I was having breakfast recently with an old co-worker turned mastermind colleague and friend. We were exchanging what men like to call ‘war’ stories of what was going on in our businesses and lives and what we were presently ‘battling’ with. We looked at where we were, working together at the same company, and where we are now—building businesses as self-employed professionals and some of the issues that kept us stuck for a very long time.
Society definitely had a part to play in the stories we told about ourselves or felt that we had to. The society driven benchmarks were numerous: house you lived in, car you drove, the kind of businesses you did work for and what you wore.
As we sipped cappuccinos we both concluded that living a façade just never worked for us and as much as we tried to fit in, we almost always got rejected because we rejected ourselves first. We both were guilty of ‘playing the game’ but could not sustain that behaviour for a prolonged period of time before ‘outing’ our real selves.
The truth is that we all have insecurities. Many times we do things just to fit in and to be accepted. The reality is that while we think we’re smart at concealing our vulnerabilities by our big talk and ‘machesse’ exterior, it is the very thing that others who don’t have our best interest at heart, capitalise on. As long as we view our weaknesses as vulnerabilities, they will hold us back and work against us.
In her book The Art of War for Women Ching Ning Chu says, “We have trained our minds to think of success in a certain way—the male way; it’s about getting ahead, climbing the corporate ladder and becoming CEO.”
Contrary definitions of success feel awkward to us. We suppress our definitions because we feel they may be unacceptable and if we actually tell the truth about what we want our carefully cultivated life as it is will come crashing down around us. So we remain in the rut of going through the motions, unconsciously lying to ourselves and pursuing what we think we should instead of what is truly important to us.
Ching Ning Chu’s insight is like a bright light piercing reality. She says, “If many women were honest with themselves, they will admit that they don’t want to be CEOs. Some just want a certain level of comfort and a decent paycheck; they want to be able to take care of their family, spend time with their friends, read good books, travel, and wear sneakers and comfortable clothes…”
This is not to say that some women don’t want to be CEO but shouldn’t your decision come from your choice and not because you don’t want to be seen by others as not ambitious?
The sad truth is that instead of “fessing up” to their reality many women blame the “glass ceiling.” It’s much easier to say, “They just won’t promote a woman” than it is to be honest and say “I really don’t want the pressure and time commitment that comes with a top job.”
There is absolutely nothing wrong in the choices you make. Society could never determine what is right or wrong for you—only you deserve to embrace that power. The problem is not with the choices we make—that you want to put family first, work shorter hours, not have your career consume your every waking moment, or desire to give everything you got in your pursuit of the CEO position.
The point is that we must choose. After leaving my job in 1994 I knew that I could NEVER go back to work for someone else as an employee EVER again. What is your vision for yourself? What do you really see that no one but you knows about? What are your aspirations? In the work that you do now: what parts do you absolutely love, are drawn too, execute flawlessly? Which aspects do you dislike? Hate doing?
Whatever you decide on—don’t lie. Don’t justify. Just be proud of the choice you’ve made and begin right now, wherever you are to be that person. Sure men have discriminated against women, but be honest and recognise that the major force keeping us back is our own confusion about what we want.
It’s funny. Everyone seems to know what women want—but do we know? Now’s a good time to find out!