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How to Break Free from the Humility Trap

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on July 6, 2014

"Your playing small does not serve the world." Marianne Williamson

"What's the biggest barrier you've overcome?"

I get this question a lot.

I'm P&G's first Asian American woman in the Supply Chain function to reach the top 1% of management. I spent 16 years in consumer goods manufacturing, a field not known for women or Asians. I faced an uphill battle to advance, and I've lived my entire career labeled as "the first" or "the only."

So what was my biggest barrier to overcome?


My biggest barrier was not a lack of sponsorship. It was not discrimination. And it wasn't a lack of talent or opportunities. My biggest barrier was me.

For the first 10 years of my career I was an awkward blend of Asian humility and Western ambition. I vowed not to be that kind of manager who endlessly self promoted. But I also constantly wondered if I was missing out. I knew that I needed to self advocate, but humility dictated that I keep my head down. I missed many opportunities to self advocate out of the fear I would be viewed as self-centered.

But one day that changed.

It changed the day my mission became clear. One day my goal shifted from career advancement for advancement's sake to a mission to make a difference for those in need. I set an objective to advance to the top 1% knowing that this level would give me the skills, influence, and opportunities to make a meaningful difference on an international scale.

And from that day I advocated for myself so that I would be in a position to advocate for many.

When I was promoted to the top 1%, I was transferred to Japan and was privileged to serve the Asian community. I led a small team that started up the first 2 contract manufacturers for the Snacks Division. We brought hundreds and hundreds of safe, well-paying jobs to Malaysia and China, and made a lasting difference for the workers, their families and their communities.

Self advocacy is not self-centered, nor is it an act of selfishness.

Is your humility holding others back?

If you want to inspire others to fulfill their potential, fulfill your own. [tweet this] Advocate for yourself so that one day you may advocate for those without.

That's not selfish, that's service.

Learn more about Rebecca Okamoto Exceed Expectations: Lessons from a High Achiever

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