“Own It” by Julie Payne-Kirchmeier

Recently at a conference, I was approached by one of my mentees. She asked me to have coffee one morning during the conference, something that my Starbucks gold card status will tell you I am MORE than happy to do on a regular basis. As we sat down to our respective overpriced (and in my opinion underappreciated) espresso drinks of choice, my talented mentee uttered these words,

“I just want you to know that I would never be where I am today if it hadn’t been for you. You made all this possible – you changed my life.”

Now on the surface, this was touching. I know her well enough to know she was attempting to convey a deep appreciation for the years we have known each other, and for the many conversations of support and encouragement we have had via email, social media, and at various conferences and meetings throughout the years. And at first, that’s just how I took it. But the more I thought about it, the more sad I became.

Let me explain.

I am not sad for my connection with this younger professional, for she has enriched my own development and she is a wonderful colleague. Nor am I sad that she took the initiative to let me know what she was feeling. It takes courage to thank someone – it’s hard, and we oftentimes fumble through it. More often than not, we simply neglect or forget to do it, so I appreciate that she took the initiative to express her own thanks. What made me sad was that with her choice of words, she gave all the credit to me – and none to herself.

Read her words again:

“I just want you to know that I would never be where I am today if it hadn’t been for you. You made all this possible – you changed my life.”

When I read these words, I see someone who has devalued her role in her own success. As she has advanced in her career and her professional association of choice, the words she used did nothing to acknowledge and celebrate what SHE has done, the work SHE has put in, or the achievements SHE has made. By not claiming ownership of her success – she devalued herself.

I know what the research says. Women are socialized to place relationships above self-interest –  to be includers and peacemakers.  Therefore, we are quick to give credit to others before we take any credit ourselves. We are the first to say, “It was a team effort”, “I couldn’t have done this without you” and “All of us are better than one of us.” Sometimes these statements are true – no one succeeds in a total vacuum – but we cannot continue to deflect our achievements because we are (as research also points out) afraid of upsetting others who have not achieved what we have achieved. All this does is devalue our unique talents and contributions, and in turn, continues a cycle in which women do not feel individually worthy of credit, success and achievement. In short, we make ourselves feel less-than in order to make others feel better.

So what does this mean? Does it mean that we shouldn’t acknowledge the support that others give us? Should we completely disavow the contributions others make in our lives and our careers? Absolutely not. What I’m saying is that you have to balance your gratitude with owning your success.  What I desperately wanted my mentee to understand and own is that SHE did this. SHE paved her way. SHE did the heavy lifting and SHE is the one who deserves full credit for her achievements, awards, positions, scholarships, publications, etc. I know we don’t “do it alone” but others don’t do it for us. We are present in every one of our successes – so why don’t we own it?

Let’s take the statement from my mentee again, but this time, rephrase it in a way that doesn’t devalue her own role in her achievement:

“Thank you so much for the support you’ve provided me over these few years. I’m proud of my accomplishments and so appreciate the role you have played in my successful development as a professional.”

This statement acknowledges and appreciates my role as mentor, but clearly identifies both the success and accomplishment as HERS.

Ladies, it’s time to own what we’ve accomplished. Remember this – when it comes down to it you are responsible for you. Give credit when it is appropriate, but acknowledge and take credit for your own success. YOU did this. Enjoy it. Own it. Make it YOUR time – and don’t apologize for any of it.

I know this will be hard. But when it gets hard, remember these words:

“Our power lies in claiming it, and acting accordingly.” – Helene Lerner

Claiming that power means owning your success. So do it, and encourage other women to do the same. We’ll all be better off for it.

Now, who’s with me?



Filed under Career Advancement, general, mentor, women

44 responses to ““Own It” by Julie Payne-Kirchmeier

  1. jenesha

    Yes. Perfectly said. Great job, my friend.

  2. Candace Dennig

    Very powerful!

  3. Wonderfully written and such a timely message. Thank you.

  4. “n short, we make ourselves feel less-than in order to make others feel better.”
    I can admit to this and I’m really glad that you wrote about owning it. Thanks for the blog post!

