I’ve been thinking a lot about what we learn in school – not the facts we memorize, but the message we absorb about what will earn us gold stars, what will bring success.

In school we are taught to please the teacher, but to do anything significant as adults we have to be comfortable with pleasing some audiences and drawing criticism from others.

In school you are taught to absorb a lot of new information, but to play big in your career you have to trust what you already know.

In school you are taught to perfect your work as much as possible, but to play big in your career you have to put things out in the world that are messy and very imperfect – to beat the competition, to get going, and to get the feedback to improve.

A lot of women get stuck bringing the “good girl” skills they used to succeed in school into their work lives. But the things that helped us get such good grades in school don’t take us to the top in our careers.

Is this playing out in your career?

Are you still assuming your job is to please every teacher-like authority figure around? Let me free you up: the truth is that now, some of them being threatened by you, and some not getting what you are up to, is actually a sign of you doing great work.

Are you still thinking that the way to ensure success is to research that new idea to death (or keep your mouth shut until you know more about it)? Or are you recognizing that success now comes from trusting what you already know, and leaping based on that?

Are you still trying to perfect your work as much as possible before sharing it – just as you diligently checked your work and revised and revised before handing in an assignment in school? The rules have changed. Now it is essential to get comfortable sharing imperfect, messy, in progress work – to brainstorm with colleagues, to be the first to propose it to your boss, or test it early on with potential customers.

What I keep seeing again and again is us good girls aren’t being so well-served by the diligence, obedience, and carefulness we learned in school. Blazing a bright trail in our careers – moving from “good worker bee” to “mover and shaker,” requires an entirely different set of muscles, skills, and ways of being than the ones we learned to get so good at in school.

To create trail-blazing careers, we need new skills in self-trust, risk-taking, leaping.

I’d love to know. Have you noticed that what worked so well for succeeding in school doesn’t take you where you want to go now?

Have you made the shift, or are you bringing your old ways of playing to the new game? If not, will you give your voice the glory it deserves and make the shift now?

What do you think? Tell me in the comments.



Join the discussion 27 Comments

  • Big yes from this camp, Tara, and your Playing Big program has been an important part of that switch for me (though I expect I’ll be working on this stuff for years to come…)

    The most profound epiphany I’ve had this year is the crystal clear realization that what I bring to the table just be being my fullest, most authentic self, is hugely valuable all on its own.

    Knowing that, everything else falls into place.

  • Lindsey says:

    Absolutely not yet, I haven’t … it’s something I understand more as the days pass, the ways that my need to please and perform holds me back, limits me – but I’m not quite at the point of switching away from it. I’m trying! xox

  • Nic says:

    Hi Tara,
    Out of curiousity, would you not agree that even as we go about our schooling lives, we can also learn to ‘play it big’ trying out novel ideasin our assignments, and not necessarily sticking to the whole ‘pleasing the teacher’ act? I’m 18, and have been reading your blog/ poems for about a year now, and they’ve been terribly liberating. Finally, I speak without the all-consuming fear of disapproval and have learnt that the emotive/unconstructive bits of critique just reflects the person’s state and not mine! 🙂


  • Nic says:

    But, I would agree. Knowing now, that my compulsion to being known universally as nice, is not how I want to dictate my life. I want so badly to come from unadulterated compassion because I have borne witness to how it is life-giving!

  • I’m starting to learn (and own) this more each day. I was such a people-pleaser, only A+ type of student, but I’m finding confidence in pushing back against authority and defining success on my own terms (not climbing the corporate ladder). Thanks for the great reminder- I shared it with my group of friends!

  • Deborah says:

    This was a wonderful post. I’m going to start telling myself that having uneasy co workers isn’t a bad thing. When I write, I am aware that perfection can be a hinderence, but I didn’t make the connection with work.

    These are things I had not even though of changing. I still follow the playground rules, but now I can see what I can change. The best part? These are much more fun then the old ones.

  • Bonnie says:

    Hi Tara, I enjoy and am grateful for reading your empowering words for women, but I bristle at your use of the words “beating the competition”. I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole concept of competition lately and find I am more in line with Melissa’s comment above -that the concern is not with competition, but being your most authentic self and voice, which allows naturally all else to fall into place. Frankly, I’d like to bust through the whole notion of competition, I think that word is ‘old school’. Isn’t it really more of a mind-construct than a factual actuality? However we are sharing in the world, be it a product, a service or simply our own life, if we are allowing our own unique flavor to shine, there can be no competition in that. What likes and chooses our flavor will naturally find us, and what doesn’t, we don’t have to waste our time trying to work with something that doesn’t fit anyway. I think the belief that there is competition in that way causes a lot of the unnatural and unnecessary fear anxiety.

