Why Women Are Anxious and Frustrated at Work

Here’s the reason no one is talking about

If you were an honor student growing up, you might be screwing yourself over at work.

Let’s start with a story.

Amanda was detail-oriented and highly competent. She did her job reliably well and got along with her colleagues. From the outside she appeared successful.

However, she felt chronically frustrated because she often felt dismissed or talked over in meetings.

She didn’t feel she was being paid fairly for her work quality. She also felt anxious much of the time and struggled to speak up about these feelings.

Deep down she questioned if she deserved the things she wanted. Was she truly good enough?

When I met Amanda I told her this: you are stymied by the schoolgirl mindset.

Her response was probably the same as yours: What?!

Let me explain.

My theory is this: the ways smart students are conditioned to think and behave can become a major disadvantage for the modern workplace.

That’s right. People, particularly women, who have learned to do the right things to be successful in school, are actually held back by these same actions later in life.

I told her it was time to unlearn some of the things she thought made her successful.

I’ll outline four big ways school can ruin work and what to do instead.

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Myth #1: Hard work equals reward

If school taught us anything it was definitely this: hard work will yield good grades and accolades.

Study hard. Focus in class. Have discipline. Put the time in.

These are important things. But in our work, success is not propelled by hard work alone.

I see many bright women working day and night, volunteering for every project. They may be doing both high quantity and high quality work, but they are often paid the same as their peers and not getting any real recognition.

Instead they get a lot of burnout and frustration.

This is because not all work is visible and not all work is valued.

Savvy workers follow this rule instead: focus on meaningful work that is also valued by your organization.

And while you don’t want to be arrogant, it’s important for others to know your contribution and what you are bringing to the table.

Stop the straight-A mentality and get ahead instead.

Stop volunteering for everything. Start getting clear on why you are there and what’s your highest skill set. That’s what you want to bring to work.

And then get your butt home in the evening and turn off work for the rest of the day.

Myth #2: Polite is right

Schools reward being quiet and orderly. I can’t blame them, I love these things too.

Therefore, we often go to work expecting that playing by the rules, being polite, and not stepping on any toes–expecting the promotion to fall in our laps. We are being and doing so good.

Instead, we become invisible.

While you do want to be polite and thoughtful, the people who are making a bigger impact are speaking up and making contributions in a more vocal and visible way.

Not by jockeying for attention but by focusing on the organizational priorities and actively working towards goals in the full view of everyone around.

Vocal and visible workers aren’t afraid to share thoughts and ideas. They are not afraid to ask difficult questions. They are not worried about pleasing everyone.

They are focused on the tasks at hand.

Overcome your good-girl habits and be willing to be seen and heard when it is in the service of the work at hand.

You can absolutely keep your impeccable manners while you do it, but clear your voice and speak right up.

Myth #3: Wait to be called on

Schools rank us. They tell us where we stand. Teachers tell us when it’s our turn to talk. We wait to be selected for things, like the gifted and talented class or the National Honor Society.

This is not usually the case at work.

So often I hear women tell me that they are waiting for certain accomplishments or for their next review to ask for raises or promotions.

They wait until they are 100% qualified for a job before they apply.

Waiting to be “called on” is holding back the most competent women I know.

Stop it.

Ask for the raise now. Talk to your boss about the promotion now. Apply for the job you are interested in but only 60% qualified for now.

You don’t need permission. Your self-advocacy is what will drive you ahead in your work.

If you don’t get it immediately, you are:

  • making your desires known
  • getting valuable feedback about how to get there
  • planting the seed that if you don’t get what you want, you’re likely to be out of there soon

Coupled with your competence, this is the way to drive yourself ahead at work.

Myth #4: Perfection over mistakes

When my daughter came home from first grade with red pen written over her writing, she was deeply offended. Why was the teacher marking her work? How rude.

That attitude would probably serve her well, but like most of us, she will be prone to looking for the way to make things perfect and avoid that damned red pen.

How many of us are still obsessed with doing things perfectly? How many of us still revel in doing something no one can critique?

That’s the exactly the way to waste a whole lot of energy.

Perfectionism robs us of valuable time and energy, keeping us stuck waiting to be perfect instead of moving ahead with contributing more value and taking healthy risks.

Innovation and creativity demand risk and failure. Playing it safe, making sure there are no mistakes will keep you from reaching your potential.

Stop being perfect, and start focusing on what you want to contribute to make a difference. Step back and take in the bigger picture: what could you do with your time and energy if you were not so fearful of making a mistake?

Even if it’s scary, we can put ourselves out there–mistakes and all. That’s how success is truly created.

Let’s do this.

Hannah Curtis is a communication coach who teaches purpose-driven people how to use their words with confidence and their power for positive change. Join her for a 12-week communication coaching program, Deep Dive, and have a bigger impact with effective, confident communication.

1 Comment

  1. Mary Quinn

    Articulate and insightful post! This is spot on!

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