Saturday, 27 November 2021

Break free from the comfort zone of playing small: It's time to play big

Staying quiet about our achievements might feel more comfortable. Still, in the long run, it simply doesn't do our efforts the justice they deserve. After all, showcasing our potential is the new CV...

I've often felt far more at ease staying humble and politely waiting for others to recognise my hard work. However, more often than not, doing so ends up in resent. 

While it can be wonderful to be trusted to autonomously forge on and deliver in a role during one's career, it gets tiring. The flip side means that recognising achievements when required is something I've had to take the steering wheel on.

However, being taught when I was younger that the sharing of victories is unattractive has since stuck with me. Terms uttered by well-meaning parents or teachers like "boastful", "cocky", and "vain" can all consequently leave a bad taste in the mouth when it comes to sharing successes.

Discomfort with self-promotion is not uncommon, often stemming from the all-too-familiar imposter syndrome that an estimated 70% of us will feel at least at one point in our lives. 

Further still, it's women who often find it the most uncomfortable, as demonstrated in 2019 by Good Money Week when they revealed that we're more prone to feeling awkward about asking for a pay rise. And no matter our achievements, stage of life, or how successful we are deemed to be, it's something that we all appear to relate to in some way.

The evidence of this doesn't get any starker than that of global branding expert and former Chair of Interbrand, Rita Clifton CBE, who published her book, Love Your Imposter reflecting on her own experiences with this throughout her accomplished career.

I was lucky enough to sit in her focus group for this very book two years ago. 

There I was, sat in front of a woman who has been coined a 'Brand guru' by the Financial Times, has delivered talks for the likes of TEDxHousesofParliament, and advises some of the world's most recognised organisations and brands, revealing that she's often grappled with feelings of not being "good enough".

At first, I couldn't wrap my head around it. Still, as the session flowed, I began to contribute alongside other women I also admired. It became abundantly clear that not one of us is immune to imposter syndrome's grip. 

Despite our achievements or where we were in our career journey, we all secretly wrestled with thoughts of inadequacy and self-deprecation.

The last year has seen me reach my mid-30s, and although I've done the legwork, I'd squirm about sharing my victories or the fruits of my labour. 

It was also among lockdowns when I was out of sight and mind like many people working behind laptops. The realisation of staying comfortable and remaining silent wasn't serving me, highlighting that something needed to shift.


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According to the author of Brag Better, Meredith Fineman, I'm a "Qualified Quiet" - I've done the work. Still, I didn't know how to begin sharing it. 

I turned to Stefanie Sword-Williams' F*CK Being Humble course - a series of brilliant masterclasses that reframes self-promotion to what it truly is: embracing the power of owning achievements.

The more workshops I attended, the more I discovered patterns in thinking and behaviour, both within the sessions and myself. For example, I only saw a handful of men within the groups - another interesting but unsurprising indicator that self-promotion isn't coming to women as naturally as it is to men, a fallout following decades of conforming to being seen, not heard.

Nonetheless, the more uncomfortable thing I discovered was realising that even I had been guilty of raising an eyebrow at the peer who's shared her 'wins' on LinkedIn. 

Stefanie asks you to do the internal work to catch this reaction in motion and get familiar with why it's happening.

When a practice like self-promotion isn't familiar territory, it can get complicated when we see it in action. And when we begin the journey ourselves, we must be prepared to get more uncomfortable as we test and learn from it.

It wasn't long after completing the course F*CK Being Humble and absorbing its learnings that I put it into practice. 

My big test to see if I was done playing small came after I was tasked with hosting a presentation for the benefit of some new staff and those less familiar with what I do. 

So, I began by sharing a quick introduction on my five years' experience as a context for those who needed it to encourage and inspire those more junior.

At most, I was only over a minute in and unfortunately for someone on the Zoom, they'd unmuted themselves revealing their boyfriend in the background exclaim in disdain, "Who's talking about themselves on a presentation?!"

Clunk That was the sound of me keeling over inside. 

Nevertheless, I laughed it off, forged on with the presentation, and wrapped up. But as the evening crept by, I sat and digested what had happened. 

Just as I began to feel that this served as 'evidence' that I should stay small and return to hiding in the familiar, safe space of being quiet, Stefanie's words rang in my head.

If you're going to embrace the journey of self-promotion truly, then you're going to ruffle some feathers along the way. 

I'd ruffled feathers of someone probably unfamiliar with the exercise themselves or perhaps not used to listening to women do it. I'll let you be the judge. Either way, I could have either let it floor me for good or shrugged it off and moved on. I choose the latter. 

Because as Meredith Fineman highlights, owning achievements is simply embracing facts - I was merely sharing my journey and giving some background on the road I've carved for myself. 

Doing this at times isn't merely lovely. It's necessary. 

We work hard to have hard-earned skills, and we are conscientious in our efforts to attain the achievements we make. 

So, isn't it time for us Qualified Quiets to share our truths?

I think it's time to start playing the loud game...


Written by Amanda O'Shaughnessy. 


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