Last week, my client was called “cute” by a co-worker. Twice. By two different people.
Perhaps that wasn’t the c-word you were expecting, but I would argue it’s almost as bad.
Though new in her job, my client is very experienced and skilled. That’s why her new company headhunted her, after all. Nothing very “cute” about that. After some initial analysis she realized (based on all that experience and skill) that the company’s current methodology for creating client proposals wasn’t optimal. So, she added some extra tweaks to a document to make it more useful and ultimately, adoptable. Again, nothing “cute” going on here.
Her much older, male colleagues (who are at the same management level as her) however, found differently. They found her highly professional, customer focused behavior to be very “cute” indeed. They also found it both necessary and appropriate to tell her this.
Not too long ago, another client was advised by a woman she admires and considers a mentor, that she shouldn’t try to reach any higher in her career because this is as good as it gets. She should stay where she is and forget any ambitions of something bigger.
Let’s add a little context here. Both of these women are highly intelligent, dynamic and dedicated. Both have achieved a lot. And both have done it all themselves, building their careers and reputations through competence, excellence and a lot of good old-fashioned grit.
They are freaking powerful. Beautifully powerful. Flourishingly powerful.
And a lot of people find that threatening. Especially from women. And as such, these women must be contained.
Calling someone “cute” is an attempt to make her small.
Telling someone her career has peaked is an attempt to make her small.
Here’s some irony about people who try to make other people small – there’s a c-word to describe them too.
When we’re in a contractive state, we’re reactive, defensive, and judgemental. We prioritize our own certainty and significance over the truth of other people and what’s happening around us. It’s a form of self-betrayal. And it’s a terrible way to live.
Now think about your own career. Is there anyone making you small?
If there is, you have two options, both of which are valid. You can confront them and ask for an apology as client #1 did. Or you can do as client #2 and take the advice of writer Wes Moore who says, “Don’t let people who don’t matter too much, matter too much”.
Either way, try to spare some compassion for them. They’re threatened, fearful and in pain. It’s sad, really.
And then, get out there and be as big and expansive as you can.
Because that’s your job.