I’m Not Lucky, I’m a Badass: The importance of owning your success

It’s Heathcare Science Week 2022 and I wanted to start the week by posting about something very close to my heart – owning it. I believe very strongly that we should own our failures and use them as learning experiences to make us better. I also believe that we should own our successes, but this is something that I struggle more with getting comfortable with.

Like many people my first response to any form of compliment linked to my career and the success (I feel) I’ve had is to say how lucky I’ve been. This is true, I’ve been incredibly fortunate, I’ve had amazing opportunities and great success. The thing is,  I’ve been thinking recently is this luck? Is it luck or is it because of hard work, tenacity and opportunities made?

The other thing is this. Claiming success and owning it as anything other than luck is a thought process that makes me feel uncomfortable. Not just that but I’ve worked in teams with some amazing people in order to achieve it and so is it mine to own? Just privately thinking how good my success make me feel also makes me realise how much acknowledging that openly would not be a good look. It could be seen as being arrogant. Being considered arrogant we are taught is never a good thing, especially as a woman.

Then I saw the tweet below and it really made me stop and think. What is the problem with us owning our success and the work it took to get there. Is being happy with your success really arrogance? Or is it, in reality, about having the confidence to own it?

Where Does the Fear of Owning Your Success Come From?

Working in healthcare means that very little we achieve is as individuals, we work in teams and I think most of us are very aware of team dynamics. We succeed and fail within those teams and therefore I think it is often difficult to see ourselves as individuals and having individual success within those team dynamics. Now I’m not in anyway saying we shouldn’t be good team players, I’m all about collaboration but I do think it’s OK to recognise your own role in the success that your team has and to be OK with acknowledging that (with due credit given to others). It takes a lot of voices to make a chorus after all.

My evolutionary psychology days are some time ago, but when I think of how we are taught lessons linked to pride and arrogance I always think back to my days studying primate behaviour. Group behaviour, especially female group behaviour, is about co-operation and fitting into hierarchy. Essentially it’s about helping others and not sticking out. Females that stick out make themselves available for conflict and are considered to be challenging the hierarchy. Now, I haven’t studied in this area for a long time but it feels like a lot of our early behavioural lessons are still based on this structure and if, like me, you are not very comfortable with conflict then your position should be ‘to be seen and not heard’.

I was told repeatedly as a child that ‘Pride comes before a fall’. It was drummed into me from a young age that pride/arrogance was a sin and to be frank it just wasn’t a good look. This definitely plays into, or maybe is, part of the source of my imposter syndrome – where I believe that people actually believe I’m not very good at what I do and the only reason I’m here is that people are being kind to me. If you put those two things together you end up with a belief system where you know that being prideful could lead you to screwing up and embarrassing yourself AND that others may cease to like you and so you may also be called out as not being very good. The pressure we place on ourselves to be liked in order to succeed may therefore itself get in the way of us owning the very success it creates.

Confidence is a tool. Arrogance is a weapon. Confidence invites people in and arrogance pushes people away. People use arrogance as a wall to prevent others from challenging them. 

Amy Cuddy 2018

You all know I’m a bit of an Amy Cuddy fangirl and I like the quote above. We live in fear of being considered prideful or arrogance but that is different from being confident. Confidence builds trust, it enables others to feel they are in a safe pair of hands. To me the big difference between confidence and arrogance is how it deals with failure. People who are confident acknowledge their failures and failings and use them as a learning tool, whereas those who display arrogance are about denying weaknesses and failures and therefore don’t learn from encounters. I for one need to accept these differences between arrogance and confidence, acknowledge that there is a fine line to walk, but know that if I don’t display confidence I am doing myself and others a dis-service. Owning my successes is part of this.

Changing Your Mindset

There is a certain irony in trying to work on this at a time when my I’ve been feeling particularly stressed and anxious and therefore my imposter syndrome has been on over drive. I’m working on the internal validation piece in order to see my own self worth but I’m also really glad of some of the external recognition I receive which aids me in benchmarking in a more neutral way. Some of that is from twitter, awards, committee work etc. All of it is important to me as it stops me getting too much into my own head, I think this is something that people who don’t have a strong critical voice struggle to understand. At the same time as needing this validation to help me manage at the moment I struggle to respond all the nice things people say as I don’t want to come off the wrong way. It’s also hard to know how loud to shout about things like grant success as others who are struggling could be placed in a more challenging head space if this information isn’t shared in the right way.

In order to make the leap into owning my success therefore I’ve needed to work out how to change my mindset #workinprogress. Some of this is linked to being in a safe space where you can try on and practice some of the changes in order to feel comfortable. As I’ve decided that a lot of the barriers to me owning my success are linked to my imposter syndrome it’s been important to practice this within the aspects of my role where I feel more confident first. It’s also been important to look at how others are doing this in public spaces, how do they share in a way that is inspirational not challenging?

The biggest shift for me has been trying to move from a position where the best thing to do is not be seen to ‘rub others faces in it by talking about success’ to ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. As leaders if others can’t see what we are managing to achieve how are we supporting the aspirations of those following behind us? How are we supporting them to dream bigger than we ever have? I’ve given myself permission to be seen by others.

Women often suffer from being said to display arrogance when displaying confidence when if they were male this would be seen as a more positive character trait. That is something that is not going to go away and I for one am not someone who feels confident enough to challenge it on a daily basis. I am however going to be purposeful in owning things linked to me and my success, not in a way to discourage others but as a way to empower them and help us all to shine. My pledges for 2022 are therefore to:

  • Be open about my successes and not hide them from others
  • Not agonise about posting things linked to success on social media
  • Amplify others successes by sharing them, talking about them and congratulating them
  • Encourage others to challenge themselves by talking about routes that I have undertaken which have been successful (and also where I haven’t) to support those coming after me
  • Stop down playing my own successes by defaulting to luck narrative

Our success does not diminish others, it gives us all permission to shine, so pledge like me to own your success and support others in choosing paths to their own. From now on when someone congratulates me I will not respond with ‘thank you, I’ve been so very lucky’ I will respond with ‘thank you, its been a brilliant journey’ and maybe if I’m feeling strong ‘thank you, turns out I’m a bit of a badass!’

All opinions on this blog are my own

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