Episode #49: Four Career-Crushing Myths Professional Midlife Women Need to Overcome
Hey Rebels! Happy almost New Year’s! Today’s the 29th of December and in just a few more days we’ll be starting another calendar year. Are you ready? Are you excited? What new and amazing wonders do the new year hold for you? This is such an incredible time of year because all at once we’re remembering and celebrating the past while prepping and positioning for the future. And speaking of prepping for the future, I’ve been working closely with my clients this month on developing their strategic plans for the new year. We’re focusing on what they need to stop doing and the things they need to start doing in order to achieve their goals, as well as the obstacles they need to overcome. But as you know it’s not just about the action line or the actions you take. It’s also about creating the thoughts and beliefs that will inspire the feelings and emotions necessary to commit to taking the actions that will allow you to achieve the results you want. So as you’re developing your own plans for the new year, I want to make sure that you don’t allow anything to stand in your way. That’s why today I want to talk about the four career-crushing myths that professional midlife women have got to get over.
For me these are the four most important myths that keep women in power positions from truly owning their power. I call them myths but they’re actually behaviors women engage in because of faulty thinking or misguided beliefs. Basically, things you believe are true but are are absolutely not. That’s why I call them myths. So today we’re going to talk about the myths and I’m going to explain the origins of these myths, what they’ve produced in your life and career, and what you need to do to debunk them. Let’s kick these thought errors to the curb, once and for all. Here we go.
The first myth is the I have to prove myself myth. Many women struggle with this crazy idea that they have constantly “prove” something. Prove they belong, prove they're worthy, or prove they deserve whatever opportunity they’ve been presented. This is especially true once they’re in a position of power. The desire to prove they deserve to be there instead of believing they already belong, can become overwhelming and self-sabotaging.
I want you to know, however, that you don’t have to do anything to prove you’re worthy because if you weren’t you would have never got the job, the promotion, or opportunity in the first place. But you’re not worthy because of these things. You were even BEFORE the job, the promotion, or opportunity. We start worthy, we stay worthy, we end worthy and nothing changes that EXCEPT our own thoughts about our worthiness. Accomplishments don’t change you or make you better, they only reveal who you are. If other’s don’t recognize your worthiness it’s more of an indication of what they can’t see, not an indication of who you are and what you bring to the table. Trying to prove otherwise is exhausting, frustrating, and completely unnecessary.
As women, we’ve been raised in a society and culture that has taught us not to see the incredible value in who we are. And through my years of research, training, studying and coaching women all around the world, I’ve found this to be true across the board.
The myth of having to prove yourself makes you see external validation and feedback as indicators of your worth. And when you don’t get it you question and doubt yourself and over time you begin to play small, become risk adverse, and start settling for less. It creates a narrative and belief system that takes root unconsciously that can impact your career path and choices for years to come. It’s important that you learn how to recognize how this myth is showing up in your life and career so you can begin to take steps to rip it out from its roots.
I mean, what would happen if you walked in wherever knowing you’re a badass? What would happen if when someone said, “amazing work,” you just said, “thank you,” or better yet, “I know.” What would it mean to have your own back, to know of course they hired me, promoted me, made this opportunity available to me, to believe whether you win first place or 5th, you’re still fucking incredible?
If you’re cringing right now as I said that, then take that as a sign that this may be a myth you’ve bought into and it’s one you want to let go of in the new year.
The second myth is I don’t need any help. I was just having a conversation with someone who wants to hire me to help her to gain clarity and focus around her 2023 goals. What was funny, was that on the call she told me that basically she had everything together and lined up, she just needed me to help lay things out so she could go to work on getting things done. She was trying to tell me what I needed to do to help her. She even said, “I’m not really coachable because I really know what to do.” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. As she heard herself say the words, she couldn’t help but laugh too. After we finished laughing, she said, “See that’s why I need you, I don’t know what to do, I just don’t know how to ask for help.” Bam! And there it was.
Studies show that women would love to mentor and support other women, but many women won't seek it out. It’s even worse for high-achieving women of color because they’ve been taught not to expect help or support, that they can only depend upon themselves, and they should prepare to go it alone. Women get lulled into this idea that they can always just rely on superficial levels of support like advice from a peer, attending a conference or class, or reading a book to get what they want. They believe asking someone for help or even investing in coaching is a sign of weakness or an admission of failure. So, when in a position to get the support they need, women will try to convince themselves they don’t need it, kind of like my new client tried to do in our initial call.
I, for one, love getting support. I’ve negotiated multiple multi-million dollar labor agreements as an attorney for years, but I still sought out additional training on salary negotiations and received a certification so I could improve my skills and better help my clients. I’ve been a certified coach for years, and even as a master certified coach, I make sure that I work with a coach every year. I’ve created a successful practice because every year I work with business mentors to teach me what I don’t know and uncover blindspots I may have missed.
This is also tied to another myth that women don’t want or aspire to leadership roles. Women who aren’t asking for support are also not sharing their goals and ambitions; whether because they don’t believe it’s possible or lack belief in themselves. Women who are sharing their goals and ambitions are seeking out the support of others to bring those goals to reality. That’s why they’re sharing their goals, aspirations, and dreams with others.
