AN OPEN LETTER TO HIGH POTENTIAL, UNDERACHIEVING WOMEN

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Dear High Potential, Underachieving Friend,

I’ve been wanting to have this conversation with you for quite some time but, I confess, I’ve been a wimp.

I know, I know…. You see me as a powerful woman who never holds back, so I betrayed both of us, didn’t I? Please know that this letter is tinged with the embarrassment that comes with not having had the courage to confront you sooner.

But wimp no more!

What I’ve been wanting to tell you is this:

You, my high potential friend, are under-achieving.
That’s right—you’re playing small, hiding your brilliance, and shrinking to fit.
Stop it!

Why, you may ask, haven’t I brought this up sooner? That would be a fair question.

What I’ve been telling myself was that I was meeting you where you are, giving you the time and respect to reveal yourself in your own way. In hindsight, that was BS.

The truth is, I’ve simply been too afraid to speak out for fear that I would piss you off, alienate you, or lose you forever. That was a gamble I just wasn’t willing to take. Until now.

Full disclosure: I was also afraid that you’d turn right around and accuse me, too, of being a high potential underachiever. You’d be right, of course, yet it wasn’t until recently that I’d even been able to acknowledge that to myself.

I guess I should have had more faith in both of us, and for that I deeply apologize.

This is to let you know that I will no longer sit by, silently, watching you
masquerade as a common pigeon
when you are, indeed, an eagle.
(Note to pigeons: Please don’t take this personally).

First, know that I see you. All of you. And I’m not the only one.

Since I first met you, I’ve found myself measuring my words, holding my tongue, and closing my eyes: Not to your greatness—no, since day one I have seen that—but to your dismissal of it.

What I’ve observed is you hiding your potential in the shadows adjacent to your unfulfilled wishes, your fears, and the ones who got away. I noticed shame, where there should be none. Silence, when your words were warranted. Invisibility when you were built for invincibility.

It makes me cringe.

I’ve repeatedly watched as you’ve put yourself last so others could go first and shine. This might appear to be a noble gesture, were you not neglecting your own advancement in the process– Were you not escaping to the back of the room because you didn’t think you were worthy of being noticed from the front.

Tell me– just how many times have you swallowed your opinion, claiming that the timing would have been ‘off’ when, in truth, you didn’t think you deserved to be heard?

You’ve even gone so far as to tell me that no one wants to hear your voice, but that is only because they haven’t yet heard it, so they don’t know what they’re missing. But I do.

No you’re not intentionally duplicitous…being so powerful while showing up otherwise.

I think that by the time you took the “How to Play Big in Your Life” class, your fears and doubts had taken up permanent residence in your head. I suppose it has become less dissonant for you to listen to the cultural drift, than to risk taking a stand for yourself and your life and, possibly, ending up alone.

I wonder—do you dismiss yourself because that precludes you from having to take the responsibility that accompanies said greatness? Do you minimize your impact because you think you’re ‘not enough’– smart enough, pretty enough, educated enough…?

Have you ever considered that, underneath it all you’re just plain stingy? Wait…. Hear me out.

Has it ever occurred to you that your gifts and talents,
your divine and delicious uniqueness,
is about more than just YOU?
That when you hold out on you, you hold out on us?

Yes, it is that simple. No, I don’t want to make this easy for you.

I don’t want to smooth the way so that your feisty and well-rehearsed little under-achieving self thinks it got a free pass. I don’t want to lighten the load, camouflage the outcome or round out the edginess.

That’s what other people do to you…. and it makes it easy for you to keep slithering by, compromising yourself and cheating us of the richness of you.

People sell out on you (like I’ve done) because they don’t want to be too bold, or pushy, or ‘aggressive.’

And meanwhile, where does that leave you?

(I’ve got to say… Writing these words, I feel a little like a Pit Bull. These dogs look and sound so tough and frightening but, in reality, they are infinitely loving and lovable.)

I intend for this to wake you up. If it cuts a bit in the process, I’m good with that because I never, ever want you to be able to say that I didn’t care enough about you to step up and intervene.

I never want you to be able to think that I wasn’t willing to get uncomfortable and stand for you, when you weren’t standing for yourself.

