9 Disempowering Myths We're Taught About Work
When we're growing up, there are a ton of different, often conflicting things we're taught about work. "Follow your dreams." "Be realistic." "Hard work can get you anywhere." "It's all about who you know." Many of these myths disempower us, and if you're a woman, you've likely heard more than your share of disempowering work myths.
"Disempowering work myths are beliefs and assumptions that we have adopted from friends, families, and the environment about how things work in the workplace that are simply not true and that limit us from being powerful at work," NYC-based executive coach Shefali Raina tells Bustle. "Understanding our disempowering myths about work and career is important because the awareness helps liberate us from our blind spots and flawed beliefs and helps us act differently to achieve greater impact at work and grow our careers."
Here are some myths we're taught about work that often prevent us from going after what we really want, lead us to settle, make us care about the wrong things, and ultimately — despite their intentions — hinder our success. And here's what you can believe instead so that you can shoot for the moon while remaining realistic about your career.
1. Artists Must Starve
The trope of the starving artist might make for entertaining movies, but the problem with it is that it implies being creative and making money are mutually exclusive. There are plenty of ways to make your passion profitable, or at least profit off something else while pursuing your passion.
2. It's All About Who You Know
There's a grain of truth to the idea that having a strong network will get you far, but just because you don't have that network yet doesn't mean you can't create it. Even if you know nobody in your field, superlative talent will make those in it want to know you.
3. You Should Know What You Want Once You Finish School
We're made to feel bad if we don't have it all figured out by the time we graduate college, but it's OK to have questions and keep learning throughout your career. "I have seen many women shot down by the erroneous belief they shouldn't ask for help," Mavenli.com CEO Sacha Nitsetska tells Bustle. "Asking people for advice makes the person asked feel smart, appreciated, and respected, helps you get ahead faster and avoid mistakes, and most importantly, helps build genuine relationships with those you are mentored by."
4. Your Job Title Defines How Important You Are
Even if you don't have the job title you want or one that's considered prestigious, you can use it to build important professional relationships, gain crucial skills, and make your way to the position you really do want.
Here's one story to illustrate: "I got into the business world working as an assistant, and I realized assistants are in a position to give way more emotional labor than most jobs, which means that job is often filled by women," Culture Consultant Ambra Sultzbaugh tells Bustle. "Rather than fight against that, I gobbled it up and organized it so that I had time to learn and do more 'valuable' work. Because I didn't accept the assistant role as a de facto stopping point, I quickly advanced. Not all glass ceilings are created equal. I think some of them are comfortable and accepted, even by women, and some of them are illusions that can be outperformed. Of course, it's not a fair game, but it doesn't make winning impossible. ... Breaking down walls is the most efficient way to collapse ceilings!"
5. Check Your Personal Stuff at the Door
It's OK to be human, even in the workplace. In fact, showing a bit of vulnerability can help you form genuine relationships with your coworkers. "We are a whole self, not compartmentalized selves," Jan Tanaka, Creator of The Soul Fueled Leader, tells Bustle. "We are often told to check our personal lives at the door, yet if our personal lives are in disarray, we can be easily distracted and push through tasks so our mind can refocus on what's bothering us. Instead, we can empower women to take the next best step to take care of the situation and come to the workplace with a clearer head and heart space."
6. You Have To Climb The Corporate Ladder
The best job for you isn't necessarily the most prestigious one, and it's important to take what's best for you and your growth, not just what looks best on paper. "Agility and flexibility are critical skills necessary in today's complex environment," says Tanaka. "The best way to build those skills is to climb lattices, not ladders. Sometimes, you need to take on tasks, positions, and experience that is lateral to you, a lower position in another discipline, or completely off the linear ladder path so you can gain skills that are cross-functional. You not only build agility and flexibility; you also build global thinking."
7. Don't Be Power- or Money-Hungry
Women are often criticized for being too "masculine," and this can come out in warnings about caring too much about power or money. But it's OK to want these things. Teaching women not to want these things maintains a system where men have them.
8. Other Women Are Your Competition
Women are taught to compete against one another, when they could be even stronger if they banded together. Women already deal with enough sexism in the workplace, and they can be one another's allies against it instead of contributing to it.
9. Don't Brag
We're taught not to brag as kids, then when we actually need to promote ourselves, we end up at a loss for words. "Many professionals have grown into the belief system that as long as you put your head down and work, everyone will automatically 'see' your value and you will get the advancement you deserve," says Raina. "There is a sense that self-promotion is purely self-serving and has negative connotations, and many of us feel very uncomfortable promoting ourselves. Contrary to this belief, if you advocate for yourself in a credible and strategic way, it illuminates what you have accomplished, why you are valuable, and what you want next in your career arc."
You may hear these things over and over again, but that doesn't make them true. The only advice you should listen to is the advice that helps you succeed.