That’s why I teach my clients to build a board of directors, a village of support if you will, that they can call upon to get the help they need when they need it.
If you’re one not to ask for help because you believe in this myth, remember the African Proverb that says, if you want to go fast go alone, but if want to go far, go together.
The third myth is hard work will result in success. The inability of women to "toot their own horns" and self-promote themselves has caused many to be overlooked for the reward and recognition they deserve. Statistically women struggle with this. We wait for others to sing our praises believing if we do it ourselves it will be perceived as bragging or arrogance. So we work hard and burn the candle at both ends in an effort to be noticed and rewarded, but are often left disappointed. It’s another social conditioning designed to limit women’s potential and opportunities.
This myth is related to the Tiara Syndrome, a term originally developed by Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb and then used by Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In.
It’s the strategy of “hope” tied to the rescue fantasies and myths embedded in most fairy tales we were read as children and socialized to believe. And when hope fades because your hard work and successes fail to get noticed, you’re more likely to blame and doubt yourself.
This is further exacerbated by the double-bind women find themselves in where we’re damned if we do and doomed if we don’t. We’re either too soft and weak, or too strong and a bitch.
One of the assignments I give my clients is called a 100’s List. I’ve talked about it before on this podcast. I have my clients write down 100 accomplishments and wins throughout their life and career. Without fail, every time I give this assignment women say, “100?!,” like it’s a ridiculous and impossible request. But it only feels ridiculous and impossible because it’s so rare for women to take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate their successes, particularly if it wasn’t acknowledged or celebrated by someone else.
So, in 2023 be sure to send an email to your team and manager every time you’ve achieved a win. Create a post on LinkedIn when you’re invited to speak at a conference or sat on a panel because you’re a trusted authority. Share at your next performance review the email a stakeholder sent you saying their success is due to your diligence, empathy, and kindness. Let’s debunk this myth by learning to share everything you do with everyone who will listen.
Finally, the last myth is the cup is half empty. This can also be called the “it’s too late for me” myth. This myth comes from professional midlife women’s tendency to focus on what they perceive they’re missing or lacking, instead of focusing on all they do have to offer; hence the half empty cup myth.
This myth is at play when you refuse to go for a promotion because you don’t believe you’ve been in your current role long enough. Or when you don’t apply for a position because you only have 8 out of 12 listed requirements. Or when you refuse to leave a role or company you’re unhappy with because it’s only been 6 months or a year, because you believe you haven’t been there long enough to quit. Or when you won’t explore a career pivot or change because it’s too late for you and “you’ve had your turn.” Or when you think you’re too old to go back to school to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, nurse, etc. Or when you struggle with believing in the possibilities of your future because of everything that’s happened in your past.
This myth is a cousin to the Sunk Cost Fallacy, a term often used in behavioral economics to describe our tendency to stick with something we’ve already invested a lot of time, effort, or money into, whether or not we’re still receiving a return on that investment. It’s a way of convincing yourself it’s too late or you’re too old to turn back. The thought error is I’ve already gone too far down this road to turn back or change directions. The reframe would be look at how much time I have left to go.
Because of the societal messages we receive, it’s not uncommon for women in midlife to feel like “that’s a wrap” when it comes to their life and careers. That they’re just going to “stick it out,” or “suffer through” until they can retire, as if they’re finishing up a prison sentence. But we’re constantly bombarded with messages that imply it’s your time to stand aside and make way for the next generation (or two) behind you.
I started my business at 50. In fact, I walked away from a well-paying position to become an entrepreneur. People thought I was crazy. Hell, I thought I was crazy because all I could think about was how old I was, how I had kids about to enter college, how I don’t get tech or social media, how all of the people I saw doing what I wanted to do were 1/2 my age or at least 20 years younger. I was drowning in a 1/2 empty cup.
But in many ways my life BEGAN at 50. Who I am, who I’ve become would have NEVER been possible if I didn’t start looking at my cup not only as full but overflowing. To start noticing the wealth, breath, and depth of my experiences and education. To notice the income I had at my disposal to start a business and support my kiddos college journey. To realize I could afford to pay people to help me learn tech and social media (and eventually hire people to do it for me). To know that because I’ve been around the block a few times, I could handle triumphs and failures better than my younger colleagues. To believe that I didn’t have to hustle to establish my credibility, I already started with a shit load of credibility. So I stopped drowning in my 1/2 empty cup and started doing backstrokes in a full cup of abundance.
Where are you seeing a 1/2 empty cup in your life or career? How can you reframe it to see all you have to offer so you can stop missing out on opportunities designed just for you? Now is the time to shake off that myth and start living your fullest and best life.
Well, there you have it Rebels! The four career-crushing myths that women need to let go of. Have you been victim to one or more of these myths? If so, now is not the time to judge yourself or beat yourself up. Remember, it’s not about looking back, it’s about looking forward. So use this time to celebrate your new found awareness (breaking myth #3), reconnect to ALL you have to offer the world (breaking myth #1), seek out any support to help you with this process (breaking myth #3), and prepare to step in the possibilities of your future (breaking myth #4).
You with me? Then let’s GO!
And until next time, have an amazingly rebellious week.