A few months ago, I was sitting in a meeting and pulled up Doodle to work on scheduling something. I sighed and mumbled under my breath, “One day when I’m successful I won’t have to be the one to schedule all these meetings.” I didn’t mean much by it other than I find scheduling meetings to be an incredibly tedious and annoying task. My colleague sitting across the table from me looked at me aghast and said, “When you’re successful?”
My first response (in my head) was, “Why did that surprise you? I’m not that successful.” But then I paused and took stock of the situation. Not only was I the youngest person in the room, I was the youngest person in my organization. I was the executive in the room and had just finished leading a team meeting. From that perspective, I could understand my colleague’s response.
I have been ashamed to let others know about my ambitions to climb to the top. I thought it was a dark part of myself that I should hide away from the world. In the process, I have carefully released only small tidbits of information about my job. For the first year of the position, I could not even say my title out loud – Chief Strategy Officer – without following up with something like, “well, you know, a big title for basically just… [fill in self-diminishing remark here].”
Like that little lie I’ve told myself forever – that I’m “fine” – this self-diminishing success story also seeped in. While I was busy trying to hide my ambition and successes from others, I was also subtly telling myself over time, “Your dreams don’t matter and your achievements are worthless.” If someone said that to your face, wouldn’t you be outraged? But somehow, when we tell ourselves these kinds of messages, we let them in.
So, I stop to reflect on the reason I diminish my own success (my stomach flips just typing that word!). It all comes down to fear. I’m afraid that…
I’ll be caught bragging or being full of myself.
I really hate listening to bragging. It’s awful. I’ve caught myself in the middle of doing it a couple of times and have felt so ashamed. It’s really such a yucky thing. And it shows an incredible lack of confidence. Anyone who has to sit around telling you how wonderful they are, they’re really just seeking lots of approval. I can’t stand the thought of being that person. But… yes, I have an ego. I mean we all have egos, right? Yes, I want praise and approval. I’m only human.
Colleagues will instantly see that I’m not nearly as great as I claim.
Imposter Syndrome much? Big time! I live in constant fear that I’ll be figured out. One of these days someone is going to think I was Peter-Principled, won’t they? There is a common narrative running through my head: “If you tell people you’re a leader, they will laugh at you when they see how young, inexperienced, full of yourself, unskilled, unprofessional, unpolished, and completely without vision you really are.”
Ouch! Once again, if someone said that to me in person, I’d be tempted to slap them. But when I say it to myself, I sit and take that shit.
I’ll jinx it.
Why do any of us believe that jinxing is possible? If I say something good, *poof*, it will be gone. Is the universe really that cruel? This is probably the most irrational of my fears, but it is very real. I really do feel like the moment I sit back and relax into my own success, that is the moment it will be gone. *Poof*
People won’t like me.
And now we get to the root of all the problems, the driving force behind so much of my motivations. People pleaser. Yuck. Being a people pleaser sucks. Truly. I seem to care a hell of a lot more about whether others will like me than whether what I am doing is the right thing or good for myself. Will my co-workers like me? My direct reports? How about my colleagues around the country? How about the thousands of others I come across?
People won’t like me. That’s just reality. Plenty of people won’t like this post or this blog for that matter. Plenty of people won’t like you. That’s just a fact. I know this in my head. I could write a 5,000-word essay for you to prove it. But my heart will not listen to these facts. How do I turn around this message that if I just carefully follow this tightrope path, I’ll find myself in a balance of being liked by most?
But I am successful.
The only way to counter those ugly internal dialogues is to start telling yourself a new narrative. One of my favorite self-coaching techniques is to imagine speaking to my daughter about the issue I’m facing. If I were talking to her (not myself), I would tell her she was being ridiculous.
“You have accomplished so much,” I would say. “You have achieved so many of your goals. And more importantly you have learned so much from the goals you have not achieved. Of course you have so many more dreams and goals. There will always be more you want, for the rest of your life. But look how far you’ve come. Choose to celebrate it. Choose to tell yourself you are successful. Because you are. And I am so proud of you.”
Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!