Updated: Jan 27
I recently interviewed Vernique Esther, an Atlanta-based therapist who focuses on high-achieving women. Instantly, I thought of my clientele: women who hire a friendship are typically those who like to achieve, are super reliable, and who have a handle on their professional success.
But silently, they're not satisfied in their friendships.
And Vernique explained why.
Here, you'll find an excerpt from the interview I conducted with her for the Friend Forward podcast. For the full interview, listen to the show (or sign-up for our "group chat" to be a member and access the full, unedited version).
Danielle Bayard Jackson:
I'm such a fan of your work on TikTok, and it resonates with me specifically because I identify as a “high- achieving” woman. And I can tell by the comments of your videos that other women feel the same way. So could you start by telling me, how do you define a high achieving woman?
Yeah. So a lot of the times, I think that this is something that we haven't had at term for until relatively recently. Here are three general things to know about high-achieving women:
A lot of millennials identify as this, which is it makes a lot of sense because we were raised in the everyone is special, go to school, get a job, have a good life kind of culture. A lot of us were raised by baby boomers who they worked hard and things like that, and a lot of them had businesses and whatnot. And then now, they wanted their children to have a level of success that they didn't have, so they really, really prioritized achievement for us. And so we were one of the first generation that wanted more, that were taught to accomplish more than their parents, that were taught to really excel and reach for the stars, all the messaging that we heard in the '90s, late '80s.
But essentially, a high achieving woman specifically, they are your go getters. They're your women who are going to get things done. They prioritize their career accomplishments is a key thing. Excuse me. They prioritize their career accomplishments above most other things, even if slightly. So a lot of the times, they don't feel like themselves, I know we're going to get to this, but if their career or whatever pathway they've chosen for their life, it's going to impact how they feel about themselves. And then essentially, they're leaders in their industries, communities, if they go to church they hold certain positions. They're usually mentors. And even whether they're these key people in their family or not, they're also looked and they're the ones in their family where, we don't have to worry about Susan, she's going to be okay.
The trajectory towards high achievement, especially in women, especially in Black woman, and I know that you have a diverse audience, but specifically in Black women, it starts way before adulthood. The trajectory of it starts where a lot of them were either parentified, meaning that they held parent like positions in their family, if they were the oldest or an only child. Or they were in high demand or high expectation households where behavior was prioritized over identity. And their gifts were also magnified, so this is your gifted and talented, honors, AP, AB, all of those types of things. These are the kids that become high achieving women.
Danielle Bayard Jackson:
I often say that whenever people hear, "Oh, I hired a friendship coach," they might think, "Oh." They might picture someone who is a socially anxious, socially awkward wallflower who's not sure how to interact with people. And I always say, "That type of person is certainly on my roster." But I think people would be surprised to know that most of the women I work with are what I describe as high achieving, charismatic, fun loving, extroverted women who are trying to figure friendship out. Maybe they attract a lot of other women, but when it comes to finding satisfaction and a genuine friendship with another person, they're having some issues.
You gave us this robust kind of illustration of who this woman is. Let's start with: What are the advantages?
They're likely the most dependable people that you know.
Here are some notable qualities:
They're going to make sure that everybody has what they need, which kind of comes from that parentified aspect. They're used to anticipating needs. They're used to showing up for people, like I said, getting the job done.
They may not be the person that is the most emotionally reliable, but they are dependable when you have a need, when you have something going on that you need somebody to show up for. They're going to show up and get it done.
They're planners. This obviously allows them to work well in high stakes, high risk, or high pressure environments. These are your, yes, I work well under pressure women.
And they're also highly responsible. So a lot of the times, if something is going hayward, whether it's in their own lives or in the lives of those that they love, they're going to make sure that they're following through with their responsibilities. It really, really hurts them to not be in a position of responsibility, when things kind of start ... Maybe things are just out of their control, but they really try to make sure to get things right.
So these are the types of people that they have really good intentions a lot of the time, on average. They have really good intentions and you can count on them to get the job done.
Danielle Bayard Jackson:
So this sounds like something to aspire to, the way you describe it. What are the downsides of being motivated by achievement?
A lot of these women work under an extreme level of anxiety.
So as a therapist, the pathology that I see oftentimes is depression, anxiety, or just indicators therein, so perfectionism, not feeling good unless they accomplish a project, not celebrating their wins, going from one project, task, whatever, to another without stopping because they're constantly trying to reaffirm the fact that they are good enough by what they can achieve. And so this kind of creates this consistent never ending feedback loop of trying to validate yourself through achievement. And the thing about it is, it never is fulfilling. So you find that your achievements don't make you feel better about who you are because who you are is an intrinsic thing and not something that's given to you.
And so a lot of these women enter into identity crises in their mid 20s because they wonder:
What the heck am I doing? And am I doing it right? And what does it all mean?
And so this is kind of where the downfall comes is, is when your accomplishments to you is so highly valued that it feels like wherever you are in your accomplishment scale, it's going to dictate how you feel about yourself, and that's a really unhealthy place to be.
