Do you celebrate your accomplishments? 8 ways to empower women to celebrate successes
When working moms are overwhelmed, they don’t celebrate their career and life success
A few weeks ago I was feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, and stressed out. In fact I was feeling bummed out.
I was traveling for work, sitting in my hotel room after a very long, intense day of delivering a workshop, when I sent a long, rambling, honest, and deeply vulnerable email to my Balancing Bravely partner, Beth. The email was so raw and vulnerable that it inspired Beth to write a post about how women need to be better at supporting women and how important it is for us to be vulnerable and honest, and even to say things like how much we love, admire, and respect each other.
As I lay in the hotel room bed, dictating the email into my phone, rambling on, like I was writing a journal entry, or in counseling session, I ended up getting deeper and deeper into what was bringing me down. Eventually, I shared that despite the fact that I felt so burnt out, exhausted, and drained, from a practical and pragmatic perspective, I knew it had been an incredible week.
I had delivered the largest workshop of my life, to 130 doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. It had gone really well.
Two days later I delivered a much smaller workshop to 30 people which was, I believe, the best, most engaging workshop I have ever delivered (which is saying a lot since I give a lot of workshops).
I reached a huge milestone that week. When I quit my job a year before, I had trained 1000 people over five years. In my first year as an entrepreneur, I trained 600 people.
Plus, we had just landed a new client.
And, my business partner and I had decided to build a series of online courses. That week I began telling people about them, and the reception was phenomenal.
An outsider would say that it had been an unbelievably successful week. A jam-packed busy week, that was likely stressful and tiring, but a super successful week.
But I was not celebrating my successes, I was not doing my happy dance, sipping wine with girlfriends or my husband, I was sitting alone in a hotel room writing a long rambling email, and occasionally tearing up, sometimes even crying.
That’s when it dawned on me that I am absolutely terrible at celebrating my successes. I don’t know when it started, but it is been like that for a very, very long time. I do not like to boast, I don’t like to scream from the rooftops, but I don’t even like to do more subtle things. Would you believe that I actually skipped my master’s and PhD graduations? I worked my ass off for years to get a PhD and I didn’t even stand up there in a cap and gown.
When I think back, my excuses were that I was busy – but really, I think it’s that I’m not good at celebrating when I win, when I do things well, or when I accomplish huge milestones.
Are women and working mothers good at celebrating success?
Instead of stopping to be super proud of myself for teaching a workshop to 130 people, I got an airplane and wrote a long email with a list of all of the things I would do differently next time. Activities I would change, how I would change the order, switching the examples I used, even the timing of the day. I didn’t even take a single moment to celebrate that I had stood in a hotel room auditorium, feeling almost like an MC at a wedding, teaching professionals a fundamentally new way to look at how to create change in their organizations.
This realization was pretty profound. So I began to do what I do best – I researched.
Women’s reluctance to celebrate and embrace success is not something that is unique to me – many intelligent, hard-working, and successful women do not take the time or emotional space to celebrate how far they have come, even though celebrating our own success and the success of others can actually perpetuate our success.
Part of our reluctance to celebrate success may come from our impostor syndrome – a shockingly common phenomenon. Melody Wilding, a career coach to Fortune 500 executives says that “impostor syndrome makes people feel like an intellectual fraud: unable to recognize — let alone celebrate — their successes and achievements.”
I reached out to experts - Joy Wiggins and Kami Anderson, authors of From Sabotage to Support: A New Vision for Feminist Solidarity in the Workplace. They told me that “for women to move from sabotage to support, we must engage in a cyclical process that moves from looking at the self, then outward to society and other women, and then back to the self. This is a continued journey of self-examination to examining our society and environment. Women can begin to undo or dismantle these systems by first understanding our feminist cultural history and the key players across racial, class, sexuality, and geographic boundaries. (…) As women, it is our duty to learn our history to better inform the ways we can come together in solidarity across our differences. If we don’t know our history, our current reality can never be changed.”
Over the next few weeks, I tried to participate in this cyclical process of looking in and out and immediately started to recognize more and more situations when I failed to even acknowledge success and when the women around glossed over or ignored their successes.
I was grabbing coffee with a girlfriend when she bumped into an old boss. As we stood in line at Starbucks, she shared that the reason she quit her previous job, was because her old boss had essentially told her that there was a perception of favoritism towards her. She had finished her PhD faster than all of the other students in her lab, and when her supervisor had sent an email congratulating her, people in the department felt like that was inappropriate.
Think about that, she finished her PhD faster than anyone and when her supervisor sent an email sharing that exciting news, she was berated in a meeting by a woman about how it is not okay to flaunt your success (of graduating quickly).
Are women taught that celebrating success, particularly career accomplishments is bad?
Days later I was facilitating a workshop, and I heard students talking about how their supervisor, the woman running the whole project, had just been given tenure. She was a university professor, and tenure is essentially the big promotion that all professors wait for, like being a partner at a law firm or entering the C-suite.
It takes years and years of working in sanely hard and long hours to get to this place, and these days it’s becoming more and more rare to actually get tenure. This is a major career accomplishment – and some of her students didn’t even know she had been granted tenure!
Over lunch I casually congratulated her. She thanked me, with a sort-of awkward pause. Then I shared that her that her students didn’t all know she been granted tenure. She looked at me, a half smile on her face and said “well it wasn’t announced to the department”.
This woman worked for 2 years to get a Master’s, 5 years to get a PhD, 2 years as a post-doc, 7 years as a professor, and finally got tenure and they didn’t send an email to announce it???
Maybe it’s not our fault that we aren’t good at celebrating our successes, it seems as though people in authority are telling us over and over to minimize or ignore our accomplishments – especially if they make us seem special.
