Women Rise, Just Like a Well Baked Loaf

If we can take the punches and rise again, we won’t mess up the recipe for success.

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“There’s too much that’s out of your hands, but you can be flexible enough with what you control to make things work” – Jordan Baines, 13 Things Baking Bread Has Taught Me About Life, A Baker’s Dozen of Valuable Lessons”. January 4, 2014 Web Reference


Whenever I read or hear the word “rise”, I think of making homemade bread from scratch, in my own kitchen. It’s tricky. You have to intuitively grasp concepts of the chemistry and physics of baking. If you don’t get each step just right, the dough won’t rise, and you’ll have to throw the whole batch away. Depending on which step you’re on, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time, and all those ingredients. So, from the type of flour, how you knead the dough, the temperature of the water, the freshness of the yeast, timing of each step, and the temperature of the environment where the dough rises, and when to punch it down, each time, you can end up with a magnificent loaf, or a rock-hard brick.

It depends on the quality of your ingredients and how meticulous you are in performing each step. For a great homemade product, there are no shortcuts, no bread machines or premade mixes. Just careful planning, attention to detail, some instinct and your own hard work.

You can see where I’m headed with this analogy. To rise in our careers, we need a plan. We need the right credentials, we need timing, and stra egic hard work. We need instinct and an intuitive sense of our progress. We may be punched down, only to rise again, because that is part of the process.

What we need to change.

In his landmark book, How Women Rise, Marshall Goldsmith and his co-author Sally Helgesen, describe 12 “habits” women need to change in order to claim success in the workplace. In this essay series, I’ve talked about habits 1-10.

Overthinking or Ruminating

Let’s now take a look at number 11, “Ruminating”. You might think this is part of the digestive process of bovines, but for us humans, it has a more pernicious meaning. According to the American Psychological Association, some common reasons for rumination include “belief that by ruminating, you’ll gain insight into your life or a problem, having a history of emotional or physical trauma, facing ongoing stressors that can’t be controlled.” In plain language, it’s the process of overthinking and over examining every aspect of an event and never letting go of the accompanying negative thoughts. The authors describe ruminating as “Clinging to the Past”, the “if onlys…” Those repetitive thoughts that take up a lot of energy and make us feel less than successful. Women are not the only ones subject to rumination. I’ve coached many men, who just can’t let go of the bad stuff that have happened. But in my experience, women are far more likely to fall into the rumination trap. With women, the emotion most often experienced with rumination is regret. And we often turn that regret into blaming ourselves, and even further into self-hatred, feeling as if our mistakes have made us worthless or failures. We may fool ourselves into thinking rumination is “reflecting”. Not really. If you are reflecting, you figure out how to move on – rumination just pulls us further down the rabbit hole of doubt and self-loathing. How can that help us grow and rise in our professions?

You’ll only feel worse.

Who can say after a period of rumination, you feel better? In fact, ruminating only makes us feel worse, even more depressed than we did before. In my experience, it’s best to break that cycle of going over and over any event, stop blaming ourselves, and ask instead, what about this situation can we control. You’ll soon realize that you can only control yourself alone. You are not responsible for how others feel or think or the actions they take. We women need to shed ourselves of that burden. And when we stay stuck in that negative thinking, we can’t move ahead, we can’t get around our own feelings to progress. We stay angry and depressed and see everything through a cynical lens. The cynics may have their own club, but they usually don’t get the shoulder tap that says, let’s move you up.

Management Change and Shifting of Roles

The most common setting for rumination happens when there is a management change. Suddenly roles shift, the power dynamic shifts, and people get left out. What’s the use of reviewing every word exchanged when this change takes place? The only thinking that’s needed is an understanding of what your particular situation is. Are you no longer consulted on major decisions? Did someone you admired get let go? What systems are now in place that you may not like? You have no control over any of this. Best to figure out where you stand in the grand scheme of things, and make decisions that work for you, maybe even looking for a new job. I’ve noticed among people who survive regime after regime in a big company, they all manage to adapt. They stay under the radar. If they don’t like something, they either learn to get around it, or move along.

Follow the Recipe

To be successful, we have to follow a recipe, and not mess up any of the steps. Your career is just like making break. Too much kneading ruins the dough, wrong temperature for water ruins the yeast, not enough proofing time, and the dough will not rise. Overthinking our situation and blaming ourselves won’t give us the results we want. We may end up with a solid brick and not a nice, crusty loaf.

“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.”– Buddha

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Mary T. O'Sullivan

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, Member, International Coaching Federation, Society of Human Resource Management. Candidate, Master’s Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In additional, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education, and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area.