April 16, 2009

Climbing the career ladder…

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Employment at 1:38 am by dinaheng

A dear friend of mine recently received a promotion at work. She shared her excitement about getting the job, then said a part of her was scared that she wasn’t really ready for the move.

She said that even though she knows she’s a smart and strong leader, “I still have these feelings of self-doubt.”

I told her to join the club. I don’t think there’s a woman alive who’s climbing the career ladder with any degree of success who doesn’t get those same feelings.

The question is not whether we have self-doubt, but whether we can move forward regardless of the doubt.  Most of the women leaders I admire are not only smart and strong, they’re caring human beings who aren’t afraid to connect with the people they work with. They’re able to create meaningful relationships above, below and sideways in their companies, organizations or social circles.

Self-doubt seems to come naturally to women because we’re taught to have it from childhood. We learn it from our mothers, our fathers, our siblings, television shows, movies, you name it — society is programmed to tell women that “You are not enough.” 

But that is not true. Who we are is always enough, just because we’re alive. This  also applies, by the way, to men, who tend to define their self-worth by the work they do even more than women.

No matter how high we move at work, some form of stress is going to come with the success. Part of accepting advancement means being okay with the discomfort while you’re learning new things.  We have to risk in order to learn and grow, and that means letting go of any notions of being perfect, or “ready.” We’re never ready.  We just have to have faith, and take the leap.

If you work for a company and you’re concerned about not knowing enough to do well at the next level, don’t be.  If you have a smart boss, he or she knows where you are in your skill set.  Part of giving someone a new job means giving the person an opportunity, and the challenge, to stretch and grow.  

You’re going to make mistakes, so just accept that, and learn from them.

If your feelings of self-doubt trouble you enough to keep you awake at nights, find a good therapist and figure out why. Years ago, I had a wonderful therapist who helped me work out several issues.  Sometimes, these doubts surface when we’re in the midst of  success because they’re a sign that we’re ready to look more deeply at the causes and deal with them.  Only you can know whether this is the case.

Martha Mayhood Mertz, a real estate entrepreneur and founder of ATHENA International, a non-profit organization that supports, develops and honors women leaders, has written a self-published book titled “Becoming ATHENA…Eight Principles of Enlightened Leadership.” 

The book is part auto-biography, part research and part stories about women leaders who embody the ATHENA Leadership Model, which includes the ability to live authentically, learn constantly, advocate fiercely, act courageously, foster collaboration, build relationships, give back and celebrate the journey.

Mertz writes, “Much in life — perhaps most of life — is beyond our power to control. But what we can control is how we live into things: what we risk, whom we embrace, how we celebrate.”

Her words express my belief as well, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m honored to be one of the women profiled in her book. 

We live in a time where women’s leadership is on the rise, and no one embodies this more to me than our First Lady Michelle Obama. She has captured the world’s attention  with her intelligence, poise and grace, and is an inspiration to women in particular.

On her recent trip to London, she stopped at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language School, where girls are encouraged to “learn without limits,” and spoke to the students, many of whom also belong to ethnic minority groups.

“Nothing in my life’s path would have predicted that I’d be standing here as the first African American first lady of the United States of America,” she said. “You, too…can control your own destiny. You too can realize your dreams, and then your job is to reach back and to help someone just like you do the same thing.”

When we learn to do that, self-doubt will no longer be with us.

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