Archive for March, 2014

March 14, 2014

The Secret to My (Lack of) Success

I’m 45 years old, a college graduate, and the most I’ve ever made in a year is $30k.  My sister, in contrast, dropped out of school in the 9th grade, got pregnant at 19 and now makes over $120k.  Huh?  How does this make sense?

After all of these years, I think I’ve finally figured out why, and it has nothing to do with talent or effort.

Here are the pieces to my puzzle:

1. In Parade Magazine’s March 9 article, 3 Influential Women, One Powerful Message, they profile an effort by Condoleezza Rice, Cherly SAndbery, and Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez to empower our girls to roles of leadership.  And while the article itself was interesting, what caught me was the sidebar, Lean In’s Lessons for Girls and the advice for educators: Observe dynamics in group work.  Girls often complete the work of peers who slack off.  If they get used to doing work without credit, they won’t learn to push for recognition when they deserve it.

2. The response to a “Dear Carolyn” letter on Sunday, “You [may] have the overdeveloped sense of responsibility and underdeveloped sense of self that dysfunctional homes tend to breed.”

3. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.  There are three ways of looking at the world: givers, matchers, and takers.  Givers will:

help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, [givers ]might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return. If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.

When I put these pieces together, the picture they formed was a woman who has, from childhood, put the needs — and happiness — of others ahead of her own.

It will come to no surprise, then, when I tell you:

  • In high school, I applied for a scholarship through Junior Achievement.  I told my friend, Ron, about it.  His response was to ask me if I wanted him to NOT apply because if he applied, he’d likely get it over me (he looked awesome on paper).  I, of course, encouraged him to apply as well.  Well, he got it.  One of many scholarships he won, while this one the only one I qualified to apply for.

  • During my first marriage, I quit my job to work for my husband’s business.  In the 3 years I worked for him, I helped to increase sales 300%, yet he never valued my contribution to the business.  When I left that marriage, I left with $2k in debt, no car, and no job.  And, no references since the people I had worked for before had either left their jobs or the businesses had closed.

  • During my second marriage, my husband got home from work 2 hours before I did.  As a result, he was responsible for making dinner so we ate before 9pm.  He complained about this responsibility every single day.  Instead of realizing that this maybe wasn’t the guy I should be with, I quit my job to start a quilting business so I could be home to take care of the domestic responsibilities.

  • In my current business, as a web designer and glorified Virtual Assistant, I often do work that I know needs to be done, but which my client hasn’t asked me to do.  The fact that I do these tasks makes my client more successful, but in a way that bypasses their own responsibility for that success.

Now that I see the pattern, it’s easy to see why I haven’t been more financially successful.  I work hard, but that work benefits others most of the time.

Even knowing this, I realize that I can’t change this pattern overnight.  I also realize that I also can’t change my underlying nature.

In other words, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I adopted a different way of being, one more like the takers or matchers in the Give and Take book.

I’m a giver at heart and I always will be.  I don’t want to succeed if that success comes at the cost of someone else.  No amount of self-awareness or self-work on myself will change this underlying reality.

But does that mean I am destined to be the low man on the totem pole forever?  Well, no.

In fact, this is the message in Give and Take: as you would expect, the givers ended up at the bottom of the economic ladder.  But, surprisingly, they also ended up at the top; matchers and takers were always in the middle.

It turns out, there are ways to be successful AND a giver and many examples are profiled in the book.  I just have to find a way that allows me to be of service, but also distances me from my clients a bit more so that I can’t take responsibility for their success.  Sure, I could go to therapy and learn how not to do this, but that would likely take the rest of my life.  I’d really like to experience some economic abundance in the short term, rather than at some distance point in the future.

As a result of this awareness, I am working on changing my business radically and shifting to teaching, rather than doing.  This shift will allow me to raise up my students by sharing my knowledge, but also leave their success up to them.  My business used to wear me out, but now, I’m excited about the future and what it possible.

Are you a giver like me?  Have you put other people’s needs ahead of your own?  What has that pattern of behavior cost you?