I coach a lot of smart, driven and capable women who hold themselves to very high standards. Which is probably why they are so good at what they do and so successful in their careers. But a theme I have noticed amongst many young women in the corporate workplace is a tendency to be hard on oneself and a lack of self compassion.
This is problematic for several reasons….
Holding yourself to high standards reaps rewards of praise and recognition, but it ultimately results in fatigue, resentment and burnout.
I experienced this first hand during my graduate position when I was driven, dedicated and determined to be the best at everything. Each task my manager asked me to do I automatically responded with ‘yes’, without even thinking. A lot of the time my brain wouldn’t even register what was being requested of me. I did whatever was asked of me and then some, I was described as ‘always going the extra mile’. I thrived off being good at my job, pleasing my supervisor and being seen as highly capable by my colleagues.
What I wasn’t aware of at the time was how I negatively responded to myself when I failed to meet my own expectations and the expectations of those around me at work.
I remember one time I had forgotten to save a client’s number to my phone. I had a scheduled meeting with the client outside the office but the address had changed and I was unable to contact the client to let them know. The person to blame was me, but instead of taking responsibility I lashed out at a colleague for not being clear about the meeting details. Not something I’m proud of to this day.
My insecurity and fear about not being perfect at my job drove me to continually strive, overwork and blame others for my shortcomings.
I had a continual fear of being found out as not knowing something, fear of making a mistake, fear of doing something wrong and hurting the company’s reputation. Obviously there was a lot of anxiety going on for me at the time and the only way I could seem to alleviate it was to work harder.
What I eventually realised (several years later) was basing my value and worth on my achievements at work was tiring and ineffective.
If my manager gave me great feedback on a task or project then I saw myself as a good, worthy, and valuable. If I made a mistake, if I didn’t please a client or if I took too many sick days then I was a failure, unworthy and a burden to the team.
I was on an emotional roller-coaster with my self worth going up and down based on circumstances largely outside my control. I was placing too much value on the opinions of others. How I felt about myself was based on how others perceived me and my work. I hadn’t yet developed a strong enough sense of self to be okay with admitting to my boss that I made a mistake, that I can’t take on a new client, that I need a day off.
Nowadays I’m much better at admitting when I don’t know something, and taking responsibility for my mistakes. My mindset has shifted and I’m no longer reliant on my achievements to bolster my self-esteem.
By practicing self compassion at work I feel less anxious about what I did and didn’t achieve in my job and found a greater sense of peace and enjoyment in the workplace. This took time to develop and occasionally I slip back into anxious and unhelpful thinking.
In those times of relapse I remind myself of these three things…..
1. You’re not perfect, and that’s okay.
One day at work I made a mistake. I had given a client the wrong information and I had to go back and update them with some bad news. It wasn’t a big mistake, but it was a mistake nonetheless and I couldn’t forgive myself. I was filled with shame.
I couldn’t deal with it and I wanted to confess to a work colleague in an effort to alleviate my guilt. When approaching her desk to tell her my mistake I felt like I was stepping into a confessional. I was nervous and sweaty, unsure of what my penance would be.
After some fumbling with words I eventually blurted out what I had done. She turned to me and said, ‘well you’re not perfect, and anyone who expects you to be is mad’.
Her response shocked me. Firstly, I had never been told point blank that I wasn’t perfect (it was a great reminder by the way). Secondly she didn’t try to convince me that it was a one off, that I was a great worker, or that it was someone else's mistake. She simply affirmed that I had made a mistake and that no one expected me to be perfect. It was a huge relief.
2. You will make mistakes, and that’s okay.
You may not feel like you’re a perfectionist but how do you go when making a mistake at work? Do you feel shame, guilt, inadequacy? I know I did. I never wanted people to find out if I made a mistake. It was too crushing, too humiliating, too embarrassing.
To this day I still find it hard to let people see when I’ve made a mistake. In order to overcome my slight perfectionism I ask myself, ‘how would I respond if a colleague did the same thing?’
We are much harder on ourselves than others and so turning the situation around can help us be compassionate to ourselves like we are to others.
Would you let a colleague off the hook for making the same mistake? Perhaps it’s okay to let yourself off the hook as well then.
3. You are already at 100%, and that is more than okay.
And finally, know deep down in your core that you are already at 100% There is nothing you can do to make you more worthy, or more lovable. You are who you are and people will either accept you for that or not. There is nothing you need to do to earn approval, respect or love from others. You are already at 100%
I’ve worked hard on developing my self compassion so that I am now okay to admit when I have made a mistake. Knowing that it doesn’t take away from my value or significance in my team.
I no longer rely on my outcomes or achievements (which are changeable because I’m not perfect) for reassurance of my capabilities at work. I’m confident that I am enough. This has been a game changer for me, now I feel more comfortable and have more enjoyment at work.
Perhaps this blog post has helped you see how hard you have been on yourself and your capabilities. It may have helped you realise that working harder is not the answer feeling more confident at work.
If you want to spend less time worrying about being 'revealed' as being inadequate at your job, I invite you to jump on a call with me to learn how I can help you be more confident and self-assured at work.
Simply book in a call with me to learn more about how I can help you.