5 Reasons Why a Woman Might Sabotage Her Own Success

Part 2 of a Series. In part one of this series, I outlined some of the external obstacles women encounter that can block their pathways to success and some common self-sabotaging behaviors they engage in.  In Part 2, five  personal/ internal reasons why women might self-sabotage their own success will be identified. Anyone will tell you that success comes at a cost. We all have thoughts and feelings about success and about what might happen if we had more of it. There are thoughts about the potential rewards (i.e.-fame, glory, riches, etc).  BUT, we also have other thoughts, feelings, and concerns about what having more success might mean to us and how it might negatively impact our lives. If left unarticulated or unaddressed, these can shut us down, roadblock us, and cause us to sabotage our own chances.  Here are 5 reasons why a woman might sabotage her own success:

Success Can ‘Rock the Boat’ With Family and Friends

Unconsciously or consciously, women are taught to think about success relative to others (In Part 1, it was noted that when a woman ‘wins’, she is aware that someone else loses). Consequently, women may  worry about how other people will feel if they climb higher or break away from the pack (of family, friends, colleagues). “If I become too successful, my sisters will feel awful about themselves because they will have less than me” or “I can’t earn more than my father did, it would kill him” and “My friends will think I have changed and won’t want to be with me” are familiar concerns I hear when women talk about moving ahead. My question is, Why can’t other people be free to feel jealous, angry, sad, or whatever at seeing how far you’ve come? Couldn’t it potentially help in the long run as these feelings, in time,  might spur them on to go get more for themselves?” It is possible to serve as a role model and encourage others to get their share, isn’t it?

Success Can Activate Insecurity and Fears of Discovery (the ‘Will They Figure Out I’m an Idiot?’ Syndrome)

Years ago I landed a terrific job that came with a gorgeous office, an assistant, an expense account, and a fancy title. I was asked to fly all over to meet with clients, listen to and translate their informational needs into research projects, and present results. While I was thrilled about this opportunity, I was also terrified. I privately wondered, “When will these people discover I am incompetent and come take all this cool stuff away?” I felt I had fooled them (and myself) into believing I could do this job, but that soon they would figure out their mistake and fire me. They never did. Apparently, what I was thinking and feeling was unjustified (and more a reflection of my own perfectionism or insecurities). This feeling of being a ‘fraud’ and the attendant fears of discovery are, unfortunately, all too common and can stop us from moving forward and accepting more responsibility and challenges…if we let them.

Women Worry About What Will Be Expected 

Many women worry about what will happen if they move to the next level. Might this tip the balance as working harder, longer and with increasingly higher levels of results be expected? Will they become a target for criticism and blame? (Some research indicates women are a target for criticism in the workplace more often than men. See a new study byFortune.com). Stressing about how much more you can realistically deliver (or tolerate) can be de-motivating and cause some to conclude that the costs of reaching/staying at the top are too great.  BUT, how can we ever know ahead of time exactly what will be expected of us or what will actually happen? Is worrying about what MIGHT be a legitimate reason not to try to advance?

It’s Lonely at the Top

If Angela Merkel, Arianna Huffington, or Oprah Winfrey were looking for a friend, could they find one or would others feel too intimidated by them? Can women at the top of their game have true friends? What about some of the ideas (myths?) around successful women and dating? Some women I have known attributed difficulties in their dating/social lives to their success. They believed potential partners were intimidated by how successful/powerful/wealthy they had become. Others stated that the wrong types of people were drawn to them because of their money or power. In either case, success and it’s trappings were viewed as problematic or costly. Should we challenge these ideas? I don’t have scientifically collected data, though I can’t imagine that ALL men worry about the size of their wallet compared to a woman’s (I am sure SOME do). Is the perception that a woman can be too successful to attract a man or even find a new friend true? Might some women fear this is so and use it as reason not to try to excel and reach the top?

The ‘If I am Afraid of It, I Don’t Have to Do It’ Approach

How many women have decided that what they needed to do to become more successful (taking on more challenges, becoming more visible, saying ‘No’ even when everyone else was saying ‘Yes’, etc) was too scary and decided not to? For many, being afraid is reason enough not to do something, even if it might help or promote growth. An alternative philosophy is to view fear and worry as energy, vital energy that can be used to propel ourselves forward. It is possible to be afraid, but take risks and try to move ahead anyway. This, I believe, separates the highly successful from the not so successful; a willingness to take risks even when it is very frightening to do so. By the way, if have you ever done something that really scared you, you know that it can leave you feeling quite powerful, exhilarated, and grateful. (Not a bad trade off for facing a fear if you ask me).


If any of the above resonate for you, what can you do to ensure that you are not self-sabotaging your own success? Read my next post on the steps you can take to keep from self-sabotaging your success.

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