  • Kirsty says:

    I’ve learnt that there’s great fulfillment in really owning your ideas and resisting the temptation to tailor them for the sake of immediate acceptance or praise; don’t self sabotage your accomplishments before you’ve even started…

  • Lesley says:

    I agree that the “good girl” syndrome can be a real problem for me- but less and less as I get older. What i’ve been noticing lately is the annoying awareness that many of my male colleagues – especially doctors – never seem to do what I think of as the “real work” to move a project forward. I’m the one who makes sure the follow up meeting actually gets scheduled and happens. I’m the one who writes the ideas we talked about into a usable document. They don’t seem to “close the loop.” I am having trouble figuring out if this is an artifact of “good girlism” – if I am enabling, etc. or if this is a key component of my success that I would be ill-advised to drop…

  • Gwendolyn says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes, this resonates. To quote something I wrote yesterday ( book in progress), “I did all the right things and all I got was tired, then depressed and them sick.” What a burden it is to be all thing to all people. Oprah asked Depok Chopra (on last Super Soul Sunday’s interview) for his greatest teacher now and he said, “It is now the stillness within me that teaches me the most.” WHOOAAHH! Thanks Tara…for playing in the reality of what is really going on with us “good girls”.

  • Gwyn says:

    Interesting. I have always been a non-conformist so I would say yes, I have made the switch, but upon thinking harder that voice of playing by the “rules” still niggles at me. Even a whisper can be enough to hold you back it seems. I will have to pay closer attention to that.


  • Diana says:

    YES!!! It took me way too many years to figure this one out. For me, it’s not only about wanting it to be perfect before it sees the light of day, but also, I needed to feel I deserved to do something that I loved so much… Subverting our dreams and desires… Thanks for the reminder that sometimes you just have to “do it”.

  • Dorrie says:

    Wonderful discussion!
    HAving had my own practice/business..and returning to a job setting..It never ceases to amaze me how my authenticity..openness..makes others uncomfortable.(guess I thought the world had changed a bit!)
    While I wouldn’t think of “dimming down”.(smile).I believe we all need supports..this transition from being the lone ranger(doing a biz around more masculine driven values..old school) to engaging everywhere I go authentically requires each of us to have a support group that can sing an “alleluia chorus “for us..I haven’t found that group yet..but am loving this dialogue.

  • Anke says:

    THANK YOU!!! I just had the biggest AHA moment of my life!!!

  • April says:

    It is so difficult to make the switch because those that have known you all your life don’t understand your knew persona and say things like, “You aren’t nice anymore.” “You’ve changed.” “You are not my daughter.” “You are not the person I married.” Yet, as I move up to be a player, my coworkers still see me as someone that is not ready to lead because I don’t want to upset anyone. I am in a conundrum.

  • Wow. I can’t tell you how profoundly this hits me today. I was a very good school girl and now I see how that old set of standards has created this overwhelming need to be accepted/praised/given a good grade. Yet, as a writer and artist, I’ve had to take the leaps and risks. And when I met people who were threatened by me and didn’t get my work, I figured it was that my work was not ‘good enough’. Feeling that way, I could never figure out why they were threatened by me.

    Now, I see.

    And my next step…self trust. Thank you!

  • Annie Dye says:

    Really aware of the switch. For example, I prepare an email saying really what I want to say, then I ponder and decide whether to send it or not. Have NEVER regretted sending that email or speaking up in a meeting. I do regret the energy I spend on hesitating! I decided when my daughter was baby that I would never use “good girl” in any way with her, and this has served me well, too. Find other ways to give women and girls positive feedback for their own authentic expression. I find (in general) men appreciate the open dialogue, some women seem threatened by my taking initiative on things.

  • LASHPAL says:

    Thank you so much. Really I was playing old ways of school and now work on what I already know and share in the world.

  • Lisa says:

    This post really hit home for me! I am one of those people that is researching everything to death before I put my designs out there. I am afraid that I don’t know enough, it won’t be perfect. Thank you so much! Maybe I am ready to share my voice and talent with the world.

  • Yes. I have made the switch… although it’s an ongoing choice to face my fears in an effort to create change. I’m glad we’re all in this together and that we have people like Tara to encourage us to quiet our minds and listen to our hearts (they often know best).

  • […] painted with the colours of my fears […]

  • JC says:

    After I read this, I realized that the times I feel most energized and challenged and excited about my work is when I do abandon that “good girl, get the A” way of being and when I go full-force with playing big–putting my ideas out there first, thinking out loud, driving new discussions and pushing on new doors. It’s easier to do in my line of work, since I’ve been at it for 10+ years and feel like I’ve got that encyclopedic knowledge under my belt, than it is to do in newer (to me) ventures, like my creative practice or new groups I’ve joined. Working on that, though!

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  • Chenea says:

    I have to say I wasn’t the good girl at school and I got burnt. School wasn’t the place for being the go getter or having new ideas. Now I live in fears of taking the road less travelled. I definitely agree its the way, I’m definitely a lot less happy than I was as a teenager but the retribution also made it tough. Keeping peace, having security…hard habits to break. Thanks for your sage advice as always x

  • Kenyetta says:

    Ok, this must be the Universe trying to tell me something! I had a dream about this topic,and from Stephanie Levy’s e-course linked to your interview with Jillian Michaels. I then decided to check out your blog…and voila! This topic…that I dreamed about…was right here! I am not very woo woo,but I am paying attention! I totally agree,as a former teacher/ literacy coach…the success achieved by playing the “school game” is not the same in the real-world. More awareness should be brought to the conditioning being done to brilliant girls. Thanks for writing about this issue!

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