  5. JPK, I so appreciate this post as I recognize that I sometimes do this, too. 🙂 I think it is a tricky balancing act of expressing gratitude (which is important to me) and owning your own accomplishments. Thanks for starting the conversation and (of course!) I’m “in!”

  6. Lee Karraker

    Great message. Definitely reminds me that I got to where I am because of my own accomplishments with the help of others. Thanks!

  7. Ana M. Rossetti

    Thank you for this thoughtful reflection, Julie. How lucky your mentee is to have you in her corner! I hope those who serve as mentors reflect on your example of what it is to support others to reach their full potential without ego. You truly are modeling what it is to be a person for others!

  8. Julia Roberts

    I’m in… although- since I also find myself doing this- it may be easier said than done. How do you think we can help instill this in those we work with– aside from calling them out (in a good way) when they don’t own up to their awesome-ness?

    OH! And this line, “In short, we make ourselves feel less-than in order to make others feel better.” It makes me feel like these actions are direct opposite of bullying (making others feel less, so that the bully can feel more)… And yet, “owning it” and “bullying” are not two sides of the same coin, but we turn it into that by going to the extreme when we don’t “own our part in our success.”

    • Fabulous insight, Julia! I hadn’t considered the connection between “owning it” and “bullying” – and by not doing one (owning it) we enable the other (bullying). You’ve given me pause for thought, so thank you!

      In response to your first question – I think other than calling it out, we can help by both role modeling appropriate behavior AND by helping to create a culture in our work and home environments where everyone feels okay with sharing their achievements and taking pride in them.

      • Julia Roberts

        I’m now really mulling this by not owning it- leading to internalizing/enabling bullying… hmm… 🙂 And thanks for the advice on how to make an impact on this for others. I think my end of semester celebration with student staff will ask them all to shine a light on their own achievements! 🙂

  9. Julie, I’m absolutely in. I’m always careful to make sure that I let students know that they are responsible for their success, and I serve as an aid and a support. But I’m not always careful to make sure I do the same for my own triumphs.
    Thanks for helping me think about it! And happy Wednesday 🙂

  10. I’ll be honest- I’m with you, but it is a great challenge for me. I am not the one who wants to jump in the spot light and say “wow, I’m awesome!” – instead, I like to make sure those around me get the credit for what WE have done together.

    Thanks for challenging me on this one JPK 🙂

  11. I can appreciate your sentiment, but you may be reading a little too much into her statement. I instantly thought back to Emmitt Smith’s speech when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

    “Daryl (Johnston), you mean the world to me. Not just because we shared the same backfield, but because you sacrificed so much for me. People don‘t understand what it took to be a fullback in our system – the sacrifices you made not just with your body, but your whole spirit. You took care of me as though you were taking care of your little brother. Without you, I know today would not have been possible.”

    Was Emmitt minimizing his records or his abilities? Not at all. Was he making himself feel less to make Daryl feel better? Hardly. Emmitt Smith did the heavy lifting (18,355 yds), but benefited greatly from a teammate who gave him a “leg up” – and he was quick to acknowledge his friend’s role in his time of glory. Giving credit to someone who knocks down a wall so you can walk through the hole is not weak or minimizing your effort to walk through the hole – but it is giving credit where credit is due. It goes without saying when receiving a complement like you received that the person did their share of the work – if they thought less of themselves, they wouldn’t have accomplished what they did.

    • Thanks Joe for the perspective (for those who don’t know him – this is why I love Joe Fix – he always provides me with a different way of seeing these issues – outside of our higher ed/student affairs perspective). I will, however, have to respectfully disagree. Emmitt Smith’s statement (and thank you, by the way, for using a fabulous member of the Dallas Cowboys as your example!) doesn’t diminish his involvement – he is acknowledging Daryl’s support. My mentee actually gave me all the credit with her words. I doubt it was intentional on her part – but the words exemplify an underlying tendency of women to devalue our role in a success, downplay our achievements, and mask it as gratitude for others.

