For Women, Do Challenges Rule And Usefulness Win?

Cathy Caprino, a career and executive coach doing research on “Women Succeeding Abundantly,”  has run into a little problem collecting data. It seems women aren’t coming clean on their successes.  They’d rather talk about their worst challenges, which they did for her book “Breakdown, Breakthrough.”

Cathy offers up a lot of reasons for women’s reticence on success.  Most centering on society, and in turn women, not deeming it acceptable for women to appear successful.

And since Cathy asks in her Huffington Post article “Women and Success” for others to chime in on women’s success dilemma, I thought I would posit my own explanation.

Could it be that “success” isn’t really a term by which women define themselves? Not because of societal forces or internal fears, but because it doesn’t fit well as a definition for how we feel?  Success is a comparative measure of a person’s outward level of achievement and it is more useful in the business or sports world of men’s life than the daily existence of a women’s life.  In a man’s world, to succeed comes with the completion of an event where you keep score and count results at the end.

But do most women actually see the world around them in terms of keeping score?  Or do we see and live in a world where “challenges” rule our lives and “usefulness” wins the day?  And do we, as the givers of life, count our completions?  Or do we measure our progress and others on a continuum of life?

Maybe the average woman doesn’t identify her own successes in terms of crowning achievements.  But maybe it isn’t such a bad thing either.

“Women’s work is never done” isn’t just the lament of generations of women, it is also a reflection of the reality of our lives and our perspective on life.  As long as we have life, we seem to think there are more things to do.

How else do you explain the overwhelming number of women who, after raising their kids and/or completing a career, go into their “middle-aged” and even “golden years” committing themselves to new careers, ventures, or volunteerism while men at the same age dedicate themselves to golf.  And if women see life as a work in progress, wouldn’t it make sense that we also view ourselves as a work in progress and our “success” on a continuum?

When I think of the women I admire and would like to emulate, I don’t think of them in terms of “successes” and “achievements” though many of the reasons I admire them would probably be listed under those categories on their resume.  I admire them for their level of:

Personal Accomplishments – Of useful knowledge gained and challenges overcome. Rarely grand or showy in nature, but always useful in making life better.

Personal Satisfaction –  Of feeling useful and  sharing accomplishments.

Personal Happiness – Of rejoicing over the gifts in life.

“Success”  and  failure are two sides to the same coin.   Only in a game does something end permanently with clearly defined outcomes and no carry over.  Life exists in a trial and error world, where some things may work better than others but either way the result becomes a part of your world going forward.  You don’t get to hit the reset button.  Yes, mistakes are a key feature of the process. They are our gifts.  They are chance to learn and grow; they are opportunities for further accomplishment; and they are pathways to new horizons.

So here is my hypothesis on why women would rather talk about their worst challenges then their crowning “successes”:

Those “challenges” recounted to Cathy Caprino with such honesty and emotion are how those women see their “successes” –-  those challenges are the proud accomplishments by which they measure their progress and the usefulness with which they want to be recognized by and remembered for.

I know I would, if I were them.



  1. What a great post! You may not agree with this statement but here goes. On my tombstone, I’m hoping they can put, “She was a wonderful mother, grandmother and friend.”

    But, that will not be decided until the day I die. This will always keep me reaching to be the best person I can possibly be. I would not want, “She was a success,” on there.


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