It’s a truth universally acknowledged that an incredibly accomplished woman may find herself held back… Held back from achieving her aspirations, from stepping into her leadership potential and from becoming even more accomplished.
The saddest part of all? Many of the roadblocks and obstacles that hold women back come from within.
Yes… the system and structures, unconscious bias and the preconceived vision of what a leader looks like play a part, but they’re not the only factors.
What’s holding you back?
Women come to me for a wide range of reasons. While they’re all mid-career, some find themselves ‘stuck’ and unable to progress their careers, while others have reached (and smashed!) their career goals but instead of feeling jubilant feel underwhelmed. Others come to me because they feel unseen and overlooked, while others know they’re working far harder than they should.
Almost every time I ask “What’s the number one thing holding you back?” they answer without too much hesitation… ME!
What almost all these women have in common is the (horrible!) experience of ruminating and questioning their sense of worth. They have internal blocks and mental obstacles that take up far too much real estate in their heads. Instead of strategically approaching their work and career, it’s happening by default, and that doesn’t feel great in the long term.
So, how does this arise? At a macro level it’s the patriarchy, no doubt about it, but let’s save that discussion for another day. Let’s go to the nitty gritty of how it arises and the impact it leaves.
It’s not unusual for women to come with me with an extremely unclear understanding of their worth.
They either shrug off their accomplishments or don’t even see the value in what they do. What’s interesting is that low self-worth and busy work that keeps women occupied (but doesn’t progress their career) often go hand in hand.
The thing with being busy is it’s incredibly validating. Ticking things off a list feels great. There’s that dopamine hit as we ‘prove’ our output and productivity. But just like a sugar rush, there’s a crash, and in this context the resulting erosion of boundaries breeds resentment and limits career progression. It also means they continue to show up as a do-er rather than a leader.
The other thing holding women back is a reluctance to delegate.
In some cases, it’s a flat out refusal. Instead of hand-balling appropriately to the relevant team members, some women find themselves doing the workload of an entire team. This is unsustainable and quite frankly insulting to their people, not to mention demoralising.
There’s only one way to move past this and that’s to learn to let go. Trust in other people’s abilities and allow them to step up and actually do the job you’ve engaged them to do.
Another inner block that keeps women stuck is a lack of clarity around their values and what matters most to them. As I detailed in this piece, sometimes women compare their current state of being with how they defined success in their 20s or 30s, and while their priorities shifted their approach didn’t. The end result is misalignment between their role and the way they see themselves, OR the way they see themselves and the way they intrinsically feel.
Women are also held back by their own comfort zone.
They’re afraid to fail, afraid to be vulnerable and as a result they are unable to stretch and grow. Sometimes women simply lack confidence in their own abilities, which keeps them in their comfort zone. A great way to tackle this is to simply track your wins. We all have to do lists, but how many of us have ‘done, and done beautifully’ lists?
Internal blocks aren’t insurmountable. They require a level of self-awareness. I find that when I help women create a reflective practice they gain the perspective to see their blind spots, and then, in turn, put into place a plan of attack against them.
Almost always there’s a need to firstly manage expectations, both their own and those of others, and the next step? Doing the work to quieten the inner critic, believe in your worth and build courage to back yourself.
What’s holding you back?
If you’re like the women I work with, your inner blocks are something we can absolutely kick to the curb – just reach out.