You wouldn’t think a self-help book about women’s empowerment would be all about a man. But in many ways, Tiffany Dufu’s debut, Drop The Ball, is a love letter her husband, Kojo, who she admits is partly responsible for her success.
If I were to just tell you the bare basics of Dufu’s life, you’d think: How does she do it all? She’s a high-powered executive, her husband has his own successful career that frequently takes him overseas, and they have two small children. And then you meet her, and Dufu looks like some kind of catalog version of a working mother, all toned arms and beautiful skin. You’d want to hate her, if she wasn’t so nice. But she isn’t just nice — she’s actually willing to share the secret to her success.
Drop The Ball, part memoir, part self-help book, tells the story of how Dufu managed to let go in order to get ahead. And if you’ve ever found yourself having a panic attack over the way your partner folds your T-shirts, it’s a must-read.
But the book isn’t just for working mothers trying to figure out how to make it all actually work. It’s for any young, ambitious woman, and the loved ones in her life who want to see her succeed. Because if you take away one thing from Dufu’s story, it’s that it really does take a village. And one of the best ways to get ahead is to make sure you have just the right partner by your side.
Refinery29 spoke to Dufu just a week before her book release on a range of topics from ambition to child-rearing, and of course, the conversation turned to relationships. Because if you haven't yet found "the one," how do you make sure you find your own Kojo? Dufu has some very strong opinions on the topic.
“Kojo and I spoke a lot about how we were going to change the world together," Dufu says, and the early section of Drop The Ball goes into great detail about their romantic courtship. "But it’s incredible to me that we never spoke about the fundamental things, like who’s going to do what at home. We always talked about the vision and the dream, but never the logistics of the fairy tale.”
It wasn't until they had a baby and Dufu returned to work full-time that the road got bumpy. Luckily, the couple managed to figure it out — though it was a rough journey. To save yourself a lot of pent-up rage (or maybe full-blown rage), Dufu recommends having these tough logistical conversations way before a baby comes along. But really, you should maybe start on the first date.
Okay, okay, we're not suggesting you need to start quizzing your blind date on who's going to stay home with your sick infant, but Dufu does have strong feelings on the three things you should look for in a partner if you're an ambitious woman trying to make a difference in the world:
1. The person needs to have integrity.
"Their beliefs, and their actions, and their words need to align with one another," Dufu explains. "A lot of people would say, ‘Of course I would want that. That’s a very good quality to have.’ But sometimes integrity isn’t convenient for us. Sometimes it isn’t comfortable. And sometimes it isn’t necessarily what we want."
Dufu explains how Kojo was born and raised in Ghana, in West Africa. He has a strong belief that women are strong. "It is engrained in his being," she says. "They are morally, spiritually, and physically strong. As a result, he isn’t chivalrous. It makes no sense to him why you would need to carry a woman’s bag, or why you would need to hold the door open for her.”
“As a young woman dating a young man, that doesn’t always feel good. It’s kind of weird. It’s like, Why is he not treating me with the courtesy that I should be afforded as a woman? But over time I’ve come to really appreciate the fact that my husband fundamentally believes I’m strong.”
Integrity doesn't always equal romance, but chivalry isn't necessarily what ambitious women need to succeed in the workplace.
2. The person needs to be able to manifest their own reality.
"I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the bar with a girlfriend who’s telling me about this person she’s with. And he wants to be a computer technician, but he hasn’t even researched the classes," Dufu says with a bit of a laugh.
You know those kinds of people who talk a big game but never seem to get anywhere. Ambitious women have got no time for that.
But even more important than someone who can achieve a goal, Dufu says, is someone who has the capacity to alter their mindset and their worldview.
"A long-term relationship is just that," she argues, "it’s long-term. And you both are going to grow and you both are going to evolve. And if you’ve someone who can’t grow and evolve — not even just with you, but on their own — it’s going to cause huge problems down the road. As a woman who used to be the queen of domesticity, and then had to completely renegotiate the terms of my marriage, that ability to shift your mindset and perspective is hugely important."
3. The person needs to be proud of you.
There are few things nicer than hearing your friend praise their partner for their achievements. Because how often do we just sit around bitching about our significant other for some shortcoming or another? When looking for the ideal partner, remember to find someone who's going to be your cheerleader.
The way Dufu describes it, your perfect all-in partner should be your one-person PR team — almost to the point that it gets annoying.
“It’s incredibly important when you’re an ambitious woman who really wants to change the world [that you have] a person in your life who fundamentally is right behind you. And who gets a high off of your success... That’s going to be your Drop The Ball argument. When you realize you need help here. That’s what you’re going to draw back on: I know that you’re here for me. I know that you believe that I can change the world. I need your help to do so."
Everything else — the haircut, the build, the clothes — all that stuff changes over the course of 20 years, Dufu says. And she would know. She was a college sophomore when she met Kojo. Sure, they had big dreams, but surely they had no idea the work that would go into achieving that level of success. You might be able to do it alone, but wouldn't it be nice to have that indispensable partner by your side?