Sometime in 2017 I graduated from our company’s in-house leadership programme. Each graduate was asked to provide a citation of their achievements during the two year program and their career goals going forward. I had some really good achievements of projects I had led successfully. My problem was writing about it and having it read in front of all other graduates and work colleagues felt as if I was bragging and blowing my own horn. It just felt wrong. I therefore down played my hard work and achievements… I know better now. I also noticed some female colleagues who were graduating had done exactly the same.

Today I would like to share why not owning your success as a woman is counter productive and also ways to actually share your achievements without coming across as bragging.

Some reasons why women down play their achievements

1. Not wanting to appear too ambitious. Our paternalistic society is okay with very ambitious man but not women. Because the majority would like to fit into the acceptable, the result is down playing our achievements.

2. Fear of scaring away potential partners who apparently are threatened by successfully women. ( This is a topic for another blog post in the future). By the way only boys are threatened by successfully women, real man are not. Believe it or not i am not making this up.

3. Concern that our achievements might invoke jealous in others and that they might then sabotage or harm us.

4. Not being comfortable with success and doubting one’s own achievement and subsequently leading to fear of being found out for being fraudsters. It’s called impostersyndrome and a lot has been written out this and how to deal with it so please do look this up.

Whatever the reason might be, not speaking out about our successes not serve our interests.

Why is it bad?

  1. Talking about your achievements does not necessarily equate to bragging or being narcissist. Let this sink in….. Not talking about your achievements means you are waiting and hoping for someone else to notice how hard  or smart you work and then hopefully they will take action on it. Well, this could turn out to be a very long wait. I doubt any one wants to give up the power to determine their career destiny in such a way. 
  2. Down playing your achievements might result in you being passed over for opportunities that you want and this usually makes you resentful.
  3. I believe if you cannot speak up for yourself you will not be able to speak up for others. It is therefore important to learn how to self promote appropriately.

How to own your success

A workmate from another country reached out to me about a project I had submitted that had won me a cash prize. Being the humble and modest person I am, I kept on using the word ‘we’ throughout the conversation instead of ‘i’. When he asked who the others i had worked with were, that is when I realised I was actually down playing the hard work I had put in the project by not owning up to the fact that I had actually worked on it alone. After this conversation I therefore sought to find how I could showcase my achievements without coming across as bragging.

  1. For me the first thing is to be comfortable with individual success. Some cultures are more communal and emphasise the ‘we’ and others are more individualistic. I come from the former and even when I have worked on something alone, I still believe there are others supporting me behind the scenes (this is true by the way). Being comfortable with individual success and believing that i am worthy of it for me becomes the first step to then owning my achievement.
  2. The next step is to acknowledge and highlight the hard work and effort I have put in. I have now learnt to accept compliments and not respond to well done by saying ..oh it was nothing. I sometimes still slip up and give such responses …but that’s okay, I am still a work in progress. We all are.
  3. Finally where I have received support from other team members, I acknowledge it. This is where it gets confusing and mixed up. It’s about giving credit to those who have supported yet still showing my role in rallying the support successfully. After all this is exactly what leadership is about, delivering results through others

So today my encouragement is do not be afraid to shine. Testify of your own greatness.

Mum in Stilettos