The issue? I have consistently found myself down playing the success that I have created for myself (wow, that was hard to write). I refuse to own it (“I’ve been lucky”; “manager X gave me some good breaks” etc etc). I apologise for it. And sometimes I feel ashamed of it. Perhaps I should have taken more time to get where I am, perhaps I should have said no to some of those opportunities until I had more grey hairs, perhaps I shouldn’t have started working with charities until I was older. I know I am not the only one. I have heard other women doing the same: “I have just got this new job, I’m really lucky, but it is a bit difficult as I am only ******”. You know who you are.
Where does the issue stem from?
It is a gender thing. Sheryl Sandberg has discussed the need for women to Lean In and to sit at the table. I think there is a need to go one step further and to be proud of what you achieve when you Lean In as a woman. Danielle LaPorte tells us to respect our fear and to “declare it and share it” (i.e. be outspoken with your thoughts and who you are).
It is a cultural thing. I am Scottish. Scottish people are not well known for abundant confidence. In fact, we’re well known for being self-effacing and sarcastic overall. In the multi-cultural aid sector it is useful to be aware of your own culture and the cultures of those around you. I have found myself having to adjust to working with other British people, Americans, Australians just as much as I have had to with colleagues from Africa or Asia, as the social norms drastically change how we speak about ourselves and others. Working internationally can bring difficult questions for how we pitch ourselves… each work place is very different depending on the cultural mix. So, leaning in and declaring it has to be made culturally appropriate.
It can be an age thing. At times I have allowed it to be. In my mid-20s, a workplace asked me to represent them on BBC World News, Sky News and numerous radio channels. At the time I viewed this as them doing me a favour (there was no way that I could simply be qualified or seen as able to do this!). It’s important to claim and own successes at ANY age, and to be proud of where you are, when you are there. You got your self there, so enjoy it!
Time to reframe
This all needs to be reframed. I know it does. I have started to own it, all 12 years of charity work, all the successes, all of the failures and all of the learning. The process started with me answering a request from the British Red Cross to write up an article about why I chose to work in the aid and development sector. I wrote honestly and the article got quite a lot of attention and positive feedback. I also got myself a professional mentor through the fabulous Aspire Foundation scheme.
I have been being mentored by a woman working in a senior position within the private sector for the last 8 months now. She has provided, and continues to provide me with fabulous advice. During one session, she recommended that I read two books: “Brand You” by John Purkiss & David Royston-Lee and “Beyond the Boys ‘ Club” by Suzanne Doyle-Morris.
The key messages that I have taken from reading these books are:
A) Know who you are – listen to all the feedback, examine patterns in your past career history and think about your personality and drive in general. Are you a change agent? (Do you always look to the next best iteration of something). Are you great at implementing processes/ projects designed by others? Are you great at leading a team? Do you prefer working alone? There are lots of work role analysis tools you can look to for further support on this (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one example), but I find asking ex-colleagues is often one of the best places to start!
B) Know who you need others to be – once you are clear about A) start to think about which work environments and with which types of colleagues you have been at your happiest, had your biggest successes and felt most satisfied. Work out what those places have in common and write a list of what you need from others around you in order for an organisation to get the best from you.
C) Own who you are – once you have the answers to the “who you are” and “who you need others to be” be PROUD of it. Be confident in yourself and be prepared to talk about who you are. Next time that dreaded question comes up in interview, “what type of manager are you?” don’t say the model answer you found on the internet, say your answer to A) with pride. Supplement this answer with some of your reflections from point B). If you are a change agent and as such you work best in organisations that are looking to further develop say this, if you know the organisation you have applied to IS going through changes say that this is one of the reasons you have applied and are excited about the role. Working through these points has changed the whole way that I think and talk about myself. It has helped me to be confident and proud. It has also helped me to be open and honest about my weaker areas or areas that I want to develop more in the future.
Have you had a similar experience of not owning or even being ashamed of your own successes? How have you moved on from this? What advice would you give to others?