Imagine this scene: A woman of some accomplishment has been asked to chair a university alumnae panel on getting ahead in the workplace. The plane is delayed, so she arrives only 15 minutes before the panel’s start time instead of the anticipated two hours. It is nearly 3 pm, time to go on, and she is starving. She wolfs down half a wrap sandwich and takes a few swigs of beer. But she notices a big sign on the auditorium door saying no alcohol allowed. She is tossing out the nearly full beer when another alum, a man, steps forward and says, “Go ahead, take it with you.” “I can’t,” she says, betraying that even as a fully therapized adult, she can’t bring herself to disobey. “I’ll do it for you,” he offers, and with a sly smile slips the bottle into his inner coat pocket.
As she follows him up the aisle, she frets about how she will disguise the bottle onstage. (Reader, please note: This woman is worried not about flubbing the high-profile program but about breaking the rule!) On the podium, she is relieved to spy an empty water glass, into which she pours said beer. She takes special pleasure in the panel that follows because she has had a victory, albeit a tiny one. In the past she would have worried all afternoon that her contraband would be discovered and she would face disapproval.
That woman, of course, is me. And the irony is that I learned long ago that to be effective in business, you often have to challenge the way things have always been done if tradition is getting in the way of creativity and innovation.
But I still have trouble questioning authority in my personal life. I know this goes back to my authoritarian father— a doctor with a God complex—but I also know that at about age 29, the statute of limitations on blaming your parents for your problems expires.
I believe part of what holds many of us back from breaking the rules that block us from economic success or a more fulfilling relationship is a fear of relinquishing our good-girl status. I think that is also why many of us who are raising daughters complain about how “difficult” or “independent” this generation is and yet do little to stifle these girls’ natural instinct to challenge authority. Perhaps that is also why we’re fascinated by the newfound ballsiness of former good girl Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife, played by our April cover star, Julianna Margulies. Now that I’ve outed myself as a recovering good girl, I would love to hear about issues you still struggle with. Write me in the comments below.
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