Here’s a little food for thought from a mindset coach for smart, ambitious women who sabotage their own success but aren’t sure why or how to stop it.

This week, I had a wonderful call with one of my awesome clients. We’ve been working together for a few weeks and have already uncovered so much about her underlying, unconscious fears and the self-sabotage patterns she has been using for decades to avoid the discomfort of those fears.

Our call this week turned up something really powerful, and something that I think will likely resonate with many of you.

My client is a super smart woman who has achieved a lot already in her career and life. But it hasn’t come without a lot of difficulty, particularly a lot of mental anguish. The spinning of her mental wheels was what brought her to me in the first place.

It turns out, she’s been making things unnecessarily difficult as a way to deal with her own limiting beliefs about what is and isn’t allowed (and I’m using big air quotes around the word allowed).

Here’s the thing about smart women: We get messages from our earliest days that it’s not acceptable for us to be smart (pretty, sweet, caring? sure. really smart? ambitious? not so much). Just think of some of the insults we see hurled at smart, ambitious women (you don’t have to look further than the last year of politics with Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. Heck, the very word “ambitious” has been used a a slur against women. 

And all of this leads to women diminishing ourselves and our accomplishments at every turn.

A sneaky way this plays out is in many of us making things harder than they need to be. After all, we’ve been conditioned to believe that we can’t easily accomplish something just because we’re smart and talented and awesome.

It doesn’t “count” (air quotes again) unless it involves hard work, twisting ourselves into knots, and feeling miserable. Basically, we have to prove that it was hard to “prove” (air quotes) that we earned it. We have to make those who aren’t as smart and accomplished as us feel better. Women are, after all, conditioned to believe our top job is the role of caretaker. We can’t be happy unless everyone else around us is. And we can’t be smart if it makes anyone around us feel bad.

So our brain does all sorts of things to make things hard, even though we generally don’t consciously aware that’s what we’re doing. We procrastinate until the last minute. We do everything without ever asking for help. We expect ourselves to be perfect or get perfect results because that’s obviously an unattainable goal.

And we certainly can’t just say “oh that was easy for me” even if it was.

By the way, this is also why so many of us can’t take a compliment without adding some form of “it was a team effort” or “I got it on sale.” Just another way we diminish ourselves to meet societal, cultural, familial, and other expectations we’ve internalized.

If this is hitting home for you, then I want to challenge you to consider how you might be making things more difficult than they need to be. How are you tarnishing your shine?

For the next few days, bring mindful awareness to this concept. When things are feeling difficult—when you find yourself procrastinating, ruminating, stressing, overanalyzing, etc.—ask yourself, “how can I allow this to be easy?” And then don’t listen to your brain (remember, it’s trying to make things hard). Listen to your body, your gut, your heart. Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and sit with the question to see what you FEEL.

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