Danielle Bayard Jackson:
I know some women are probably feeling called out as they listen. So here, we talk about female friendship. We're talking about friendship specifically. But because I work with the exact kind of clientele that you describe, their friendship issues, a lot of friendship issues are simply universal across the board, but theirs look a little different.
What are some things that you've noticed about high achieving women and how they approach friendships or relationships? What have been your observations and experiences with your clients?
They're really, really trying to evaluate the friendships that they have because they're wondering how they're supposed to navigate in them or they're struggling to make friends to begin with. So yes, you're absolutely correct that these women are often charismatic. They're fun. People aspire to be them. But they struggle to connect with others, other women sometimes, because they're not sure where they fit in their lives.
Again, when we're going back to this idea of identity, when your identity is wrapped up in other things, women, this is something that I actually got from your podcast, by the way!
Sometimes it can come with a bit of pride, but sometimes it's, I don't feel good enough about myself. And so when it comes to social situations, they don't know how to place themselves as who they are instead of what they're doing.
And people don't want to connect with what you're doing. They want to connect with who you are.
So when they feel like they cannot bring to the table the same caliber of things that maybe somebody who they desire to be friends with, it completely knocks them out of the game, even if they are at the same tier, at the same level as them.
The other, the flip side to that though is they feel like nobody will understand them.
Nobody will understand the pressure that they're under because even, unfortunately, some of these women, the friends that they had in high school, or in other phases of their life, they've kind of outgrown them. And so they've developed this idea that a lot of people are not going to be willing to ride that ride with them, or they don't understand the pressure that they're under, whether or not the pressure is real, imagined, or pressure that they've unduly placed on themselves. But they feel this level of pressure they think nobody else can understand. And so they naturally kind of isolate and find it hard to connect with women unless they can connect with them on that level of accomplishment.
Danielle Bayard Jackson:
I'm making some connections because I do have a lot of entrepreneurs who come to me. They are go getters, smart, sharp women. And as you're speaking, I'm kind of making some connections between, a lot of them say, "Oh, I'm at all the network events. I do all the things. Trust me, I'm out there, I'm social." But recently, I spoke with a woman who was an I think relatively well known coach in her particular area. And I did have a moment when I saw her set up. I'm like, "Oh, my gosh. She's really great. Why would she need my help?" But sure enough, it's because whenever she is in those social situations, she defaults to talking about what she does and all she's accomplished, and coaching the person she's talking to.
And they're just speaking, like you said, they're just revealing who they are and trying to connect on a personal level. But she defaults to what she does, and so people walk away maybe thinking, "Okay, I'm impressed, but I don't know who you are. I couldn't connect with you personally." So I'm kind of having some light bulbs kind of go off right now as you're speaking because it does seem to serve as the root of multiple sessions I've had with this type of woman, is yes, I have a lot of social connections. Yes, if a person just looked at my Instagram, they'd like all my pictures of me being social. But do I feel known in these spaces? Do I feel seen in these spaces? The answer would be no.
Correct, yeah. And it's because they haven't allowed their true self to come to the forefront, not even to themselves though. Right? It's really hard to give somebody something that you yourself have not first partaken in. Right? So this is where identity, I keep going back to this word because it's so important, really establishing your identity as a high achieving woman is going to be paramount. First of all, we keep using this phrase, but the first thing would be: Who am I when I'm not achieving? What happens when we take the high achieving label off of you and you're just woman? What are you? What do you like to do? What matters to you? What makes your heart bleed? What makes you cry? What makes you happy? These are the ways that you connect with people, not through your achievements. And this is why I said probably in that video you saw is that it's not the flex that you think it is because, okay, we did it.
One of the things by the way, just a quick aside, growing up, that really hurt my feelings as somebody who was raised to be high achieving was that other people were just as good as me, if not sometimes better. That crushed me because I always wanted to be the best. I always wanted to be the first. I wanted to be the most seen, the most heard, the whatever. Right? But realizing the reality as a woman is there are other people who can accomplish the same things that you can accomplish. Do you want to be the most accomplished? Or do you want to be the most loved, the most known in the ways that matter to you? And so sometimes we hold onto that label because we think that's all we have and because we think that again, our identity is wrapped up in that.
But the goal here is for you to find your identity outside of what you do. And that is how you'll be able to connect with people.
But if you haven't first been able to see who you are and see your value outside of all of the accolades that you have, you're never going to be able to give that to other people, or what you do give to other people will be surface. And you'll find that you have a friend group full of mentees instead of people that you actually can come to with your heart's desires, your pains, your woes, your joys, et cetera.
To book a one-on-one coaching session with female friendship coach and educator Danielle Bayard Jackson, please visit our services page and begin getting the guidance and support you need to create more meaningful friendships. Female friendship is so important (and has tons of surprising benefits!), so we're here to help you through it. -- Danielle Bayard Jackson, Friendship Expert