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The curse of the high achieving woman

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The curse of the high achieving woman

You take pride in what you do. You enjoy your career. You want to do your best in whatever project you’re working on. So it’s no surprise that people notice.

One thing I’ve observed when I’ve mentored women (and men) over the years is that these high achievers are then offered some great opportunities. Often, challenging opportunities not deemed for the faint-hearted. And that’s because they’ve proven that they can perform under pressure.

Now, this is GOOD news. But there’s also a hidden danger when you’ve been tapped on the shoulder to do a job that may well be deemed a wonderful opportunity – but is a role that doesn’t actually align with your bigger career goals.

I’ve counselled many people who have found themselves in situations – or overseas postings – that they have accepted because they were “flattered”. One woman told me: “It was just such a great compliment to be asked that I couldn’t say no, but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t excited about it.”

The point is: just because you’ve been asked doesn’t mean you should say yes.

Some years ago, I was tapped on the shoulder for a particular role. I was so flattered because it was a coveted role and I accepted the role even though it really didn’t align with my bigger career goals. I was congratulated. My friends thought it was a great score. But within three weeks of being in the role I knew I had made the wrong decision. Despite this, I didn’t want to let my new team down. And I didn’t want to appear flighty. So I stuck with it for a year before I finally resigned. Even though I made some great friends during that time, it took me on a year-long detour in another direction.

Fortunately, I managed to course-correct. But it taught me a valuable lesson. Just because you’ve been asked, doesn’t mean you should say yes.

Now, this is totally different to the post written by my friend Marina Go on this site: Say yes and work it out later. That’s about not giving in to fear that you can’t do it. It’s about saying yes – and then figuring it what you need to do to make it happen. And I totally agree with Marina on that front.

My point is that when you are a high achiever, you can often be blessed with some great opportunities. But you don’t have to walk through every door that opens for you.

But this happens when you don’t have clarity on your career goals.

When you don’t have a firm direction or goal that you want to achieve, your career can end up being shaped by other people’s agendas. It’s not that you don’t end up in good roles or prestigious positions. It’s just that you end up there because you are fulfilling someone else’s bigger vision. If that happens to align with your OWN vision, that’s fine.

However, too often, I meet people who are not actually clear on what they want to achieve or what will ultimately fulfil them. Which kind of drives me a bit bonkers.

Because these people typically don’t want to commit to a particular goal. Or they are afraid to publicly state what that goal is.

If you can relate to this then I urge you to consider that you deserve a career that is shaped by what you truly want. And if you are a natural high achiever, understand that even if you excel in everything that you do, this ends up being a hollow reward if you don’t choose roles and projects that feed your soul.

Valerie Khoo

Valerie Khoo is CEO of the Australian Writers’ Centre, one of the world’s leading centres for writing courses. She contributed to Fairfax for 13 years and has held senior editorial roles at ACP (now Bauer), Pacific Magazines and EMAP. She was editor of Business Chick’s Latte magazine for five years and regularly writes for corporate and consumer titles. Valerie began her career in chartered accounting at PwC before moving into public relations, journalism and then entrepreneurship. She is co-host of the podcast “So you want to be a writer”, recently listed as one of the top 30 podcasts for writers in the world, and “So you want to be a photographer”. Valerie is also a mentor with the Australian Businesswomen’s Network.