows you to play to your strengths and spend your time and energy making those strengths better,” said Dowd-Higgins, author of This Is Not the Career I Ordered. “I've finally gotten to the point in my life where I can say ‘No thank you, I'm not good at or interested in doing that.’ And that is really liberating because I’m not spending that time trying to fix myself and do something that doesn’t play to my strengths."

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Dowd-Higgins encouraged the women to spend 80 percent of their time working in their top two or three strengths. Participants say it helped them brainstorm the direction of their own careers.

“I think more than anything, it’s important to take the time to decide what you are good at and what you really want to do,” said MBA student Lara Brainer-Banker. “Without specifying what you want, you won't be able to pursue it."

Dowd-Higgins encouraged the female crowd to end the debilitating habit of worrying, give up the guilt of trying to be Superwoman and to stop apologizing. Period.

“We as women tend to over apologize,” she explained. “We need to be more confident. We’re well intentioned because we care and because we're nurturing, but it lessens the way people take us seriously.”

“I tend to overwhelm myself by worrying and thinking way too much,” said Victoria Lane, a Kelley direct admit freshman. “I’m a planner so I think way too far ahead. I just need to take a step back and move forward from there.”

Dowd-Higgins reminded participants to gather their own Board of Directors to offer input and support, adding that it’s okay to fail; just lean forward through the lesson. She also suggested women take a cue from their male counterparts when it comes to confidence and taking their rightful seat at the table.

“Men take their seat at the table. They tend to apply for jobs if they match even two of the eight qualifications, while women tend to do so only if they meet all eight,” she said. “Women think they have to be perfect for that job. You’re smart; you’re trainable and you’re eager. You need to market what you can do well.”

In a breakout coaching session, participants had the opportunity to ask Dowd-Higgins specific questions about gender inequalities in the workplace, how to have humble confidence and how to determine their own personal ROIs.

“Sometimes women don't want to be thought of as ambitious because they think it means something negative,” she said. “You're always in control of your own message. What is the message you're putting out there? If you set your intentions, great things will happen.”

“I thought she did a great job addressing some of the issues that women face in the workplace and also how to bring out your skills and positivity,” said MD/MBA student Ragan Brackett. “I think as a mother and a wife and also a student, I often times face issues that people don’t address. She really hit some of those poignant points and I think it’s really going to help me be able to better myself and my work and my career.”

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