I was raised to be an educated, polite, and respectful girl. You might have been, too. I was taught to think of others and their well-being. I consciously made an effort to treat others how I wanted to be treated. In short, I was always trying to be a good girl.
I naively thought this was the way everybody was raised. I assumed everyone would go out of their way to treat each other well. I thought we were all living in a world where we respected each other and each other’s choices. I thought being considerate towards others would mean others would be equally considerate towards me. Turns out, I was wrong.
Sure, I have come across tons of beautiful souls. I have made many connections with lovely, respectful people. It’s in these groups of people that I have found my closest friends, my most inspiring mentors, and my most wonderful clients.
On the other hand, there have been plenty of people who saw my being polite as an opportunity to test my boundaries. There have been many who saw my being kind as a sign to trample all over me. Apparently, when you’re seen as a good girl, people think they can get away with anything, because they know you’ll continue to behave like a mature, respectful adult regardless of what’s thrown in your face.
Worst of all, I found myself getting sucked into the role more and more. I tried so hard to please everybody around me. I checked in with people to make sure they were OK with the life choices I was making. I said yes to things I would never dream of doing on my own. I became an obsessive perfectionist, especially when it came to how I presented myself and what I did. Best of all, I pretended to enjoy all of this and did it with a smile on my face. Sometimes I was so deep in it that I started to mistakenly believe I did. It was terrifying and exhausting, all at once.
The good news — or the bad, if you look at it from another angle — is that I’m not just imagining this. A study by Stanford University (link is external)reported that the most desirable adjectives to describe women were compassionate, warm, cheerful, soft-spoken, and loyal — all qualities of a good good girl. On the other hand, when the same participants were asked to list desirable adjectives for men, they listed independent, assertive, dominant, and decisive. Apparently, women are most desirable when they are soft, and men when they are strong.
Research suggests this gender bias starts early in childhood. Girls are more emotionally mature and better behaved, and hence they take their parents’ “please be good” guidance on board from an earlier age. This carries on into education, where women focus on academic excellence. This then evolves to people-pleasing in the workplace, as they are trying to be perfect and avoid receiving negative feedback.
It’s time to stop this. It’s time to stop being a good girl and start being a strong girl. Here are some tips how:
1. Ask for what you want and deserve.
A study by the Harvard Business Review (link is external) showed that only 7 percent of female MBA graduates attempted to negotiate their salary with their new employers. What about the men? 57 percent of them negotiated. This is proof in the pudding that you will not get what you want and deserve if you don’t ask for it. Want to take on a new project at work? Ask for it. Want a raise or a bonus? Justify it to your boss. Want better treatment from your inconsiderate friend? Tell them.
2. Say no.
People will always ask for help. You probably do, too, as do I. There is nothing wrong with that, and nothing wrong with helping. Unless you’re exhausted. Wiped. And burned-out. You can’t say yes to everything, and you can’t help everyone. You have to put yourself, your health, and your well-being first and foremost. If you don’t, there will be nothing left of you, and then you will be able to help no one.
3. Speak up.
If somebody disrespects you, don’t ignore it. If somebody is being rude, point it out to them. If somebody tries to change you, tell them you’re happy with who you are. If you don’t speak up, nobody will hear you. If you don’t put boundaries up, people will keep pushing them. Be brave, be bold, and be loud.
4. Stand your ground.
There is nothing wrong with living your life according to your values. There is nothing wrong with making the life choices that are right for you. There is nothing wrong with you. Believe that — and stand tall with it. People often try to influence your life trajectory or give clear opinions on what they think you should do, especially if you’re a good girl. Don’t let them sway you. Thank them for their input, and tell them that you have made your decision based on what you think and feel is right.
5. Treat others how you’d like to be treated.
Transforming from a good girl to a strong girl doesn’t mean you start being rude. You will continue to be polite, considerate, and respectful — but you will no longer do so at your expense.