      A great resource for this type of phenomenon is the book “Women Don’t Ask” by Sara Laschever and Linda Babcock. It really goes into detail about some of these issues.

      Thanks again for sharing, Joe. I always appreciate your willingness to present your point of view!

  12. Kate Kinsella

    Fabulous post Julie – thank you. I once received feedback from a job interview that they got a good sense of what I had done, accomplished and achieved, and how I would apply that to the role, BUT they felt that it focused too much on me. It’s moments like this that make it difficult to own our achievements. When you’re told to hold back, it makes you cautious to openly reveal your successes again. I must note that this feedback came from another woman.

    Thank you for the reminder to OWN our success.

    • That’s always a difficult situation, Kate. How much “owning it” is too much – and who decides what “too much” is? There is research that shows women experience negative consequences when they begin to act in a more assertive and confident manner (again, I refer to “Women Don’t Ask” by Laschever and Babcock). However, I do believe that you can balance the approach and by doing so, still claim your success. The more we do this, the more accommodating the environment will become for women to take their own place and own their achievements publicly! Keep it up!

  13. Kelley

    What a powerful post. Giving thanks is something that comes naturally for me, however I never thought about how i gave thanks until your post. I’ve always thanked everyone else for helping get where I am today but rarely give myself the credit. My mentors have provided me with the tools and a space to process in but I am the one who has paved the way. Thank you for sharing this story with us. From now on I’m “owning it.”

  14. @E_Nunn

    Great post, Julie. Thank you for sharing. I added another post it to my computer to remind me of this daily. It simply states, “Own it.”

  15. I grew up in a family that promotes community over individualism and value self-effacing attitude as an act of humility. Early on in my career, I’d go to interviews using “we did this” never using the word “I” even though I actually was the one who did what I was describing. I remember the interviewers asking me “So what exactly did you do?” and “What role did you play in this project?”. I realized at that point that as uncomfortable as I was claiming my accomplishments, I had to. Great post Julie!

  16. laurie berry

    This post will have me thinking for some time. Lots of points to ponder. Thanks for challenging us to rethink the way we phrase compliments like this to place the proper emphasis on us and the person who helped us along the way.

  17. Julie… fantastic! I honestly do think that I do well in “owning it” when it comes to my accomplishments (and maybe sometimes I’m better than at other times… ;)), but do see and feel the looks that I sometimes receive when I take credit for my own development and successes. I whole-heartedly agree that it’s a fine balance between allowing ourselves the credit and not being too boastful, but let’s be honest… sometimes, if we don’t toot our own horn, who will? I appreciate that you posted this because it “validates” what I’m already doing, which I think is extremely important, not just to me as a woman in the profession, but also as a supervisor!

    I’m 100% IN… and I’m ready to bring my team (especially the women) along! 🙂 Thanks for your post, Julie!

  18. Beth

    This made me think about how often I have done this and how often I have heard others do it.
    Just WOW!

  19. Thank you Julie-well said! We all need to be generous with our appreciation and take pride in our accomplishments…everyday.

  20. Mary McWilliams

    As a teacher, I think it is important to look at these incites from the perspective of teacher and student. Teacher is defined as some who teaches or “imparts kowledge or skill to somebody by instruction” (from Encarta Dictionary). I find this interesting, as I often hear my students say that so and so taught them nothing, or that teacher is great, they taught me a lot. The reality is that a teacher helps students to learn knowledge and skills, but an unwilling student will learn little. A willing student, even with a poor teacher, will find a way to learn.

  21. Ciji Ann

    Julie, this was an amazing and thought provoking post. Thank you for writing & sharing. I had a conversation with Teri Bump and in that conversation I said, “I was really fortunate to have that opportunity.” She gently replied by saying that I worked really hard for the opportunity, and essentially, fortune had nothing to do with it. I marveled over her statement and gained a new perspective and value for the balance between thanking others for their support & encouragement and an acknowledgement of my own success & accomplishments. Thank you for putting this powerful message out there for all of us.

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