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  • Writer's pictureKate Gigax

High Achieving Women: Don't Get Stuck in Act I

Raise your hand if you consider yourself a high achieving woman. I’m there with you. In fact, when people ask me what I do, my answer is, “I support high achieving women — and a few cool men —  to be the best version of themselves at work and in life.”  There are several commonalities that I see between high achieving women, particularly those in the middle of their careers. Before I share the commonalities, here are the foundational ideas that led to the observation.

Marshall Goldsmith wrote a book every leader should read called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful. In it, he surfaces something that gets lost on many (most?) of us:

the very behaviors that made us successful early in our careers can actually hold us back later.  Put simply, we must pivot.  

In her book, Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms our Ability to Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brenè Brown talks about Act II or the middle space. It is the middle part of the story where the main character is lost and struggling.  Brown indicates the middle is messy, but it's where the magic happens.  This is where I love to meet my clients.  After coaching countless high achieving women navigating Act II, I’ve noted several pivot points where the traits that made them successful in Act I (i.e., as a young woman in the workforce) need to shift.

If you think to yourself, “that’s me,” as you’re reading any of the Act I traits below, consider how you might apply the pivot point in your life to help you successfully transition to Act II. I love this topic so much I wrote a series on it. Check it out on the website or follow the links to the specific topics of interest.

Act I trait: We’ve been helpful to others (and it has paid off). Whether it means volunteering for others’ projects, pitching in when no one steps up, or generally struggling with saying ‘no’ when asked, most women I work with note that being helpful is a hallmark of their brand in Act I.  

  • Pivot point: Determine what you want. This can be more challenging than it sounds because most high achieving women work well into their careers helping others with little consideration toward what they want for themselves. Shifting inward and considering non-work goals like wellness, balance, and hobbies requires zooming out and determining how all of the pieces can fit together into a meaningful whole. Check out this post for an exercise that will help you get in touch with your priorities.

Act I trait: We work hard (maybe even too hard). Many of my clients in male- dominated industries learned that they need to work harder than their male counterparts to earn a seat at the table, a trend that's been substantiated by research.  

  • Pivot point: Don’t just work hard, work strategically. Have you taken on “special projects” or “opportunities” that translated to a lot more work that didn’t necessarily pay off?  We all have.  One way to start working more strategically is to make a “NOT to do” list of everything that can be weeded out of your to do list. Whether you struggle with letting others down, have concerns that saying no will hinder future opportunities, or you’re simply at a loss for how to say no when there’s no one else who can do the task, saying no is an essential skill for reclaiming your time and priorities. Check out my post on strategies for saying no if you need some tools for trimming your To Do list.

Act I trait: We are competent in our craft. Most high achieving women learned the recipe fairly early on: get good grades in school, show your value through the quality of your work, and become a go-to person based on what you know.

  • Pivot point: Build your brand with intention. On your terms. Early on in our careers, many of us become known for our expertise — what we know, regardless of if that’s the work that we really enjoy. For high achievers — we will be competent in whatever you give us because that’s what high achievers do. Being unintentionally competent is also what leads us to wake up one day and question what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.  The answer? Add intention. Build on what you want by layering it with who you want to be in the pursuit of what you want. That becomes your brand or how you want others to know you. Get started building your brand with intention here.

Act I trait: We often feel less confident than we would prefer. Studies show that women want to know that they are competent before speaking up on a topic. This isn’t the case for our male counterparts and gets misconstrued as men being more vocal and better leaders than women. There is plenty of research to show that not vocalizing our value hurts our careers. 

  • Pivot point: Voice your value. Whether it be due to our ‘good girl’ wiring or a desire to maintain social harmony, many women hesitate to speak in absolute terms. At a certain point, hard work doesn’t speak for itself. If saying nothing is at one end of the spectrum and being a blowhard is at the other, what might it look like to take two steps toward the middle? How could you shine a light on your contributions and your value in an authentic and fact-based way? And, frankly, what is it costing you if you don’t? Here are some tips on building your confidence and applying it in the workplace.

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