I don’t care what people think, I just want to focus on doing a good job. My results speak for themselves. If a manager is a good manager, they will appreciate me for who I am and find the best opportunity for me to build on my strengths. If my partner really loves me, they will know what I want. We are so connected, sometimes we don’t even need to say anything and we still understand each other. Do any of these assumptions sound familiar?
We learn so much when we are little
I remember I was quite shy as a child. And I hated it when my parents challenged me in situations when I wanted something. Each time I craved for an ice cream they would put a coin in my hand and tell me to go and get it. And I hasisted. As if I was afraid that the seller will not see me behind the counter, they will not hear my voice or even worse - refuse to sell to a small girl like me. The ice cream tasted damn good each time I overcame that fear. I only wish it didn’t take me another 30 years to understand the valuable lesson.
Yet we forget so much when we grow up
Fast forward, the next example I want to share with you is how my ego almost cost me a dream job. I started my first assignment with Google on a temporary basis. I was working for the company for almost two years when an opportunity opened to apply for a full-time role. I was quite confident that I was the best candidate for that job at the time. I had great results, a lot of experience and qualification and I had built a strong network in the company. So you can imagine I was quite surprised when (before I even knew the role was open for applications) the management started a recruiting process with somebody else. All my friends from the team were telling me to go and ask why (if nothing else) we were not both offered the same chance to apply and go through the interview process. But of course I was thinking that if my colleagues see my accomplishments, the management must know them too. That if they didn’t offer me the job, there must be a good reason for that. That maybe even though I was pretty good, I was just not good enough. And trust me, almost everyone at Google deals with imposter syndrome.
I had very mixed emotions about the experience. At the end I think it was simply my curiosity that won over (I really hate it when I don’t understand how something works - be it a technology or a decision process). So I went and asked for feedback. What would need to happen so that I got a chance? And do you know what the hiring manager told me? That after I expressed my interest and supported that with why I thought I would be a strong candidate, he actually agreed with me. And that it’s not only up to him, but he would try to include me in the process. Long story short, 5 interviews and multiple recommendation letters later I got the job. I proved I was the best candidate for that job at the time. That being said, it doesn’t mean that it would be the end of the world if it didn’t work out. Just FYI the other candidate actually became one of my best friends and later started her own company, for which I couldn’t be more proud of her. But you get my point. I would always doubt myself, if I didn’t find the courage and ask.
I learned my lesson, but of course I didn’t immediately just bravely ask for everything I ever wanted. However I realized (and confirmed so many times over the years) that things are not just that simple. That just because you do a great job, it doesn’t mean that people know about it. Just because you worked hard to understand and develop your strengths, everybody else will understand them too just by looking at you. And just because you are talented and hardworking, people will come and throw opportunities at you. In many cases (in most cases really), you will have to ask.
Why is it that we become a different person as soon as we leave the (home) office
Funny enough, it can also come as a surprise that exactly the same applies to our personal lives too. Just because you looked at the person at the bar, it doesn’t mean they will immediately come and ask you out (and I know it always works in movies and I am also damaged for life by rom-coms). Just because the waste bin is full, the next person won’t automatically pick it up and take it out. Or just because you are an ambitious, hardworking woman fighting for equal opportunities regardless of sex, it’s obvious where you stand when it comes to starting a family or raising your child.
If you don’t ask, the answer will be automatically ‘no’
Still. Nobody likes to be told ‘no’, you think? How to get even started when it feels so weird? The challenge is to change your mindset that if you don’t ask, the answer will be automatically ‘no’. That being said, you can start with the little things. Ask for directions when you are not 100% sure, ask a stranger for a paper tissue when you don’t want to sneeze into your sleeve, ask if you can taste the new flavour of ice cream for free before you buy it. Only then move up to the things that would be ‘nice to have’, but you won’t care that much if you don’t get them. There’s a new project coming up that might be interesting. What would it take to get more budget or other resources in your company. How could you convince a colleague to help you out with the issue you got stock on. You might be surprised how often people say ‘yes’ and how easy it’s gonna feel.
‘No’ is still just an answer and doesn’t need to be permanent
Obviously the more you start asking, the more you are also gonna get a ‘no’ as an answer. So it’s important to brace yourself for it. Try the high involvement but low attachment approach. Be clear why it matters to you but don’t take the rejection personally. Even more than that, give people the chance to say ‘no’ without it being awkward and always thank them even just for considering. What I find fascinating is how often a ‘no’ can change into a ‘yes’ later on. I used to have a manager who didn’t really like surprises. So if I would out of nowhere ask for something, his natural reaction would be ‘no’. But as he had time to process it, sometimes in a couple of hours he would suddenly lean into the idea and in a couple of days present it as if he thought of it himself in the first place.
Ok, maybe I can ask for help but I am not gonna start bragging about myself
It’s a known fact. Both men and women don’t like women who promote themselves. BUT. It’s important to realize that it’s caused by a bias you might not even be aware of. The society celebrates men for their achievements, while women are first and foremost told to be modest. Well I think that’s fundamentally wrong and it needs to change. Two female Googlers created a initiative called #IamRemarkable which is empowering women and other underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements in the workplace and beyond. It’s based on the premise that it’s not bragging if it’s based on facts. If you ever have the chance to participate in one of the workshops, do it. Until then you have to trust me that it’s ok to start working on your self-promotion. First it’s important for your success and second always think about how others can get inspired by you and what they can learn from you. And if you are in a position when you can also help others, make sure you are celebrating accomplishments of other women and in general challenging the social perception around self-promotion.