Enough gushing already!

This is what it's like to run a business, right?

I’m all for encouraging people and providing positive reinforcement. However, at the risk of sounding crabby, I must confess that I’ve been resisting the urge to roll my eyes at some of the all-women business events I’ve attended lately.

That’s because the speakers and presenters are forever introducing each other thus:

“This incredible woman put together…”

“I would like to you to meet the fabulously incomparable…”

“In an tremendous move, this awesome lady managed to…”

And so on, and so forth. Indeed, at one event I counted something like 15 uses of the word “amazing” in roughly ten minutes.


Am I jealous? No, because I’ve been introduced as a guest speaker with the same number of adjectives myself. Yay, me. So what’s the problem?

Quite apart from my bias against superlative abuse, the first issue is that the attitude appears to be one of  surprise and astonishment. Gosh, look at the cool things we women folk are getting up to these days! 

Bulletin: it’s not 1950 any more. It’s 2012. The fact that many women can and do run their own businesses, and that furthermore some of us are damn good at it, shouldn’t be a revelation at this point. Especially in North America, and especially when it’s a bunch of us talking amongst ourselves. A woman in charge of something isn’t remarkable and this is a good thing.

The second issue is that pouring accolades on each other in such a manner rings hollow. It seems false, insincere, and here’s the key point: it smacks of an underlying insecurity. It’s like when the proverbial used car salesman tells you that he’s an honest guy: you’re immediately on your guard, wondering why he felt compelled to reassure you about his honesty.

In fact, I wonder how much our tendency to pile on the praise feeds into the so-called imposter syndrome. Although not recognized as an actual, diagnosable condition, the phrase was coined in the late 1970s, and has been used off and on in pop psychology for years. It’s the tendency for someone (and usually it’s women being discussed) to be outwardly successful, and yet inwardly feel unworthy; a fraud who ‘just got lucky.’ The term is gaining traction again, with the Daily Mail, Science Careers, and Forbes bringing it up just in the last few weeks alone.

The thing is, running a business (or any organization) is a bit like riding a roller coaster, especially in the early stages. You get these occasional peaks where everything seems to be working right, but the rest of the time you feel like you’re being flung in all directions, and it is as much as you can do not to lose your lunch. A huge order might get screwed up, a key staffer might suddenly decide to move on, or a currency shift might blow your next six month’s projections out of the water. That’s normal.

But if you go to one of these conferences and get called amazing, astonishing, smart, fabulous, and awesome, and yet know that back home there are six fires that need putting out like, NOW, or that you only just scraped by for your first three years… it’s easy to feel like a fraud. Or at the very least that you might be in the wrong room, because clearly all of these other women have got it together and are way more amazing than you.

It’s time to start talking to each other about our accomplishments — and our failures and near misses — in an honest and sincere manner. More importantly, let’s talk about these things in a matter-of-fact way, without all the gushing. Only then will we be able to find true inspiration, rather than being demoralized, and be able to help each other through the rough patches.







  1. Oh gosh, yes. I have come close to barfing myself at these things, because it feels like the intros should be followed by air kisses and ‘dahling!’ Comes across as totally fake.

    I had been thinking — and this may be because of my age and my socialization — that this was half-buried “cattiness” although I loathe that term. But barely concealed jealousy, anyway. But now you’ve made me think about it a bit more. Why DO we do this, anyway?

  2. At last – some much needed Common Sense, I am not the slightest bit insecure (I do not come across as mega-confident either, would not want to frighten the horses), ‘nice’ is what counts (my husband says I am).

  3. I disagree. I play a lot of sport in women’s teams and encouragement is a wonderful thing. I watch men’s sport teams play and it’s full of put-downs and lack of encouragement (of course this is a generalisation). I have nothing against positive adjectives in this type of conference, you say it appears fraudish – but a couple of words are not going to undermine your business skills.

  4. I could not agree more. Encouragement is great but if we are in business with competition from both genders we need to stop saying “this WOMAN did an amazing thing” as if it was not expected because she is a woman. I have hesitated to attend female specific events for this very reason. I find strength in overcoming the many challenges and “failures” that everyday life at work and at home present.

  5. I also agree! I also want to puke at the “Women are so amazing. We’re wives, mothers, sisters, friend, blah, blah, blah … we have so many roles and we run successful businesses too!” Yes we’re all so bloody amazing.

    Time to get over it women.

    And I really relate to:

    “You feel like you’re being flung in all directions, and it is as much as you can do not to lose your lunch.”

    Perfect description of how it feels during this start-up phase of my business.

  6. A very interesting perspective! It’s true, women entrepreneurs are good at supporting each other but it’s important to do so authentically. We also need to talk about the challenges. I love the roller coaster ride analogy – whoops, there goes my lunch again!! What a ride, huh?

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