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Unapologetically Shining: Embracing Success and Breaking Barriers at 30

At the beginning of May, I achieved my biggest career milestone to date: becoming a partner at my firm. What made it even more exciting was the date that my partnership became official was also the day that I turned thirty. Talk about an awesome start to my fourth decade. However, one thing that I’ve always struggled with is embracing success and feeling confident sharing my accomplishments with others.

It still feels a bit foreign to me and I find myself a bit self-conscious describing myself as a partner – thanks imposter syndrome – yet when I do, I always seem to be met with encouragement. That being said, I feel extremely proud to say that I reached this milestone at the age of thirty. I don’t know what it is about turning thirty that makes it that much more special, but becoming a partner felt like a huge recognition of all of the hard work, dedication, learning, volunteering, tears, highs, lows, and everything in between, that I’ve experienced since I started my lawyering journey.

I think there’s still a small part of me that worries that I’m not old enough, wise enough, or been a lawyer long enough to have such a title. Even as I write this post, I find myself worried about talking about my experiences because I feel like there’s a fine line between feeling pride in one’s accomplishments and bragging about one’s accomplishments; and it’s a line that I have a hard time walking because I never want to come across as braggadocious – thanks social anxiety and societal norms.

Why do I have such difficulty sharing my successes? That’s a fantastic question that I don’t quite have an answer for, but I feel like its a phenomenon that a lot of women experience. I think that this arises in part because there is such a double standard when it comes to behaviours exhibited by women and behaviours exhibited by men. We’ve probably all heard it but when a man takes charge and directs the group he’s seen as a leader and confident; and when a woman takes charge and directs the group, she’s seen as bossy and abrasive. As a result, I think women tend to keep their accomplishments to themselves and tend to take a quieter approach, which ends up looking like the personification of the quote “work hard in silence, let success make the noise”.

For years women have been expected to be modest and not to talk about our accomplishments. For many women, self-promotion is extremely uncomfortable and can feel distasteful. This also makes it difficult for women to accept compliments and we have a tendency to downplay the compliment when it’s received, instead of just taking the compliment at face value.

Another reason? Women who are assertive, tough, and self-confident typically have a more difficult time garnering respect in the workplace and successful women are considered less likable. For people pleasers, such as myself, being liked and minimizing conflict are cornerstones of the people pleasers handbook – two things that I am still trying to work through myself.

Additionally, I think that women also spend more time considering the feelings of others and as a result, we don’t share our achievements because we don’t want to make others feel less than. Women are also alive to the idea that being successful can put a strain on relationships because whether we want to admit it or not, it can be really difficult to be surrounded by someone who is achieving success in their professional and personal life, especially if you don’t feel like you’re achieving as much as you might want to.

Putting all of those things together, it can feel really daunting to express and feel pride in your accomplishments. When I reflect on all of the things that I’ve done in the last thirty years, I can allow myself to feel pride, but it’s almost as if I have a time limit on the feeling. For instance, the day I found out that I was being offered partnership, I was absolutely giddy and full of pride for the rest of the day. I enjoyed the moment and then I felt myself pulling back on the excitement, almost subconsciously forcing myself to return to “normal”, not allowing myself to bask in the glow for too long. I don’t know why I’m like this, but I can certainly identify it when it’s happening; though I’m not able to do anything to stop it, yet.

It’s funny because when I reflect on where I am at currently, the life that I’m living was my dream life that I imagined as a high-school kid being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was a life that I didn’t think was attainable for me but yet, here I am. Over those thirty years, I’ve also spent a lot of time downplaying my accomplishments and not sharing them for all of the reasons I just mentioned. As a child, I was taught not to be a “sore winner” as much as I was taught not to be a “sore loser”. A “sore winner” was someone who gloated about their win, especially if they did it in front of the losing team or person.

Even when I write posts for The Scheffette, I always read them aloud to my husband Mark to ensure that I’m not coming across in an unintended way and even this post, I’ve read it to him because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t coming across as braggadocious – which I suppose is hypocritical but here we are. As I grow as a person, professional, and a partner I suspect this will get easier, but for now I am taking it one step at a time.

In reaching the milestone of becoming a partner at the age of 30, I’ve learned valuable lessons about overcoming self-doubt, navigating societal expectations, and embracing personal accomplishments. It hasn’t always been easy to share my achievements or fully bask in the pride they bring, but I’ve come to realize the importance of owning my success and celebrating the hard work and dedication that got me here. I refuse to let imposter syndrome or societal norms hold me back from expressing genuine pride in my achievements. By sharing my journey, struggles, and triumphs, I hope to inspire other young professionals to embrace their own accomplishments and confidently pursue their goals. Here’s to embracing success, breaking barriers, and paving the way for a future where women can unapologetically shine.

About the Author

Charlene Scheffelmair is a partner with Davidson & Williams LLP in Lethbridge, Alberta. She practices primarily in the areas of corporate and commercial law; residential and commercial real estate; estate administration and planning; and foreclosures.

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