How women can support and empower other women to celebrate their successes.
After that, I started opening up more about how I am not good at celebrating success, and people’s examples of ignoring their own accomplishments tumbled out. It was like I opened a faucet and now water was gushing everywhere.
I believe that ultimately we need to learn to celebrate our own success. But for some of us (like me), I think we’re a long way away from that.
So if the idea of being better at celebrating your own success makes you feel a little uncomfortable, what if you support your friends, your colleagues, and other women in your life to celebrate their successes?
I wanted so badly to create this great list of how we would do that, but honestly I am too stuck in not being able to celebrate my own successes to tell someone else how to celebrate theirs. So I am turning to the woman who helps me celebrate my successes - Beth.
Here are Beth’s tips on how to support the amazing women in your life, how to help them celebrate their own successes. Even if celebrating success starts with baby steps, it is essential to our happiness, our fulfillment, our career advancement, and our ultimate success.
1) Pause in your accomplishments
Name them out loud (or in text if you prefer). This suggestion is the simplest and the hardest. Notice what you’ve done, name it and take a moment to appreciate the efforts it took you to get to this point. You’re not being pompous, you’re showing gratitude. For some people this looks like rowdy revelry, for others it’s a silent observance. Or anything in between, as long as you stop and acknowledge before just jumping to the next task.
2) Ground your successes in your values
It is easier to give yourself permission to celebrate living within your values rather than arbitrary markers of success. For example, earlier in this post, Julia mentions speaking to a group of 130 people. For her, it wasn’t about the money or accolades she got from doing it (I know those are not priorities for her in the slightest). What made it an exciting moment is that she values building capacity and inspiring others to use science and behavior change theory to create systemic behavior change. She wasn’t telling me about that success to brag or looking for praise from me. She knows I am a values cheerleader, and she deserved a cheer.
3) A Mindful treat
I use the word treat cautiously. You didn’t accomplish this goal just for the sake of an unrelated reward. The treat is a symbol of celebration. Engage your senses. What does success taste like to you? Or are you more treated by an afternoon off of work or a manicure? The important part is that it is mindful. It’s not about shoveling a box of donuts as you convince yourself “I deserve this” it’s more like savoring a candy bar or your favorite sushi and going “ahh”--pairs well with tip #1. Essentially this is about what knowing the activities you value most that are just for you.
4) Speak to/write to your past self or consider your future self
This is a trick that helps you be a better outside observer of yourself. Ask “What would 18 year old me think about this?” “How about 65 year old me?” When we’re in the middle of it, it’s harder to accept the weight a successful step might make. Your younger self would likely be astonished by all you’ve done and your older self can remind you to savor moments as they come.
5) Don’t forget anniversaries of accomplishments
Is it 10 years since you got your Master’s degree? A year since you got your “dream job”? 7 years since you became a mom? Did you consider your kid’s birthday as the anniversary of your parenthood to them? There’s no expiration date to celebrating an accomplishment. It’s easier to give yourself an “attagirl” for something you did a while ago, because there is a level of detachment.
6) Share with your tribe
Humility is a beautiful quality, but sometimes we mistake celebrating successes as us being too proud or arrogant. If you have “your people” that know you well, it can feel safer to be “proud” without the fear of judgment. Sometimes it’s easier to let other people acknowledge how far you’ve come. It’s OK to pick and choose who gets this information. It’s not about posting every little accomplishment over social media. Cultivating your circle to a small group of people who are able to provide you genuine support is worth far more that trying to rack up “likes” on social media.
7) Make a shared phrase or symbol.
My sister and I are both in the thick of massive transitions and self discovery/improvement. We have gotten in the habit of giving each other emoji “gold stars” and “trophies” as code for “good for you”. If lightens up the situation while still leave room to give each other credit for a positive change.
8) Make it playful and communal.
Building off the tribe idea. What if you regularly got together with friends, family members or colleagues and set aside time to celebrate the successes of everyone around the table? This could take many different forms.
Some concrete examples:
Moments of Excellence (MOEs)
In my workplace, this is part of every team meeting. It’s a chance to announce and celebrate the success of a colleague, a client or yourself. It’s a lovely way to end a meeting!
This could be done at the family dinner table on a regular basis. Each person is asked to name what the low point and high point of their week (or day or month, depending on how often you do it). This leaves room to open up about a struggle as well as to celebrate. An added bonus, often a lowlight from a previous week (I’m stressed with a project at work) can turn into a future highlight (I finished my work project!).
Warm fuzzies/compliment circle
This one is pretty cheesy, but it feels so damn good. You set up a system to compliment someone (it can be anonymous or not). This could take the form of notes (You did a great job organizing the closet!), or an in person ‘circle’ where each person takes turn being the focus and receiving compliments. If you can’t (or don’t want to) do it in person, perhaps use a private social media group chat to do this or an email chain. The reality is, a lot of people find it uncomfortable to accept complements, but isn’t it an opportunity to celebrate an aspect of ourselves?
Julia & Beth
PS from Julia. I’m happy to share that since I first started writing this post a little over 5 weeks ago, I have already seen some dramatic changes in how I celebrate success. I created a list of anniversaries and obvious work milestones that I would intentionally celebrate (tip #5) which are directly linked to my values (tip #2). I’m better at pausing in accomplishment (tip #1) and doing small things for myself (tip #3). I’m still working on sharing it more and making it playful and communal - but I’ve made good progress in a month and I’m confident that I will continue to get better at celebrating my own success and that of the amazing women around me.
So if you aren’t good at celebrating your accomplishments - there’s hope.
And if you are great at it, this is an opportunity to help out those incredible women around you who are not.