As a career and life coach for women, it’s not often these days that I’m surprised by women’s behavior. I know women – especially midlife ones – quite well, or so I thought. But I must say, I’ve been rocked recently by a potential finding that’s emerging as I conduct my research study on Women Succeeding Abundantly.
About the study, I’m conducting a qualitative research study with over 100 working women across the country, ages 25 to 75, who are experiencing abundant success on their terms, and are thriving and living joyfully.
Here’s the official description of the study:
This qualitative, in-depth study focuses on women who consider themselves highly successful in life and work, and have advice and lessons to share with other women about achieving success, fulfillment, and well-being and living with a sense of passion, power, and purpose.
The target audience resonates with the statement: “I know what I want in life and work, and I am achieving it on my terms and with great success.”
The results of the study will be dedicated to expanding our understanding of the specific choices, actions, behaviors and thinking that help women across all generations achieve abundant success. A trade book and a variety of education and coaching programs will be among the offerings.
(If you’re interested in learning more or participating, please let me know!)
So here’s the thing – I’m getting the inkling as I move forward that women are MUCH more comfortable talking about how things are not what they want in their lives, than they are sharing about their successes. They just don’t want to come forward and admit, “Hey, I’m really successful!”
A great new colleague of mine – Viviana Sutton of Work Her Way – shared with me that when Shirley MacLaine won her Oscar in 1984 for her role in “Terms of Endearment,” in her acceptance speech she was certainly grateful, but also said “Thanks, I deserved this!”
I checked it out on YouTube, and loved it! (here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqSEH_bVRz8)
Nuggets of Shirley’s speech…
“I don’t believe there are such things as accidents. I think that we all manifest what we want and what we need. I don’t think there’s a difference really between what you feel you have to do in your heart, and success – they’re inseparable…Films and life are like clay waiting for us to mold it, and when you trust your own insides and that becomes achievement, it’s a kind of principle it seems to me is at work with everyone…God bless that potential that we all have for making anything possible if we think we deserve it. I deserve this. Thank you!”
From that sentiment of her feeling of deservedness (which I think she offered a bit tongue in cheek), there was great backlash – in other words, people thought “How dare she say she deserves to win!”
Wow…I guess we better not even whisper that we’ve earned our great success and that it’s deserved – that’s simply not acceptable, particularly for women.
What I do know is that hundreds of women contacted me when I was researching my first book Breakdown, Breakthrough about their professional crisis and breakdown. They longed to share their stories of challenge and turmoil. It was healing for most to come clean about how things weren’t working, and talk about how they overcame or handled their crisis. And I’m thrilled that they did – I know from direct experience that telling our stories of challenge can heal our lives (turning our mess into a message is a cathartic experience).
But what about talking about our successes? Can’t this be strengthening and empowering as well? Can’t we access important parts of ourselves and be inspirational to others in the telling of our success stories, just in the same way as telling our tales of woe?
I’m thinking – but I’d love your help here — that this reluctance in women to talk about their success may have a number of contributing factors, including perhaps that women:
1) Don’t recognize or “feel it” when they are successful
2) Don’t want to sound as if they’re bragging
3) Have as a top priority their sense of connection and relationship to others, and don’t want to alienate anyone who isn’t feeling successful
4) Don’t want others to envy them
5) Don’t want to jinx their success by speaking openly of it
6) Don’t want to sound like they are “more deserving” than anyone else
7) Aren’t sure they really measure up to some outside standard of “great success” (“Wait a minute, am I really that successful?”)
The women who have come forward to tell their stories of great success in my research study so far are courageous indeed – I’m so grateful to them! Their stories have been anything but conventional – they’ve been about vulnerability, surprise, risk, heartbreak, practicality, ingenuity, and being a “finisher” – going the distance through the challenges and fear.
So help me solve this mystery, would you? Here’s my informal poll below – I’d LOVE your comments:
Kathy’s “Abundant Success” Poll:
1. Are you:
2. How successful do you feel in your life overall:
( ) Very
( ) Somewhat
( ) Not at All
3. If you feel “very” successful, how likely would be to talk about that to:
Your family Very Somewhat Not At All
Your friends Very Somewhat Not at All
Your colleagues Very Somewhat Not At All
A researcher (like me) Very Somewhat Not At All
4. What might hold you back from discussing your abundant success?
Thanks for sharing!!
My mission in my work has just shifted this very minute while writing this – it’s now about helping women claim out loud their great success – to help them get over their reluctance to speak about it openly and enthusiastically, and to teach other women how to openly embrace the beauty, joy and fulfillment of abundant success.
In the words of Shirley MacLaine – you deserve it!