How to get ahead

I’ve been reading articles on how to lead a successful life as a professional woman. There are countless books, articles, blog posts, and commentaries on this thought-provoking topic. They all encourage you to push the limits, break boundaries and create a network of people. They offer advice on how to be confident, and more importantly on how to be a sincere and effective employee. Those designed for a female audience, even offer specific eye-catching tips. Many have been written by successful women themselves, who share their own stories without, of course revealing the whole picture. It’s all left me asking the question: what is success anyway?

These mighty women boast about how they have managed to ‘strike a balance between professional and personal life.’ I’m not sure if anyone has ever asked them specific questions to uncover how they actually manage that balance. So let’s look at the truth. Without intending to generalise, many of us not-so-successful miserable souls work under such women (and men of course). They can be our immediate managers. We see them daily. In fact, we know many of them very well. We also know that being confident and creating a network of people is just one side of the story. One crucial characteristic of these so-called successful men and women which I will bluntly state here is that they can be selfish.

Selfishness is considered a vicious trait in many societies – but it is necessary. It is a survival mechanism. Being manipulative – euphemised ‘diplomatic’ and ‘tactful’ – will put you on the path to success. Taking this path involves constant planning – perhaps even scheming – against rivals. If you are aware of your constraints and have limited skills, here’s a good tip: take credit for other people’s work. It comes in very handy, but you will need to be subtle about it!

Work on using bombastic words. You need to talk big to impress the higher-ups. False anecdotes can be helpful but you need to be smart to back them up when the occasion arises and you are asked for evidence. Body language says a lot about who we are: perhaps what we have achieved in life, and what we aspire towards. Being gently pompous will tell others about your aspirations – so fake-it ‘till you make-it! Being relatively good in your job will suffice. Do not be a perfectionist. It is a waste of your energy. Focus instead on the moments in which you know your average work will be massively highlighted.

Never mention your mistakes to anyone. Mistakes happen! Do not worry about it! However, if they are significant blunders, stay cool and blame someone else. But make sure you are calm and look sincere.

Always speak to influential people. After all, no one wants to make friends with potential work rivals. You should engage in all this alongside your actual work. Once you are ‘successful’ do not forget to wear a patronizing smile. Always nod along when your subordinates enthusiastically share an idea with you. You really do not need to listen.

Joking apart: why don’t we share our work experiences candidly? Why don’t we admit that at times we – proudly or un-proudly – have had to employ one of the above strategies? Why don’t we talk more about the price we paid to get the job we wanted so badly? The price we pay for success can range from not being able to spend enough time with our children, to not being a ‘good daughter’ – whatever that means – to leaving one’s homeland for better job prospects.

Why don’t we make it clear to every woman looking for ‘success’ that in order to excel you need to surrender something tremendously precious. You may say this is obvious, but no-one mentions it in their so-called success stories. Is it because we want to stick to the idea of the Superwoman that has been ruthlessly created by the media – the same media we castigate for their disregard towards women? Or is it because we don’t want to reveal our secrets? Why don’t we women openly share our grievances about how the world wants us to be a jack-of-all-trades while we are forced deprive ourselves of the simple, magical, aspects of life. Why do we exacerbate the already inflated idea of a successful woman being a know-it-all? Have we not broken various societal norms by being outspoken, resourceful and head-and-shoulders above our male counterparts already?

We are now in a position to shatter the façade of the unreasonable societal expectation that wants us to be successful in whatever way possible while maintaining a painful smile on our faces. We can confess to our disappointment, humiliation, demoralisation; to missing loved ones, children, and our hometown etc. as part and parcel of the ‘success’ package?

I am not trying to ignore the thrills of doing great work. I am talking about work-life balance and how we achieve it. Why don’t we acknowledge the moral support we receive from our loved ones, friends, partners or whoever, as the source of our energy? After all, one can’t succeed without hope or some form of support. Why can’t we stop bragging about being the only person who does everything? If this is the case, then there is no work-life balance.

Life is not a Hollywood production; reality hits hard. So, why can’t we break another norm, and be more honest with ourselves? Let the world know that the idea of a Superwoman or a Superman does not exist. Let’s not bother with being the perfect woman that society or Facebook wants us to be!

Let’s give success another shape in which no woman (or man) needs to sacrifice and compromise upon their lives. Let’s give success the image it deserves. One in which the efforts made by others that have been part of our success are appreciated alongside our own. Let us women share more rather than boast. Let us women show each other respect when it is due, and pat each other’s shoulders rather than trying to trip one another up.