In 2015, I moved back to St. Louis after traveling for work for nearly 6 years. After working at customer sites as an engineer for varied projects, I was unsure how I was going to settle back into an office environment, but was willing to give it a try. Within eight months, I was feeling quite negative about my decision. I was working with a team who didn’t know my skill set or accomplishments, and thus I felt a constant need to prove what I knew. I felt stuck.
While searching for answers, I picked up the book How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job, by Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Helgesen. Reading it, it became clear that some of the habits that helped me excel in my old job weren't necessarily benefittng me me in my current role. I knew change would be hard for me, but the good news is that we are not our habits – rather, our habits are who we are when we're on autopilot.
In 2018, the opportunity to lead a book review of How Women Rise for the St. Louis Women in STEM group presented itself. I raised my hand and asked a well-connected colleague to lead the review sessions with me. We were joined by special guest, Lisa Flavin, who is recognized by the St. Louis Business Journal as one of the “Most Influential Business Women in St. Louis.” She talked about how to identify and (if need be) change these key three habits. It was time for me to turn off autopilot.
Habits 1&2: Reluctance to claim your achievements and expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your contributions
These first two habits work hand-in-hand. During my field experience, I worked with people that knew me by reputation. I never thought that I would have to frequently communicate my accomplishments later in my career. The fact is that I struggle, like most other women in a professional environment, to vocalize my value. Why is this? Commonly, it’s because we view those with ‘bragging’ personalities as unlikable. Who wants to be referred to as that “that obnoxious blowhard” down the hall? What I didn’t realize is that by not showcasing my skills, I was doing myself a disservice. To correct this, when I was asked to lead a project with office colleagues, I took the opportunity to build my relationships with them by asking them to lunch. This allowed me learn people’s strengths and passions and also talk about my own. When possible, I offered to help coach some of the less experienced people on their teams. Which I later realized was a more natural (and effective) way to display my experience without sounding boastful.
Habit 3: Building rather than leveraging relationships
Recently, I picked up a stretch assignment and dedicated a good portion of my time getting to know the new project stakeholders. What I discovered months later is that I had isolated myself from the relationships I’d already established in the office. I was uncomfortable leveraging my past relationships to aid me in my current position and in doing so was ignoring some helpful resources -- including stakeholders I already knew. Women are frequently referenced as being naturally social. We’re great at forming connections and building strong relationships. However, where we stumble is leveraging all that hard work! We’re worried the other party will end up feeling used, however, this fear largely comes from an either/or mindset. Either you are a wonderful person with absolutely no ulterior motive or expectations for personal gain or you are a manipulator that is using others to meet your own needs. The truth is actually somewhere in the middle. We enlist others because we need something that they can help provide, but we’re also providing them with a new avenue to showcase their own skills and expertise. It's a win-win!
One of my favorite quotes from How Women Rise is the following, “We are all successful because of the fact that we do many things right and in spite of the fact that we are doing some things that actually work against us.” It took a few years, multiple roles, and a lot of self-reflecting to realize exactly what was working against me. When I started leveraging my existing allies to help me showcase my talents (and theirs) and establish a better reputation, I finally started to feel unstuck.
Have previous habits you’ve acquired had a negative affect on your new career? What tips do you recommend to unlearn habits? Reply below to share your experiences and tips.
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