It’s my fault. It’s all because of me.

Imposter Syndrome background on failure

It’s my fault. It’s all because of me.

thumbs-up-downIf you caused something crummy to happen, are you quick to own up to it? Do you quickly take responsibility for a failure?

What if you caused something terrific to happen? Are you as quick to own up to that?

In the book “Secret Thoughts of Successful Women”, author Valerie Young writes about how women react when they are complimented or congratulated for achieving or accomplishing something. They often will credit external circumstances for the success. “Oh, I was only hired because I was in the right place at the right time.” Or “My uncle knows the manager over there and put in the good word for me.”

They assume that outside factors not only contribute to the success, but they cause it. There are 4 external factors that most frequently appear in their rationale: luck, timing, connections and personality. (I’d add a 5th: appearance.)

“I guess I was just lucky.”

“The timing was right, I guess.”

“It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

“I made her laugh and she liked me.”

“I’m glad I wore that black suit. It’s my power suit.”

These outside factors are simply factors. They are not sole causes for success. It’s ludicrous to think that your success or failure is dependent on something so capricious as luck, or whether you happened to be in the right place at the right time, or if you wore the right color suit. Certainly, there is an element of unpredictability and un-controlability in all situations, but to discount YOUR skills, YOUR competence, YOUR internal abilities in favor of external factors is so disrespectful to your dignity and disarming to your power. For goodness sakes! You did the work. Take ownership of it.

(And yes, I realize un-controllability is not a real word. But it works here. You get my drift.)

What’s interesting is what happens on the flip side. As much as many women will externalize their success, they will internalize their failure. In other words, when things go well, it’s not theirs to own. When things go bad, it’s all their own. “It’s my fault. It’s all because of me.”

A friend of mine was recently let go from her job. It was purely a financial decision by the organization, and was in no way related to her performance. Not one bit. Yet, she still struggled with being let go. (Who wouldn’t?)  She ruminated in her mind over every past conversation with her boss, every missed detail on every project, every tiny corner she cut in some task. She beat herself up, thinking that the layoff was her own fault. Her mind was a swirling twirling whirlwind of negative thinking. She had to work very hard to talk herself out of spiraling down this path of despair.

What if we were to reverse the pattern? Instead of externalizing the good and internalizing the bad, what if we internalized the good and externalized the bad? What if we owned our success, and disowned the “failure”? What if we acknowledged the achievement and embraced the significant contributions we made with our skills and talent? What if we stepped away from the bad outcomes, looked at them with objective distance and said “The circumstances are not in my favor. My work is good. My person-hood is valuable. I will flourish, in spite of the circumstances around me.”

Even if the bad situation was directly caused by something you did, why not see it as a chance to learn and grow? Instead of saying “I am a failure!” say “What I did failed.” Disengage yourself from the failure to the extent that it doesn’t define you. Take back your personal power. I can’t remember where I read it, but I love the phrase:

Failure is an event, not a person.

Remember that the next time you are tempted to internalize a failure and own a situation that turned out less than desirable. It’s not your fault. Similarly, the next time you are successful at something, own it. Enjoy it. Embrace it. After all, it IS because of you.


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