Why do some women seem to soar and succeed, while others – equally as talented and bright – never seem to reach the top of their game—could they be sabotaging their own success?
The professional women I’ve met and worked with are bright, hard working, and talented. So why aren’t they all as successful as Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, or Hillary Clinton? With respect to achieving or not achieving success, both external and internal factors come into play.
Educational Experiences Set the Tone
Wherever you went to school or college, several things impacted the pace and trajectory of your success: the presence or absence of opportunities to forge good connections; being in the right place at the right time; having great mentors, teachers and a supportive family; and so on. There are some additional external factors that specifically affect women. A few of these are mentioned below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Cultural Factors Contributed
There may be cultural or societal factors that influence a woman’s comfort level with success. As children, many of us were taught to be ‘good girls,’ that is, to smile, to try not to upset people, and to spare others’ feelings and not make people unhappy. In this way, many argue, girls and women are socialized to be more caring and aware of others.
Where little boys learn they should always try to win, and they’re actively encouraged to enjoy the glory of success, little girls are more likely to be made aware of the fact that if they win, someone else loses.
Awareness of how the other person will experience losing and what it might mean to cause this other person’s loss can interfere with one’s motivation to succeed. If we are too concerned with how the loser will feel, we will have a hard time enjoying or even aspiring to be a winner.
Difficulties Communicating the Negative
Additionally, we don’t receive training in school on how to communicate the negatives or resolve conflict in a productive way. We aren’t necessarily taught how to say, “I’m not happy with the way you’re cutting my hair or cleaning my house or writing reports or taking so long to respond to my requests.” We have to figure out how to do this for ourselves. For many of us, particularly those who have been encouraged to “Say something nice or don’t say it at all,” figuring this out can be confusing and complicated. Those who do not learn how to constructively confront issues as well as people, generally just avoid them. Avoidance does not lead to success, however, and few women who have reached the top regularly shied away from confrontation and conflict.
Personal Reasons Can Contribute
There are also more personal and internal reasons that can drive some women to be highly successful while equally brilliant others never seem to make it into the success arena. Each of us has different personal definitions of, experiences with, and feelings about success, based on our childhood. Growing up, we watched how the important people in our lives succeeded (or not) and learned what this meant to them and to us.
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we all have formulated early ideas about how success might impact us both positively and negatively, and what our chances might be. (More about these in Part 2 of this series.)
Women who are less than perfectly comfortable with success (and who isn’t?) may from time to time (or frequently), ‘self sabotage’ or engage in behaviors that negatively impact or interfere with achievement. This may not be a conscious choice, but at some point or another, it seems we all do it. (Some of us have even elevated self-sabotage to an art form.) Before we theorize on the personal reasons why anyone might sabotage their own success, let’s clarify what self-sabotage looks like.
What Does Self-Sabotage Look Like?
Again, keep in mind that self-sabotage may not be something you do consciously or all the time. Here are some behaviors that, if they happen frequently, repeatedly, or in clusters, may represent self-sabotage:
• You forget to show up at a meeting, return a call, or respond to an important email.
• You fail to charge your phone when you know you have a big conference call.
• You can’t seem to find anything or spend too much time hunting for documents or scanning your hard drive for important files.
• You forget to leave time to put gas in your car and wind up late for your early morning appointment.
• You say ‘yes’ to requests without always thinking them through.
• You forget to set goals for yourself and then don’t/can’t track your own progress.
• You find yourself focusing on quick, shorter-term results and can’t seem to plan for the longer term.
• You never seem to find the time to get yourself properly organized.
• You do things now (when you think of it or have time or to get it done) rather than pick the right time for you to succeed, considering your energy level and frame of mind.
What are the specific reasons why any sane, talented, and driven professional might sabotage her own success? I will outline 5 of these in my next article, The 5 Reasons Why a Professional Woman May Sabotage Her Own Success.
Betsy Ross, LICSW, CGP is a licensed psychotherapist, coach, and mediator who hosts ‘Reignite: A Weekend Retreat For Professional Women’. For more information visit BetsyRossCoaching.Com/Retreat/