Three Ways Women Hold Themselves Back – And What To Do About It

self-doubt when starting a business

Have you ever felt like you just weren’t good enough to apply for a position… despite meeting all the qualifications?

Do you ever feel the need to change yourself… because it makes other people feel more comfortable with you?

Do you feel pressured to take on roles like the office secretary or office party planner while your peers get to enjoy the benefit of your extra efforts?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these, you’re not alone. In fact, most women at some point in their careers have—consciously or not—doubted their abilities, downplayed their hard-earned achievements, and hidden their true selves. And being expected to take on the “office housework” takes us away from our core responsibilities. But why? And what can we do disrupt the bias and overcome self-limiting behaviors that hold us back from reaching our highest potential?

As much progress as there has been over the past half-century and more, women in leadership positions still remain the exception and not the norm. Like it or not, women professionals at all levels and almost all industries are still playing in a man’s world and so the pressure to conform to male leadership archetypes and behaviors is strong. Sometimes that pressure to fit in and to not make waves is so strong we take it upon ourselves to conceal our opinions and ambition. And while it’s obvious that shrinking ourselves does not serve us or our workplaces, it can be very difficult to shift into a more courageous mindset that honors our true selves—especially when up agianst traditional workplace standards.

Here are three proven ways to stop self-limiting behaviors in their tracks and begin cultivating your authentic professional brand.

Feeling like you’re not good enough? Here’s how to own your success.

Almost every woman I’ve encountered has dealt with “imposter syndrome” at some point in their career—even the high-ranking executives! Their advice for conquering those (fake) feelings of inferiority is to get clear on the unique value you bring to your job.

Begin by creating a list of all your recent successes-—start with those over the past year and keep going back in time to the earliest days of your career. Review your list of successes daily for 10 days and take the time to reflect on the skills and talents you tapped into to achieve them. Next, think about how you can use that unique value you bring to take on new challenges and level up in your career. Remember, battling imposter syndrome isn’t about gaining new skills; it’s about realizing the skills and achievements you already have so you can reframe the negative with the true facts.

Feeling like you need to change yourself to be agreeable? Here’s how to speak up authentically.

 Many women face an internal battle between wanting to be the “good girl” who is nice, agreeable, and doesn’t make waves while also being bold about her values and professional goals. In the workplace, trying to be the “good girl” can feel like walking a tightrope between being:

    • Nice (because girls and women are nice) but not too nice (you don’t want to be a pushover)
    • Confident (so that you can command respect) but not too confident (or you’ll seem like a bitch)
    • Forgiving (because women should let things go and not take things so personally)
    • Devoted (because women should put their companies above their own personal lives)

 How exhausting. Think about how much more we all could achieve if we weren’t so hyper-focused on these impossible expectations and instead unleashed our true powers, perspective and talents! Reflect on how it would feel to take most authentic course of action then compare it to what it would take to live up to these unproductive standards as a barometer to boost your confidence in leading as your true self.

Feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed? Here’s how to create space and support for your goals.

The most important piece of advice I have taken away from women (and men) leaders is that nobody does it alone. Relationships are everything. We all need support to help us think through our problems and find solutions, remind us of our strengths and successes, and speak up for us when necessary.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and not sure how to move forward in your job or career, seek out an ally, sponsor, or mentor who has been in your shoes. Find someone who can be your sounding board to help you see the big picture. Find someone who believes in you and has your best interests in mind.

But you need to be that trusted confidante for someone else too.  I believe it is equally important to be that ally, sponsor, or mentor for other women. There is so much value in creating connections with those with more experience and less to gather a wide range of perspectives and learn new ways of tackling old problems. Most importantly, working together to lift up women at all levels is the only way we can begin to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace for all women.

This guest post was authored by Joan Kuhl

Joan Kuhl, founder of Why Millennials Matter, is an author, speaker, and champion of women in leadership. Through her international speaking engagements, research, and consulting, she has guided leaders from more than sixty countries and led projects inside some of the world’s largest organizations, including Goldman Sachs, Eli Lilly and Company, University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, and the New York Mets. She is the author of three books, including Dig Your Heels In: Navigate Corporate BS and Build the Company You Deserve. Learn more at

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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