From an early age, women are taught that it is selfish to want things and that putting other people’s wants before their own is the epitome of selflessness. But are both of these premises accurate, particularly in regards to business? Let’s walk through it.
When we want something, we create a focus for ourselves. Our want becomes our goal. We create a plan around the want. As we accomplish the action items related to the goal, our energy builds. We become excited and joyful. We may even feel like we are “in the zone,” functioning at our optimal level of performance. We navigate around obstacles, solve problems, and keep moving towards our want.
When we finally achieve the want, it . . . is . . . amazing!
The feeling of obtaining what we wanted, what we pointed to and said, “That’s what I want,” and then getting it creates an incredible cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline in our brains.
Have you ever felt this?
Take a second to think about a time when you were actively chasing after a “want,” working deliberately to achieve it, making step-by-step progress. Do you remember how that felt? And what about when you succeeded in attaining the want? How did that feel? Pretty amazing, right?
Now think about the people around you — employees, co-workers, family, friends — who watched as you went through that process. They got to reap the benefits of your optimal functioning. They saw and experienced you at your best. Your want became a ripple effect that pervaded all aspects of your life, and those around you likely benefitted. Whether the benefits were tangible rewards (new house, more money, trips, or the like) or nontangible (being part of your happiness, seeing you as a role model, feeling energized by your excitement), those around you experience the gift of your want.
What about putting others’ wants before your own? What effects does that have? Think of a time when you put what you wanted on hold to help someone else achieve their goals. Sometimes it feels good to help someone out, to put someone else first. But in business, sacrificing or postponing your want can often mean that you miss the opportunity. Someone else wins the sale. A different person manifests the idea. Another company picks up the project. Your peer secures the promotion. You end up feeling demoralized or frustrated.
The situation may leave you doubting your abilities or yourself, or you might even develop a trace of bitterness towards the people whose wants you put ahead of your own. Now instead of functioning at your highest level, you are struggling to get back on track. Does that seem beneficial to those involved?
A client I worked with graduated from her MBA program at age 24 and received an employment offer from a global investment banking organization in New York, a company that had been on her vision board since high school. Her fiancé graduated from the same program and was offered a job in Chicago.
Guess what she did?
She sacrificed her professional want and followed him to Chicago.
Shortly after moving, they became pregnant and decided one of them should stay home with the baby. By this time, her husband was rising in his career, and my client thought, “I’ll get my turn later,” “It’s better for the family,” and later, “Having two parents working would be hard on the kids.”
For some people, this choice might be their want. But did you read “want” in any of her statements?
As the years went by, she kept shoving her wants down. Her anger with herself manifested into bitterness towards her husband and her kids. Her “selfless” decisions created significant problems in her marriage because she did not state what she wanted and find ways to achieve it. Only when she and her husband worked with me as a couples coach as a final step before separation did she say her want out loud.
Her husband was shocked. For 15 years, he believed that his wife’s want had shifted from a career in finance to being a stay-at-home mom. And she believed that saying what she wanted was selfish.
You don’t have to sacrifice your career goals to do the right thing for your family. But you do have to be honest with yourself and those around you.