By Patricia O’Gorman, PhD
Girly thoughts? Yes, we all have them. These subtle directives that we internalize and then judge ourselves and other women by are part of the media messages that saturate the very air we breathe. Our girly thoughts are the less-than-helpful societal messages about how we should look, what we should and should not do, how we should act, and what we can expect when we don’t fit within this narrow, unobtainable structure. They cause us to blame and berate ourselves for not achieving what we feel we should. Worse, girly thoughts offer up seemingly real reasons for why we place ourselves in no-win situations at work—volunteering for extra assignments and then not taking credit, bringing work home and then acting as if it was “no big deal” instead of an example of our commitment.
The result? As women, we don’t advance in the workplace because we are so very focused on being the “good girl,” which is the unconscious goal of our girly thoughts. We prioritize being accepted, making others comfortable, and doing what is expected, which tend to lead us into actions that are not career enhancing. Because we are so interested in getting everyone to work together as “good girls” should, we try to not stand out. We tend to not promote ourselves, fearing the b#@* word, so we just hope our past performance stands for itself. We speak about “us,” not “I,” graciously sharing credit (whether or not it should be shared) because we don’t want to be viewed as someone who rocks the boat. As a result, we do not develop the language to speak about our accomplishments or the ability to confidently demand the spotlight when it is warranted, such as during an annual review.
Our girly thoughts also hamper us at work through our obsession about our looks. We overly focus on personal appearance, and that saps us of our strength. Our girly thoughts insist that we must “look right” to be effective at work. Some all-too-common examples are fretting over premenstrual weight gain (fearing our favorite suit is too tight, we keep changing our clothes), obsessing over a “bad hair day” (which can make us late for important meetings as we try to make hair submit to our will), or deciding the boss will never take us seriously if we show up with baby formula dribbled down the front of a blouse. All of this focus on appearance diverts our energy from performing our best, whether at a meeting, writing or analyzing material on a deadline, or greeting our customers.
So, what to do? Realize that your girly thoughts are learned behavior. And what has been learned one way can be learned another:
- Use your resilience to challenge your girly thoughts. When you notice you are having a girly thought, refute it by standing in your power and confronting this distortion in your thinking, saying “That’s a girly thought; that’s not who I am or what I have to do.”
- Pay attention to your positive inner resilient voice, that part of you that knows what you need, even if the volume on this part of who you are is turned down low. Turn it up! Own your power to soothe yourself. Use affirmations. As you walk out the door each morning, even when all your girly thoughts are telling you to hide, tell yourself that you are perfectly imperfect. Free yourself to go and nail the day! Remember that no one but you can do what you do, despite your hair, the spit up on your suit, or that extra weight that probably only you notice.
- Make your resilience conscious. Make a daily list of the strengths you used that day, and make a quick note of where you used this strength. Don’t have time? This shouldn’t take more than five minutes a day. Are you worth five minutes a day? I think you know the answer to that.
- Make your crisis meaningful. If you feel you are in a crisis situation at work, understand that you can learn from it. No, crises are not fun, but neither are they rare. We can use the tremendous energy that a crisis requires to rebuild our resilience by gaining new skills that will be available the next time we need them.
So, how to not trip over your girly thoughts at work? Understand them for what they are: a part of how you have thought about yourself that no longer fits!
About the Author:
Patricia O’Gorman, Ph.D. is a psychologist, speaker, consultant and coach. She is author of eight books including: “The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power “, “Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting” and “12 Steps to Self-Parenting.” For more information about Dr. O’Gorman visit her at patriciaogorman.com, thepowerfulwoman.net and ogormandiaz.com.