Dr. Susan Schenkel

Giving Away Success: Why Women Get Stuck And What To Do About It

Excerpt from Chapter 6


Limited Commitment


Carol was working in an impossible situation. Stunned, lonely, and vulnerable after the sudden accidental death of her lover, Carol had an affair with her boss. The affair had run its course and was winding down. Meanwhile, she had gradually assumed more and more responsibility in her job, although her salary and title remained unchanged. This growth inspired the desire for more advancement. But Carol knew that she had reached a dead end. Her once supportive boss had become vindictive. He now alternated between being mildly seductive and subtly abusive. It was driving her crazy. She knew she had to leave. Unfortunately, her self-confidence hadnít increased along with her responsibility. In fact, the lack of recognition and the barrage of abuse raised endless doubts. How could she leave? What else could she possibly do? Who would want her? She thought about resumes, phone calls, hunting for leads, interviews, and her blood ran cold. The task seemed too much for her. She couldnít commit herself to taking on such an overwhelming challenge. Carol was stuck.

Carol was stumbling over one of the first roadblocks on the path to achievement--the idea that one must make a ďtotal commitmentĒ to a particular goal or course of action before taking even one step. Carol imagined that she must be prepared to do it all or not at all.

It isnít surprising that some of us get stuck on the notion of total commitment. Itís a central theme in the propaganda used to keep women out of the work force. Women arenít entitled to work or to get top jobs because women donít make a total commitment to their work. While men sell their souls, women simply pass time. They rush off to get married and have children. Money invested in their training gets wasted. Employers are left holding the bag. ďLadies, stay home where you belong,Ē has been the message. No wonder some of us think that we must make a total commitment before we do anything at all.

While feeling pressured to make total commitments, women often find it difficult to do so. Total commitments demand a reasonable expectation of success. When we lack confidence, total commitments seem absurd as well as impossible. Failure seems guaranteed. Feeling incapable of doing it all, we do nothing.

But it isnít necessary to make a total commitment. Frequently itís impossible to do so because we canít fully appreciate what we are undertaking. Often, at the beginning, we simply donít have enough experience or information. Total commitment is the outcome of a lengthy process. It grows through action. Total commitment is the final stretch, not the starting line.

When thinking total commitment, we tend to forget that we donít do things in one fell swoop. We achieve goals through a series of small steps. Each has the potential for providing knowledge about our project and about ourselves. Each creates the opportunity to evaluate, to decide whether to stop or go on.

Every step, even seemingly small ones, can change us. With each, we can modify our vision of what is possible. We see things we didnít see before. We get a clearer picture of our goals and the suitability of our plans. We develop new ideas and reject old ones. Perspective changes, and as it changes, so does our ability to make commitments. Step five looks very different from step four than it did before step one. What was inconceivable yesterday becomes remotely possible today and may be ďdoableĒ tomorrow.

Commitment usually proceeds in stages. Although we may not pay much attention to the process, we are aware of the critical points at which we question or evaluate our commitments. I recall being acutely aware of making a commitment to writing this book when I invested twenty dollars in typing paper. I wondered what I was going to do with five hundred sheets of erasable bond and half a dozen scratch pads. Was I really going to write a book? Was I wasting my twenty dollars?

Critical points occur when we have to invest more time, more energy, or more money in our project, or when we feel discouraged or are forced to confront fears. Then we start wondering and talking to ourselves. Having come this far, do I want to continue? Is it worth it? Do I really want this? However we phrase it, itís through these periodic struggles that commitment grows.

Our initial commitment can be limited: a pledge to try, to begin, to take a few first steps. No more, no less. We do need an ultimate goal, but only as a guide for current activities, not as an immediate target.

Consider Carol. She was too overwhelmed to make a major commitment to changing jobs. Fortunately, she doesnít need to. She need make only a small commitment to begin the process. She might begin by deciding to review her resume. If she can get through that, she can then decide about taking the next step.

In fact, Carol did begin by reviewing her resume. She gave thought to all she had done since her last resume. She wrote down her accomplishments, her strengths, her weaknesses, her likes, and her dislikes. After several weeks, she came up with the idea that she liked management. She followed up this idea by reading and networking and then made another limited commitment. She decided to investigate the MBA programs in her area. After several weeks of research, she found there was only one program that interested her. She decided to apply to that one school and made no commitment beyond that. She wasnít ready to make contingency plans in case she wasnít accepted to the program.

These steps were enough to make Carol feel better. Her boss was still difficult, but it didnít bother her as much. One foot was already out the door. She knew that she had a direction and that, when the time came, she would be able to move. Carol was unstuck.

Limited commitments take the pressure off. We need commit ourselves only to whatever we can do right now. The important thing is to find something we can do and to make a commitment to doing it.

Selected Works

Psychology Self-Help
Giving Away Success: Why Women Get Stuck And What To Do About It
" ...the book is clear, well written, sensible, and, in fact, a little gem."
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