For most women, this question is more likely to first be ‘who needs feeding’? And usually an implicit ‘not me’ comes through loud and clear — which is a big problem when it comes to our success.
This lack of self-care is innate and our role could be paraphrased as ‘spending ourselves on behalf of our children, or anyone else that we’re responsible for’. We nurture and support in order for others to thrive and survive.
WE INSTINCTIVELY LOOK AFTER OTHERS
When it comes to our careers, looking after others isn’t our job. Even so, we operate in the same manner because it’s instinctive. Children or no children, women are affected by this to a greater or lesser degree. For most, it’s greater.
As New Zealand’s largest female business community, we’ve had thousands of conversations with women focused on their success and we see this time and again.
This also applies to me, as founder. It’s something that, once I became aware of it, required effort to deal with and something that I regularly need to adjust.
WHY IS IT SO HARD?
Consider the conversation about female success perpetuated by the media, whose myopic lens is on the victim-laden threesome of pay equity, the glass ceiling and women on boards. While these are important topics, they only represent a small aspect of our success, and a specific sector of women.
The focus on female success is scant, as the media like to centre their stories around research. So it’s an area that, from the groundswell of our experience, we look forward to supporting the development of.
Left to our own devices as we often are, we do what comes naturally — ignoring ourselves and placing disproportionate attention on others.
WHOSE JOB IS MY DEVELOPMENT?
In large organisations, the responsibility for individual learning and development is assumed by the company and significant budgets are dedicated to this. This is sensible and in their best interests. However, this can create a development dependency where control of one’s own development, growth and destiny is ceded to others.
In the entrepreneurial world, I can guarantee that the last thing to be added for the founder is a budget for development. At the beginning — and in any stage of growth — limited finances mean all funds go to activities that support growth. That’s logical enough, right? The problem with this is that as women, we all too easily give that up completely, and as the business develops any available budget goes to the team’s development.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Another ingredient in this success handbrake cocktail is the mission-driven element. Many female businesses are created specifically to make a difference, but a lot of women fail to develop the commercial wherewithal to achieve the fullness of success. The reward of making a difference, even incrementally, can stymie the commercial elements.
My Food Bag is a sublime example of its founder Cecilia Robinson’s drive to make a difference for families. She coupled this with prioritising the commercial success that would see her achieve her mission at scale. Achieving the ultimate prize, she’s a vital example of what’s possible when the two are prioritised.
THE COST TO OUR SUCCESS
When success is about making a difference, it’s easy to sacrifice ourselves, because ignoring what we need is sustainable for a period of time. The real problem is that our decline, though slow, is insidious and the impact predictable.
For most of us, confidence is the victim. Confidence is the belief that ‘I can’. When this diminishes, it has a definite handbrake effect on our progress.
In almost all cases where confidence is questioned, it has no substantial base. We have what it takes, but believing we may not has the same outcome as if we genuinely did not.
This spotlights another female characteristic. We’re often lacking in awareness of our strengths; the traits, qualities and characteristics we can draw on for our success.
Can you imagine allowing another person to ignore theirs? Not only would we not do this, we’re often the ones applauding the strengths of others — children, partners, friends, strangers.
The good news about our ability to encourage others is that we can also do this for ourselves. In fact, we must do this for ourselves if we are to progress.
FIRING MY INNER B*TCH
In the early days of my entrepreneurial journey I realised my inner b*tch was going to be a problem for my success. There’s no way I would EVER behave with others in the unkind and intolerant way I dealt with myself.
But how could I get rid of her? I didn’t even know if it was possible, so I committed myself to trying things. One of the first things I did was list all the things I loved and respected about myself versus the stuff I detested. I opted to start with the ‘love it’ list as I thought it would be a quick list to complete.
Not so. I was momentarily struck to realise I’d lived my life entirely from the other perspective.
Eventually I asked myself if I was ready to fire her. I had moved on from what was effectively self-loathing, but I didn’t know if I could kick her ass out the door for good. I had a little internal ceremony where I told her where to go and not return. To my amazement, she left.
The heart-wrenching part was realising the time I’d wasted only seeing the tiny part of myself I didn’t like. It meant I was frequently debilitated. In those days I used to pride myself on being honest with myself, but in reality, I was disconnected from who and what I was.
Maybe your disconnection from your deep reservoir is not as significant as mine but the result is the same.
The principal is this: no sowing, no reaping. It’s simply not possible to achieve new levels of success without an internal focus. Every new level requires new traits, qualities and skills. But we will also need to proactively draw on what we already have.
The only hard part of success is becoming the person who can deliver on what we want to achieve.
ANNIHILATE UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
The only hard part of success is becoming the person who can deliver on what we want to achieve. It’s about stretch, stretch and more stretch. This is hard work, but with some small exceptions success is not rocket science. Business is a set of formulas that everybody must conform to and it’s ALL learnable.
I’m not saying everyone can have anything they want. When it comes to business success there either is or isn’t a viable market for what we want to sell. And if we find there is, it’s only the beginning of working out how to do what you do so well that customers come back, and again and again.
Case in point, Co.OfWomen didn’t start out as a female focused entity. It started from my passion to develop a model that would help all entrepreneurs advance their goals and aspirations faster. But, I realised after 18 months that my model wouldn’t scale.
It took another 18 months of trial and error to get to the point of having a model to launch, which we did in March 2012. I can assure you, I had many tough moments in those early days and every single one of them related to two things — my unrealistic expectations and the ongoing question ‘can I actually do this?’
Over the years I’ve worked out how to deal with the on-going ambiguity every time we go for a new level and learnt how to draw on what I’ve got internally and externally.
There is nothing more compelling than taking ourselves on, on our own terms and becoming the person that can do it. And you are doing it girlfriend — look at what you’ve done so far. Everything you’ve already worked out will inform what comes next.
Study your success and leverage it!