circumstances, her established practice of “not wasting” her boss’s time by talking to him about what she’s achieving ends up working to her disadvantage.
Similarly, Carrie’s nose-to-the-grindstone approach won praise when she was an investment banker and was a chief reason she rose more quickly than her fellow trainees. But her new position requires leadership skills more than dogged work or subject matter expertise, which means she can’t put off developing relationships or neglect those who look to her for guidance. She was chosen for her new position because of her reputation for integrity, not because she was an expert on risk. By not engaging people in her unit who have specialized knowledge, she signals that she has problems trusting others. This causes others to wonder what she has to hide.
Finally, Miranda’s eagerness to please was viewed as loyalty and devotion during her early years at her firm. So the lesson she took away from her rapid promotion to senior associate was that saying yes is the way to get rewarded. This caused her to overlook the extent to which her commitments need to be strategic. By willingly volunteering for something that didn’t really serve her interests, she allowed herself to be taken advantage of by a colleague who was sharply mindful of his own strategic path.
Each of these women, with the best of intentions, found a way to self-sabotage. Each played an unwitting role in her own stuckness. Each offers a great example of how extremely dedicated women can benefit by learning that What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.
In addition to feeling situational, stuckness can feel deeply embedded. As you become habituated to certain behaviors, you may start assuming they are intrinsic to your character, part of who you are.
So if you hang back from an opportunity because you dislike speaking before large crowds, you may rationalize that you’ve always been this way, even in grade school when you were among the last to raise your hand. If you’re uncomfortable talking about your achievements during a performance review, you may recall that your mother always said that only selfish people talk about themselves.
This is why approaching change from a purely psychological perspective can be daunting. You have to work through all the layers and experiences that have habituated your responses. This is a time-consuming exercise that can be paralyzing and often requires professional guidance.
But approaching behavioral change by substituting new habits for old ones is empowering. It’s also something you can do on your own, without help from a therapist or coach. After all, you probably have had experience tackling bad habits in the past. Maybe you smoked as a teenager. Maybe you used to munch on popcorn whenever you watched TV. Maybe you didn’t really listen when people were talking but let your mind wander instead. Maybe you were always five (or ten or fifteen) minutes late.
As you discovered if you were able to overcome such habits, they were actually not aspects of your character. Nor were they reflections of “the real you.” They were simply ways of showing up in the world to which you had grown accustomed, behaviors that had become your default mode.
Carrie did not question her efforts to position herself as an expert in her new position because studying hard and mastering her subject was how she had always handled new challenges. She felt uncomfortable when she didn’t know the answers.
Miranda never paused to consider whether saying yes to a colleague who made a suggestion would help get her where she wanted to go because she was so accustomed to saying yes. The word seemed to fly out of her mouth before she had a chance to consider the pros and cons of the suggestion.