The “Closet Achiever”

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I see it often in the women I work with: a phenomenon I call the “Closet Achiever.”

I happen to be very blessed to work with women who are unbelievably talented, and incredibly driven. They have devoted themselves to benefiting their families and communities. And they happen to be fabulously beautiful, both inside and out.

But they feel that they must hide their accomplishments.

This absolutely baffled me, so I asked many questions and gained an insight that I want to share with you. Perhaps you might identify with them. You might have had similar experiences.

Maybe it happened when you were a young girl. You aced a test, or you perfected that piano piece, or you were brave enough to jump off the high diving board. You felt like a million bucks and you wanted to share your excitement, so you told your best friend, “Check out what I did!”

And she silently stared at you.

Or worse, she sneered at your accomplishment.

Maybe it happened as a teen. Whatever the task it was, it mattered to you deeply; so you threw yourself into the project 100%. And you blew it away – kid, you really killed it. You did a job worthy of being proud of.

But you were a little older now and had learned some of the ways of the world, so you knew that you shouldn’t “brag” or “flaunt.” Because other people don’t like it when you’re “full of yourself.” So you did a little happy dance to yourself when you saw your name on the honor roll, but you didn’t say anything. That wouldn’t be cool.

But someone else saw.

And she said something.

You picked up a label: OVERACHIEVER.

As though there were an “appropriate” level of achieving and you had gone too far.

So you go into adulthood believing that you need to hide your successes so that others don’t feel intimidated. Maybe you ended up loosing a boyfriend over it.

Eventually many women tune out the mixed messages society throws at us. However, what happens to those individuals who are very sensitive of others around them?

What happens when a woman feels that she must hide her joy about breastfeeding, because a friend is struggling with her decision to formula feed?

Or her happiness at having the birth experience she hoped for, when her sister’s birth plan de-railed?

There are sensitive ways to navigate these conversations, to be sure. Each of us have our own challenges, and here’s the thing:

it’s possible to be sensitive and empathic to others while still feeling joy or pride in our own accomplishments.

Too often, women have had an experience where someone made a snide comment about their accomplishments, and will then assume that EVERYONE feels that way about them.

Well, I bet if you were to go back to that 3rd grade piano recital, there was at least one other child sitting in the audience thinking, “Wow, that’s beautiful! I want to do that, too!” But if the only comment you heard was the criticism, that comment would be amplified. You might never know about the one you inspired.

But odds are, there’s more than one person who was inspired by your triumph.

No doubt, we as a society should be quicker to compliment. But sometimes we just don’t hear those compliments, even when they’re voiced.

So here’s a strategy:

When you begin to feel that you have to hide your success because someone might feel intimidated, CHANGE THE INNER DIALOGUE. Instead of telling yourself, “They’re critical,” replace it with “someone feels inspired!” Repeat it often. “Someone feels inspired!

The most influential voice you will hear will be your own voice telling you to retract, pull back, don’t shine; or the voice telling you, “Be proud of your work! Be generous with your love! Be more of who you were meant to be!

And by so doing, you will allow others to be free to be themselves, and have peace with their decisions and achievements.