The Good Girl Syndrome
You work super-hard and you’re great at what you do. You expect your hard work to speak for itself, so you can be tapped on the shoulder and offered that next promotion. You don’t step out of line at work, doing everything you should (and more!) to be a top performer – yet others get the promotions. You’d love to do something different in your career – to step out into a different field, work with a different organisation, start your own business – but you’re afraid. It would mean going against the grain – giving up a secure job, and a consistent pay cheque.
Do any of these resonate? These examples stem from what’s called the Good Girl Syndrome.
The Good Girl:
Does what she’s told.
Follows the rules.
Doesn’t speak out of turn.
Waits for permission.
Gets good grades.
It manifests itself as adults in never feeling good enough, wanting to please everyone, and particularly by not taking risks for fear of upsetting others and breaking the ‘rules.’ It is a tough syndrome to shake because women are raised to “be good,” (interestingly, implying that we are fundamentally “bad.”) While girls are told to sit quietly, be polite, and think about others, boys are encouraged to take risks, run about, and be noisy.
Staying the Good Girl in adulthood can seriously slow your career, because taking risks is fundamental to success. The risks that present themselves for women are the fear of judgment or humiliation associated with failure or success.
We fear judgment or humiliation in the very areas required to be successful in our careers:
Putting ourselves out there.
Taking ownership and credit for a job well done.
Putting our hand up for new projects, challenges, positions.
Taking the leap to make a decision without knowing 100% the outcome.
Without taking risks, your career and leadership journey will be a safe – and slow – journey. So in thinking about taking a risk, answer these questions:
Where can I take a risk in my life and career? Could you:
Hand in your notice without securing your next position?
Apply for a position you’d love even though you feel like you’re only 70% qualified?
Offer to do a presentation to the board on behalf of the team you’re a part of?
Take a career break or sabbatical to study a course in a field that inspires you?
Taking a risk will feel uncomfortable. It’ll feel scary. That is the point. If it is comfortable and not scary it is not a risk. To quote a famous book title, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!” The reward may very well outweigh the risk. And if it doesn’t? Then perhaps that is not the area on which to take a risk right now. Be smart about where you take the risk.
What’s the worst that can happen – REALLY?
Often the reason we don’t do something is founded purely on our own fabricated stories. We create an elaborate story of what would happen if we failed. Really? Get honest with yourself. Often the worst that would happen is that you are rejected. It’s not about you as a person. It just is. It is not you.
What ‘rules’ are you hanging on to that no longer serve you? Check in with yourself to see whether the rules that you live by are yours, that you truly believe in, and how they serve you.
It’s like the story of the little girl watching her mother prepare a fish for dinner. Her mother cuts the head and tail off the fish and then places it into a baking pan. The little girl asks her mother why she cuts the head and tail off the fish. Her mother thinks for a while and then says, ‘I’ve always done it that way—that’s how grandma did it’.
Not satisfied with the answer, the little girl goes to visit her grandma to find out why she cuts the head and tail off the fish before baking it. Grandma thinks for a while and replies, ‘I don’t know. My mother always did it that way’. So the little girl and the grandma go to visit great grandma to ask her. Great grandma thinks for a while and says, ‘Because my baking pan was too small to fit in the whole fish’.
Many of the rules we live by are not ours, they add stress and unreasonable expectation to our lives to live by them, and they do not serve us.
So – take a risk – eliminate them! It’s hard to be truly successful in your life and career when you’re being the Good Girl. So be more rebel!
Helen: For more on how you can strengthen your personal leadership skills, be sure to subscribe to Helen’s podcast here!