We women are often told that we take ourselves too seriously. That’s a lie. The truth is we don’t take ourselves seriously enough. We minimize our accomplishments. We undervalue our worth. We make light of our impact.

We think that this approach makes us humble, when it really just makes us stupid and selfish. (Again… my apologies to the pigeons).

Tell me this– who is going to model the new prototype for women who lead–
authentic, purpose-driven, inspiring, impactful and high in integrity–
if you and I don’t?

Exactly.

THE TRUTH IS …

You, my dear friend, have more potential than you could possibly use in a single lifetime. You have so much potential, in fact, that you don’t even know where to start using it first … (so you don’t use it at all or you use it in small, easy-to-digest bites).

You are your own unique version of a mega-watt super-star. You have the ability to make an impact like no other, and your talents tip the scales on genius…

Forgive the platitude, but you really do inspire me in ways that make me want to be a better version of myself.

Just being in the same room with you, or hearing your voice, activates my desire to increase my impact and make more of a difference in the world.

When I’m around you I stand taller, listen harder and access more of my potential.

When I’m around you, I expect more of myself and I usually deliver.

I have often watched you transform a room with one of your ‘simple questions.’ I have seen you elevate a group of people with a well-timed comment. A nod of approval, a smirk or a smile from you changes the game for the person in front of you, almost every time.

Right now, you might feel frustrated that you’re not on purpose.

Your work could be more satisfying. Your life could feel more fulfilling. Yes, yes, I know…. You have your moments of insight, of personal power and self-expression. You’ve got plenty of “I’ve got this!” moments.

But they’re fleeting, as is your time on earth to get all this stuff done. (Sorry for the reminder!)

I suspect that when you take the time to listen to your inner voice, she whispers (and sometimes screams like a little b*itch) “You were born with a message. There’s a difference in the world that only you can make. When, for God’s sake, are you going to figure this out and have the impact you’re meant to have? The world needs you! Get it together, girl!.”

That scares the crap out of you (see above) so, in response, you eat another bowl of ice cream, drink another glass of wine, check LinkedIn for job opportunities, change up your online dating profile, or call a girlfriend to complain that your life sucks. And then there’s that compulsive relationship you have with YouTube….

Which changes, well, exactly nothing.

You know me well enough to know that I’m not much for pep talks or motivational speeches: For the most part, they’re temporary and inauthentic, and they usually come backed with a hidden self-serving agenda for the person giving the speech.  I won’t insult either of us by going there.

MY INVITATION TO YOU …

Please, dear friend, please start living into the burden of your potential: Living into the expectations imbued in such gifts.

Please deny yourself the disappointment of not having lived to the very edge of yourself.

Owning your power isn’t going to be easy, but it is going to be worth it. I promise.

Business development starts with personal development. Always. It usually involves a short burst of brilliance followed by a long path of hair-raising ups and downs, mixed with an unpleasant amount of self-doubt, mistrust and meandering.

Never is it a straight line. Never is it predictable.


I want you to know that I’ll be here for you as you reclaim yourself. So, will many others. You can stop trying to “figure it out” and “do it yourself” and you can lean on us- we’ll support you.

Heck, we’ll carry you up the mountain, if that’s what it takes.

As you’re traversing this rough terrain back to who you were meant to be, just know this:

I believe in you. I believe in the difference you’re capable of making.
Now it’s your turn to believe in yourself.

So tell me, who do you know needs to read this letter? To whom do you need to forward it? Yourself? Your mom, sister, manager? Who do you know is far more capable than the way they’re showing up in the world? I want to hear from you! Please share in the comment section below.

And if this article was valuable to you, then please like it and follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and all your other favorite sites.

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4 thoughts on “AN OPEN LETTER TO HIGH POTENTIAL, UNDERACHIEVING WOMEN

  1. Thanks Nancy. “untapped potential” has been the story of my life for last 5 years. I long for better things and way to give back by using my gifts and talent. Yet, I sit unappreciated, unwanted, unfulfilled, longing to help, to work, to share my knowledge with my workplace all because it pays my bills.

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