In our American culture, girls are encouraged to:
• Defer to authority: your parents, your teachers, your Girl Scout leader, etc.
• Follow the rules of whatever game or activity you're involved in.
• Color in between the lines, not outside.
• Pay attention to other people's feelings.
• Respond to the hurt or pain of others.
• Avoid interrupting people.
When you grow up being consistently encouraged to listen to others first, one common side effect is that you never develop faith in your own opinions, decision-making or intuition.
I see this in my past life and I see this often in my clients. If you've been raised as a "good girl" and you're also a perfectionist or people-pleaser, you're probably someone who wants to know the rules and follow them. Following the rules may be your default approach to problem-solving. You do not look within to determine your feelings or your principles first; You look to rules or to how other people are feeling first.
Here's a great example of how this affects the course of your entire life. Anthony Youn wrote this editorial for USA Today about growing up Asian American; I read it through the lens of the "good girl" syndrome. What he describes fits both worlds.
"I grow up underneath the Bamboo Ceiling, a barrier that keeps Asian Americans from reaching the pinnacle of success in anything other than traditional professional careers such as medicine, dentistry and engineering. It has to do with how we were raised as children. Brought up by our Tiger Parents to work hard, do well in school, respect our elders and not to question authority. In order to reach the upper echelon of most fields, however, other "non-Asian" exercises are typically necessary: networking, Risk-taking, leadership and aggressiveness. " [Emphasis added] USA Today, February 24, 2012.
Substitute "non-good girl" for "non-Asian" in that last sentence, and you've described MANY struggling women entrepreneurs!
Why Good Girls Struggle with Decision-Making
If you've been brought up as a "good girl": to respect authority, follow rules and pay attention to others' feelings, your faith in your own decision-making abilities starts to wither and die. You wonder whether you can make good decisions for yourself. You may want to spend your time with other people you view as good decision-makers so you can follow THEIR decisions. You may spend a lot of time polling your family, friends or collections to see what they think you should do. You may feel confused when you try to come up with an answer to a problem on your own because you're not sure exactly what your feelings are or where they're coming from.
Why Good Girls Struggle with Sales
The "good girl" syndrome is constantly pushing you to look at how other people feel and how they're judging you. Then you evaluate or judge yourself based on what others' see or say say or feel.
That's a pretty crummy way to live. You can never feel relaxed in who you are, because a slightly different message about you is being reflected back from each person you meet.
It makes sense that this syndrome completely undermines you in the selling process! How can you feel confident about what you're offering the world, when you're relying on other people's reactions to tell you if you offer, and by extension YOU, are any good or not? How can you create healthy boundaries separating the part of the selling process that is your responsibility from the parts that are their responsibility? It's hard when it ALL feels like it's 100% your responsibility.
If this is you, you are likely hesitant when it comes to selling your product or service. You may worry about whether your buyer or recruiter will receive ENOUGH value. You question your own abilities and worry about appearing pushy.
Why Good Girls Struggle with Leadership
In the "good girl" syndrome, you always accept what others TELL you, even if your intuition is telling you something different.
As a leader, you are likely dealing with team members who are all over the spectrum in terms of their willingness to move forward or embrace change. When someone on your team says: No, I will not move forward, they may really be saying: No, I will not move forward, because I'm scared. I'm going to retreat back to my comfort zone.
Great leaders rely on their intuition to help them recognize the difference between those two kinds of No (No because I do not want to, and No because I'm scared). They are willing to offer a hand to someone who's scared. If you take EVERY No at face value, you're going to leave a lot of people behind you.
Highly Successful People
Highly successful entrepreneurs trust themselves. They have faith in their judgment and confidence in their decision-making.
They listened to their intuition.
When appropriate, they are willing to take a stand for other people and encourage them to rise up to a higher level.
They are relaxed and confident in selling situations. They are confident about their own worth and the value of what they offer. That allows them to focus on their conversation partner, instead of having a constant internal dialog in which they're worrying about how they're coming across or what the other person thinks of them or their offer.
Call to Action
What are the pros and cons of being a good girl? Go back through the bulleted list at the start of this article. How have those qualities helped you? How have those qualities held you back?
Which of these qualities would you like to scale back, in order to move forward as an entrepreneur and as a leader?
Who are the leaders you most admire? What specific qualifications are you most attracted to? How can you embody those qualities more?
You may have been trained by your family to be a "good girl" AND you can also choose to step into a higher way of being: one that honors your unique gifts and also serves others. That higher self is already waiting within you; You simply allow it to appear in the world.