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.