By Elena Lipson  

When I left corporate America and started my business three years ago, I went through a long period of de-programming. For my entire professional career, I had worked for other people and organizations and conformed to their workplace norms and culture.

Without realizing it, I had been programmed to operate a certain way.

  • To arrive and leave the office at a certain time.
  • To put in a specific number of billable hours per week.
  • To take a set number of vacation days.
  • To feel like I had to have all the answers (even when sometimes I just “didn’t know”).
  • To respond to emails ASAP.
  • To be agreeable and say “yes” as much as possible.
  • To ask questions if something didn’t make sense, but not push too hard.
  • To follow someone else’s vision.
  • To accept that I didn’t call the shots at the end of the day.
  • To expect only incremental salary increases if I wasn’t getting promoted.

Once I became my own boss, I should’ve been able to create my own rules. But there was one thing stopping me: ME.

I had guilt if I didn’t work enough hours, if I made money too easily, or if I didn’t say “yes” to every opportunity.

This wasn’t because I truly believed I needed to work all the time, that making money needed to be hard, or that I owed it to every prospect to find a way to serve them. Rather, it was because I had been programmed by my previous jobs to think that I had to work incredibly hard and put in long hours to have success and earn my salary. I had been programmed to be so client service-oriented that my instinct was to say “yes” to anything they wanted, even when it didn’t really make sense for them or for me.

It took a while, but over time I was able to shift my mindset away from the habits I’d developed over the past fifteen years and implement new norms and ways of doing business that felt good for me.

This idea of de-programming your thinking and your work habits is a common theme for the women I coach. They want to make changes, and once they recognize that they actually can shift their way of being and how they do things, they have huge breakthroughs.

This is not limited to women transitioning into starting their own businesses. De-programming how you operate and critically thinking through the practices that will best serve you and your career can be transformational for professional women working as employees for other organizations, as well.

Elena Lipson is the Principal and Founder of Mosaic Growth Partners, a consulting and coaching firm based in Washington, D.C. She created the The De-Programmer, a free tool to to help users evaluate where they can de-program their “operating systems” to experience more joy, greater ease, and added success in their careers.

Originally published at

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