Lessons I have learned that I would tell my younger self
By | Nov 06, 2016
In the three years since The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-doubt to Embrace Success was published, I have spoken at numerous companies and conferences about the book. Each time I speak, I am reminded of how many of us struggle with the self-doubt that robs us of experiencing the joy of our success. With time, most folks do learn how to quiet that voice of self-doubt,and I hope that my book is helping to speed up the process for many.
Recently, I spoke at a women's event for a large company. As I often do when discussing the book, I shared a few stories from some very accomplished people whom I interviewed about their struggles with self-doubt. Well, something very powerful happened at this particular event.
Four of the top female executives of this company wrote and shared letters about their journey to success and the lessons they wished they had learned earlier. This was an incredible gift to the large group of younger women at the company. Their authenticity and honesty was profound and inspiring. Well, they have also given me the gift of sharing their letters with you. Over the next four weeks, I will post one of the letters on the website. Enjoy and let me know your thoughts
Look at you. You've proven yourself not just once, but twice, in becoming a partner at 2 different firms. And yes, it's real. I know you still doubt yourself at times and wonder how it all happened. But you have accomplished what you set out to accomplish! And along the way, you were supported by a loving husband and 2 wonderful children. But you worked so hard. Too hard. You sacrificed nearly everything. Your health.Your family.Your friends.
You were good enough to be "successful" without sacrificing so much. Why did you not give yourself time or permission to do things to improve your life's bottom line. When did you play? Why couldn't you enjoy each moment? Why couldn't you learn to celebrate? Why were you so focused on the results and the "next thing"? Why did you have to be so efficient? Why was everything a race? Why was everything a competition?
You held your first born in your arms. You chose to take extended time off and poured your energy and focus into her. You went back to work part-time, but that's what it was. Part-time work. Then you had your second child and again took extended time off, and again went back to work part-time. And then there was that point when you looked in the mirror and felt that somehow you had let everyone down. You had let your young, ambitious self, down, you had let your work down, and you had let your children down. You felt guilty about everything. You felt so overwhelmed by feelings of being torn and constantly pulled, mentally and physically, between your loved ones and the career you so desired to have. So then you did what you thought would solve it all. You completely turned around and did the opposite, you decided to move forward at a frantic pace, leaving everything but work behind, while leaving your friends and family in the dust. You were going to "have it all".
And congratulations! You made partner! You felt validated. Young women looked up to you. Young Asians looked up to you and openly discussed that if you could make it, they could make it. Young mothers asked how you did it. You finally had it all! Yet, there was a niggling of doubt in your mind as it sunk in. Am I really a role model? I did not feel like it. Did I make it because I was Asian? How do I tell young moms who come to me that while I held up a "perfect working mom" persona at work, at home I cried so many tears along the way that I could fill all their babies' bottles many times over? How do I tell them that the guilt of not being a good mom was overwhelming at times?
So what would I say to my younger self? Do what feels right to you, not what people tell you is right, at each step of the way. Check your feelings of guilt and insecurity at the door. It's ok to ask for help and accept help. Don't be in such a hurry to get to where it is you think you want to go. Everyone takes a different path. You can be a trailblazer, but in a way where you yourself won't get burned.
Take time to learn, to absorb all that is around you, and that will help you mature at each professional level. Make a list of priorities and stick to them. Don't let others tell you what they should be. Make the list and rank them according to what feels right to you. And when rocks are thrown at you, or you feel pulled in multiple directions, ask yourself, "Does this matter? In 5 weeks, 5 months, 5 years, will this matter? And when you know the answer is "no", make the choice that feels right and makes you happy. Work hard and do your best, but you don't have to do it all. Be present in the present.
Most importantly, you do not need to beat yourself up for not having done it all, let alone done it all perfectly. It's ok that you received a poor review on a project, it's ok you came to work with spit up down the back of your suit jacket, it's ok you did not get the initial promotion to senior manager on your timeline, it's ok that sometimes you wish you were a white male so that you don't have the extra burden of being a role model who can check not just one, not two, but four boxes off for your firm in their diversity surveys, it's ok that dishes pile up in the sink during the week, it's ok you secretly hoard hotel lotions from your travel, and it's ok that you wear Spanx at times and consider it exercise.