She's the first woman to land this gig at ESPN. Here's how she did it.

Being rich, famous, and at the top of your field is awesome. But it doesn’t absolve anyone from self-doubt and anxiety.

Just ask Samantha Ponder. At 31, she’s been a successful sideline reporter and "College GameDay" host, and she's a mom to two beautiful kids. Most recently in 2017, she became the first female host of ESPN’s "Sunday NFL Countdown," shattering the concept that women can’t talk sports from the desk.  

Picture day at my new school. 👍🏼


A post shared by Sam Ponder (@samanthaponder) on

Despite a decade of hard-earned experience under her belt, she still felt insecure at times. “Every job I’ve had I’ve wondered, 'holy crap, I don’t know if I’m good enough,'” she says.

Like many of us, she struggled to define her self-worth at work. She often passed salary and contract negotiations off to an agent. Early in her career, Ponder found it difficult to manage criticism and negativity from social media trolls.

"I used to call my dad to ask what I was doing wrong," she recalls. "He usually responded with 'consider the source.'"

But even with a great support network, it's difficult not to let that type of criticism affect your self-image. It wasn't until she gave birth to her daughter that Ponder gained new perspective.

My favorite time of day. "Mama les snuggle an watch basitball." ❤🏀

A post shared by Sam Ponder (@samanthaponder) on

Ponder started thinking about what she would advise her daughter to do. Then she started to act on it herself.

Instead of handing difficult conversations off to her agent, she took her seat at the table.

"Talking about money makes me so uncomfortable, but this time around, I was much more involved," she says, referring to the contract negotiations for her new job at ESPN. She fought the doubting voice inside her saying, “What if they don’t want me? What if they say you should just be glad we gave you a job.” And replaced it with "What would I tell my daughter to do?"

It's this philosophy that's carried Ponder to the top of her field and in proving her worth — to herself and others. In reflecting on her career so far, Ponder highlights three key truths that continue to motivate her.

1. Don’t bluff.

Women frequently undervalue themselves in the workplace, which can lead to lower pay and ultimately less upward mobility into executive roles. Ponder says success in negotiating requires balance: be confident and honest in estimating your worth. Having specific examples and honest reasons to back it up not only strengthens your case but also allows you to be OK (truly OK) with walking away if your employer decides not to negotiate.

2. Maintain an identity separate from your job.

It’s easy to let the power dynamics of a job negotiation cloud your vision of yourself. "If you need the offer to feel happy, then they control you," she says.

If the job means everything to you, you no longer have negotiating power. No job is more important that your happiness. Whether it's family, friends, faith, a hobby, or a side hustle, it's important to find ways to maintain your happiness outside of work.

Never a dull moment with this chick. Today she told me she needed a purse because she had a business meeting 😏

A post shared by Sam Ponder (@samanthaponder) on

3. Know your boundaries.

"At the end of the day, everybody’s got to feed their family," Ponder says. Know your boundaries and what walking away means for you, she advises.

It’s all part of an effort to change her own learned behaviors now so that when her daughter’s generation confronts the same issues, it’s less uncomfortable. Whether it’s salary negotiations, setting an example for your child, or simply finding peace in a new position, Ponder reiterates the importance of cutting yourself some slack.

“I think can we all just admit that we’re insecure. All of us,” she said.

Knowing this, and owning it, allows you to take the pressure off and get down to real business.

For more from our I’ll Just Say it series, read on here.

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