Over the last couple years, I’ve had a front-row seat to career challenges women leaders face across industries, geographies, worldviews, cultures, experience levels, and generations. Certain issues strongly correlate with specific identifiers, while others are universal. Both observation and conversations have given me an interesting window into the minds and hearts of women.
As accomplished as we are, and we are, there are counter-productive behaviors we unconsciously adopt that can get in our way. In some cases, they stop us cold before we ever step foot on the path to greatness. And even when we do achieve high levels of career satisfaction, these thoughts often cause stress along the way.
If you desire to be your best professional self and make the difference only you can make, here are five things you should stop doing. Today.
1. Stop making yourself small so someone else can feel big
Ever meet someone who seems more comfortable when you’re quiet, disengaged, or otherwise minimized? Does it feel easier to hang back, because when you lean forward, he or she becomes defensive and starts angling for position? Newsflash: That’s not your problem, and you shouldn’t limit your contribution to make others feel better about theirs. Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting you abandon discernment and get all high and mighty. I’m talking about refusing to shrink in order to enhance another’s sense of importance.
The most self-respecting way to help others is to truly help them – by sharing your ideas, offering your talents, and lending your energy and support. You don’t serve anyone by diminishing yourself.
2. Stop apologizing for having a difference of opinion
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “If two of us are exactly the same, one of us is redundant.” It’s true. You don’t have to agree with everyone else. In fact, women at work tend to be more collaborative, more holistic in their thinking, and often take a long-range view of business issues. Your female view is additive, and you have an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to your company vision, culture, and strategies.
Additionally, working through divergent points of view improves problem solving. By thoughtfully sharing your unique perspective, you can help your team make better decisions. Speak up. And don’t apologize.
3. Stop assuming you can’t have a family AND a career
I met a woman at a conference earlier this year who expressed concern about her opportunity to be a mom and have a flourishing career. I understand the sentiment, but this woman wasn’t even married yet, never mind pregnant. It occurred to me that she was already succumbing to the narrative about work-life balance well before she had any real choices to make.
Here’s the deal: If you assume you can’t, you won’t even try. Any woman who has successfully navigated both realms will admit that she absolutely has to make difficult choices at times. But it can be done, if you want to do it. What’s more, the sooner companies embrace creative ways to unleash the power of women’s leadership while respecting their various roles, the more desirable those companies will be in the eyes of female and Millennial talent. This will help those companies thrive in the long run. Don’t deny what you want. Say yes to your goals, and honor your needs in the process. Everyone will benefit, including the women who come behind you, and the men who share the same needs but are less likely to request flexibility.
If your employer isn’t supportive, I offer you the immortal words of my good friend and workforce expert Trudy Bourgeois: “If your company doesn’t work for you, don’t work for it.”
4. Stop compromising your health, for anything … especially work
Every now and then, you need to hop off the hamster wheel for a bit. You usually know when you’re about to hit a wall. Don’t wait for it. Take a mental health day, plan a weekend getaway, hide in your bedroom for a couple hours. If you live with other people, ask them to give you some privacy.
The older I get, the better I understand why people say good health is our greatest gift. Without it, everything else – deadlines, difficult bosses, challenging employees, shortsighted clients, projects going off the rails– becomes unimportant. Take care of yourself, physically and emotionally, so you can reach your full potential.
5. Stop confusing what you do with who you are
I believe it’s critical to know who you are (beliefs, values, purpose, and skills), so you can align who you are with what you do. Job satisfaction increases exponentially when there is harmony between the two. But while they complement each other, they are not the same thing.
Sometimes we attach our esteem to work activities, and when our performance takes a hit, our self-worth takes one, too. Feedback is a valuable and necessary tool – it allows you to refine your skills and improve your overall effectiveness.
That said, you have to be careful not to interpret constructive criticism as a character assassination. It sounds extreme, but I’ve found that even though women know this in theory, we still struggle to distinguish between a job and a person doing the job.
If you desire a more fulfilling career, take time to reflect on which of your behaviors enable your goals versus detract from them. Ask yourself, “What should I start doing? Keep doing? Stop doing?” Consider this list a springboard to start your own introspection.
Wishing you renewed energy in the months ahead, and the confidence to know you are worthy … and able!