Dear Debbie: Why Do I Downplay My Hard-Earned Success in Social Settings?
Q: I’ve worked hard to achieve the kind of financial success I have, yet I find myself downplaying it in social settings. What’s going on?
A: I found my financial footing as a real estate agent in Bellingham, Washington. I worked long hours but loved every minute of being the primary breadwinner for my then-husband and son. The industry was booming, but I had also found my stride—a level of confidence and self-assuredness I hadn’t known before. It’s a special type of achievement to recognize your growth and let it shine on the outside. And that’s typically also the time someone tries to snuff it out.
I walked—no, strutted—into my Certified Public Accountant’s office to prepare for tax season as close to cloud nine as I could get. That is, until he made some colorless joke about me earning the kind of income I had earned and what that said about me as a woman. I’ll spare you the details because it’s not worth repeating, but the air in the room suddenly felt stale and suffocating.
I didn’t mind that random strangers often assumed my husband was our primary earner, despite me having doubled his salary in real estate sales alone. After all, we’re not in competition with our significant others and societal assumptions are just that. But for this CPA that I had worked with for years to make an off-handed comment about the financial gains I had worked so hard and so independently for—it produced a particularly poignant type of pain and anger. I fired him.
Whether we struggle with shame around our financial gains or we allow someone else to project shame onto us, it’s a breach of trust with ourselves. That CPA could have congratulated me for my record sales years. Instead, he projected insecurity and maybe frustration. I can’t control that. I can control the circle of people I allow in my business and personal life. That includes the version of myself that I want in those circles.
I was devastated at his careless words, but can you imagine if I said them to myself? How often are we aghast at the way we hear others speak to each other, yet our own internal monologue is arguably much nastier. This can be multiplied in the financial realm. Splurged on a spa day after a month of hard work only to feel guilty and berate yourself so much you don’t even enjoy it? Downplayed your financial achievements in a group social setting because you don’t want to sound braggy?
It’s an important piece of human achievement—even further amplified for women—to build up our own nest eggs, understand how to invest, give back to our communities and know that we can fully and wholly take care of ourselves.
It starts with getting aligned with yourself and analyzing the voice in your head. If you can change the tune of your inner monologue to one of joy, support and confidence, your outer voice will match the tune. As a woman, I often felt like taking care of others was primary over myself. I gave—money, time, career choices, energy, you name it—to others at the expense of myself. Financial stability—and even financial achievement—is not a mark of shame; it’s a mark of self-love, achievement and diligence. The world deserves the gifts you have to offer. Every time you make yourself smaller, you take that gift from the world.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photos courtesy Debbie Biery
With more than 20 years of experience in the real estate industry and a certified life coach, Debbie Biery is a firm believer in the power of communication, authenticity and self-awareness. She combines that experience with a desire to serve others and empower them to be the best version of themselves by helping them embrace failure and choose each moment as an opportunity for change and growth.
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