3 Ways to crack your personal glass ceiling

3 Ways to crack your personal glass ceiling


To mark International Women’s Day we are publishing a 2-part Women in Business series.
This week, Suzanne Mercier of Imposterhood explains how to crack your personal glass ceiling.
Stay tuned next week where Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg explains how women can make it to the top of the career ladder.

Suzanne: I believe I am incredibly privileged. I get to work with talented people, although they don’t believe it. I help them rediscover themselves, their talents and to claim their successes.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve been working with executives of both genders from myriad industries such as film, marketing, higher education, government, consulting, professional services.

These executives have been successful and yet, not been able to embrace that success.They know intellectually that they have talent. They recognise they wouldn’t have risen to their existing level of success without it. Plus, others have repeatedly told them how capable they are. They can reel off their qualities and capabilities. However, when I probe, they’re puzzled because having those talents, capabilities and successes doesn’t translate to personal confidence.

When we dig deeper into what stops them from feeling confidence, commonly we come across what I call our personal glass ceiling – that unconscious belief that they have enough talent to make it so far and anything beyond that is out of their league. That place beyond their personal glass ceiling can be incredibly uncomfortable and stressful.

Breaking through

Here are a few thought starters for cracking your personal glass ceiling (as a prelude to shattering it):

  1. Reclaim your Talents & Successes

When I first started my own business in marketing and advertising quite a few years ago, I developed my marketing plan, wrote a list of the ‘features’ (talents, capabilities, skills & successes) I brought to the table and their resulting benefits as a prelude to articulating my brand essence. I drilled down to what I really stand for, wrote up my creative brief and had some beautiful marketing materials developed.

Here’s the crazy thing. I didn’t use them to any great effect! Either I would fail to hand them out in a casual meeting or I would pass them across the table almost apologetically. It was clear from my tentative handover that I didn’t have the deep belief in my offering and the value I could deliver. If I didn’t believe in what I could do for them, why would the client?

Whether it’s because we’ve been brought up to be humble and not brag, or whether it’s because the feeling of not being good enough causes us to judge what we bring to the table as not exactly rocket science, the outcome is the same. We dismiss ourselves as not good enough, and the higher the stakes, the harder it is for us to deal with the emotional fallout. In doing so, we have limited ourselves in a way that locks us into a smaller world than the one we could have.

  1. Bust out of your comfort zone

Human beings are more comfortable inside their comfort zone – yes, there’s a reason for its name. Our personal glass ceiling exists at the edge of our comfort zone. When I talk with my coaching clients, I hear that they were fine with their career progress until they achieved their most recent promotion or business opportunity. The stakes increased, creating personal uncertainty about whether they could step up. In that role, their anxiety ramped up, their coping behaviours were triggered and they became hyper-vigilant to others judging and rejecting them. Of course, they weren’t aware of those unconscious processes taking place – simply the erosion of confidence that resulted.

Jonathan Fields, author of “Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance” suggests that the feeling of uncertainty goes hand in hand with fear of judgement and leads to the question of “Am I good enough”. I agree completely. And personal uncertainty sits at the edge of our comfort zone and beyond.

There is a level of uncertainty I call ‘productive uncertainty’. Anything less leads to apathy where there is no motivation to move forward. Too much uncertainty can lead to paralysis. Like Goldilocks, we need to find the ‘just right’ level of uncertainty to propel us forward beyond the bars of our comfort zone.

  1. Let go of Perfection

Many of us are perfectionists.

Perfection tells us that there is an ideal level of performance (for example). Even though we can’t define that ideal level, we will know we’ve achieved it. In our minds, that will be when no-one else can improve on our work or when someone asks us a question – any question – and we can answer it.

The more we drive ourselves with the need to be perfect and the more time and other resources we put into the project or job, the more difficult it is to accept the situation when we fail to achieve the unreachable. We simply reinforce the feeling of not being good enough because we ‘should’ be able to deliver at that level.

The higher up the organisation we move, or the more successful our business is, the greater the likely difference between our expectations of what we should be delivering and where we believe we are in that moment. As our present and expected outcomes diverge, the feeling of not being good enough can be exacerbated. As the feeling intensifies, we may pull back.

Feeling fear and experiencing our personal glass ceiling is simply information. Your unconscious mind is letting you know that you are at the edge of your comfort zone and venturing into unchartered waters.

You could pull back – and that certainly was an early strategy for me. What happens in that scenario is that we are left with a gnawing feeling that we let ourselves down and that we could be so much more if … or when … we found the courage to push through.

You could push through, skating on ego and ready to show the world that you are good enough. The challenge in this scenario is that we haven’t dealt with the underlying feeling of being good enough. We’re simply sticking our chins out and going for it anyway, even though we might not make it; hoping the world will tell us we’re OK.

Or you could use the anxiety and undermining thoughts as a stimulus to engage in the next level of your personal leadership – exploring and addressing the feeling of not being good enough on your path forward.

It really is worth it!

Suzanne Mercier is a Thoughtleader in self-esteem and performance. She speaks, trains, consults and coaches leaders, managers and business owners to help them recognise and dismantle the Imposter Syndrome where its barriers and limitations prevent them from achieving the success they want and finding the meaning & fulfillment they aspire to in their work. She is also a published author. For more information, check out Suzanne Mercier Imposterhood and Skirting Leadership. 61 400 995 942. [email protected]