How DOES She Do It? A Guide to being High-Achieving AF

There she is. Oh, you know who she is. Her, over there. The glamorous, sharp, well-dressed, accomplished woman. She is powerful, she is gracious, she is humble. Commands the room simply by stepping into it.

That same woman, when complimented, waves her hand. Says she is just fortunate. That her successes aren’t hers. That she merely had them handed to her. And after she discredits herself entirely, people nod and smile. At award ceremonies, people applaud.

They love this clearly accomplished, beautiful, amazing individual in front of them, but they love that she diminishes herself right before their very eyes even more.

"How does she do it?" They all ask as if her hustle was just handed to her. They all ask because that's what they've been told and that's what they want to believe.

We all know that woman. We all know those people. Perhaps you are both, or you are neither. I’ve been that woman, and I’ve been those people. I’m ashamed of both instances.

This social phenomenon is a cocktail of imposter syndrome and internalized misogyny and shame and emphasized femininity in one perfect storm. It makes me nauseous, it makes me angry, it makes me exhausted. And what shakes me most is that I am a perpetrator of this disease, as well as its victim.

I realized this was a problem (that I had a problem) upon reading Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. In this profound auto-biography, Rhimes explores this confidence epidemic in the chapter ‘Yes, Thank You.’ What she realized is that every woman around her, including herself, shrunk themselves under the weight of praise. That they couldn’t take a compliment. That she couldn’t, wouldn’t, take pride in her work. What is absolutely baffling is that these women cast themselves as background characters in their own success stories. Why?

On one hand, people (namely women) have been taught to shy away from taking pride in themselves and their work. On the other hand, audiences far and wide believe that success is absolutely intangible without a unique set of circumstances. We've all done it. We tell ourselves that we aren't naturally smart enough to be able to achieve as much as another person, or that we have only been into a hobby for a couple of years unlike those who have been doing it since they became potty-trained. What's puzzling is that deep down we know that's not true. The people who earn recognition know of their sleepless nights. The number of days they consecutively worked. The amount of concealer used to cover eye bags. The amount of caffeine intaken, slowly replacing the hematocrit of their bodies. But they've cast themselves as a background character in their own success stories. Why?

Emphasized femininity. The theory bred by R.W. Connell that explains the societal ideal women are meant to embody. Subordinate, weak, and submissive. From a young age, women are taught this. So what happens when a woman follows her passions and suddenly holds power? Suddenly realizes that she isn't weak after all?

When complimented, she waves her hand. Says she is just fortunate. That her successes aren’t hers.

Sound familiar?

She doesn't take the compliment because she was taught she shouldn't. That's it. That's the reason.

Now, you might be reading this and think, "Strange author, you're telling me that the reason this whole issue you've stumbled upon reading a book about the collective not taking ownership over success is... because we cannot take a compliment? Are you okay?" Yes, reader. That's entirely the story.

Think about it this way: a woman doesn’t take a compliment and discredits herself. The person witnessing this has now learned that success favors the fortunate. Then they work hard, but they just cannot get the same results as the person they complimented who supposedly didn’t try at all. Subsequently, they doubt themselves. Finally, the hustle pays off. But the seed of doubt is there. And then the seed of doubt blooms when it’s watered by a compliment. It turns into hand-waving, luck, and discrediting.

The true secret in being high-achieving is actually believing you are. No, really. Obviously, hard work is involved, but if you continuously brush off the ownership of your grind, then you will quickly slide down the slippery slope of imposter syndrome. You must believe in yourself and your work. And I sincerely believe it's all about just learning how to take a compliment, award, medal of honor, you name it. So how do you do so without sounding pompous? Here is a little advice on how to do just that, with the words of Shonda Rhimes herself.


“Thank you.” Smile. Shut up.


Yes. Shut up.

Because what will happen is you will spiral into explaining yourself out of the compliment.


“You did so well on that project!”

“Oh, thanks!” Pause. “Well, you know, anyone can do it. I really just have to thank strategic Googling for the research portion. I honestly just threw it all together last minute in one night. It's really no big deal at all.”


You diffused the compliment. I must implore that you don’t.

It’s awkward. It’s a little mean. You are telling the person they are wrong to tell you nice things about you, and they feel compelled to further prove that you are worthy of the compliment, and UGH the cycle goes on. Just say thanks. Smile. Shut up.


"You did so well on that project!"

"Thank you so much!" Smile. Shut up. (Maybe compliment them, too, if the situation calls for it. Share the wealth of feel-good energy.)



And it’s simple to put into practice. It’s three steps. Maybe you have to force yourself to do it at first, but eventually, it is incorporated into a neat habit. Just something tucked in your back pocket. A secret weapon. Except instead of creating destruction, it’s merely creating. Creating a world where people feel okay to just be happy. Isn’t that all we ever wanted in the first place?

So, reader. I love your hair. You are doing the most. No amount of bad days can stop a baddie like you. Progress may not be linear, but it’s still progress. I’m so proud of you. Take this compliment and cast yourself as the star of your own production. You got this.

Image credit: Viola Davis being a QUEEN, Julia Roberts being everything I want to embody