How to Grow Rhino Skin (What Every Successful Woman Needs to Know)

by Amy on July 9, 2014


Guest Post by Ann Marie Griffin

I’m astounded at how much I’ve forgotten! Last week, I bumped into a former colleague who remembered every great achievement during the years we worked together. It was like he had it on total instant recall… it took me a full day to jog memories of those “good old days.”

My memory is like a steel trap when it comes to the bad stuff. Times when I looked or felt a bit foolish:

  • My boss gave me a stellar performance review (with one teeny, tiny. little recommendation for improvement), which left me in tears of shame.
  • I used the word gentrification completely wrong in a conversation at a social event.
  • I skipped over two super-important slides in a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Some guys in my department called my women’s mentoring network “a slumber party club for girls.”

So what? Nobody died. Nobody got fired. Nothing happened – except that I couldn’t let it go… and it still sticks in my mind with astounding clarity after years and years!!

Bottom line: MAYBE (horror of horrors!) THEY DON’T ALL THINK I’M PERFECT!

Successful Women Still Struggle

But I’m not alone. Successful women frequently struggle with fear and self-doubt says Barbara Stanny, author of “Secrets of Six-figure Women.” They feel flawed and then tend to hold back and take fewer risks. Often with good reason: many feel marginalized, trivialized, even discriminated against.

Okay yes, that all rings a bell for me. I have always been successful at my work and yet I was constantly afraid of looking stupid. I wasted hours and days worrying about having my work criticized, my ideas rejected, and my knowledge and competence judged.

“You Need Thicker Skin”

My wake-up call came in the form of a tough-love mentor who’d finally had enough of my downward spiral every time I was offended by some real or imagined insult. “You don’t need to be coddled, you need to get thicker skin” was the firm message.

Ouch! Well that truth hurt. But it forced me to stop and see what a fruitless time sink my super-sensitivity had grown into. And so I got tougher – intentionally – little by little – and with lots of practice.

“Save Yourself Hours”

Now, a manipulative comment rolls of my back – not relevant. A critique of my work feels like learning, not humiliation. And silly mistakes no longer feel like life and death.

Hillary Clinton emphasized this very point at the 5th Annual Women in the World Summit in April:

“Women need to develop – as Eleanor Roosevelt famously said – skin as thick as the hide of a rhinoceros. Believe me, this is hard-won advice. It’s not like you wake up and understand this…It’s a process.”

Over the past several years, I’ve grown a nice thick, tough, and leathery rhino skin to save me countless hours of unproductive worrying and withdrawing.

You can too.

1. Speak up and ask. The more you ask, the faster you’ll get rejected. Sounds crazy, but the more you get rejected, the more practice you’ll get at not taking it personally. You’ll develop the nerve it takes to win some, lose some, move on, and try again. And of course, a HUGE cherry on top: the more you ask, the more you’ll get what you want, too. On top of growing your thicker skin, you’ll stand a much better chance of making the money you want, getting the work you deserve, and landing the opportunities you dream of when you speak up and ask.

2. Stand up for yourself. You are NOT in a popularity contest. So build your thick skin by tolerating people who don’t like you. Say no when you mean no. Stop doing too much just to seem nice. Give your opinion honestly, and consciously prepare yourself to weather the “She’s such a bitch!” storm that might follow. What doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.

3. Make quick work of criticism. Don’t take it personally. Do take it seriously, in case there is something you can learn. Practice giving yourself just a few seconds to sort through any insults, “jokes”, and jabs thrown your way. Don’t give yourself time to mull it over…just enough to sort it out logically. Is there some new feedback you hadn’t thought of? Is it relevant and helpful to reaching your goals? Harvest the good stuff rapidly, and dump the rest in the nearest trash.

The upshot: the way to build thick skin is to put your self in the fray, and while you’re getting fired upon – be intent about not taking the barrage (including your own perfectionistic self-attacks) personally or letting it cause you to hold yourself back in any way.

Criticism Will Never Go Away. Don’t Let it Crush You. [Tweet that!]

Because the truth is, criticism and rejection will never go away. Blunders, setbacks, and people who don’t like you are a part of life. You can’t make them disappear. But you CAN’T let them crush you. And you CAN’T carry them around year after year crowding out memories of the good stuff!

Get yourself a nice thick layer of rhino skin to protect you…and to keep you moving in the direction of your goals and dreams, no matter what comes your way.


Click here to get a FREE spot in Ann Marie’s upcoming teleseminar “Successful Women Act Up: How To Succeed Without Being So Hard On Yourself – And Stand Up For A More Focused, Fulfilling and Fearless Life”.

Ann Marie Griffin is an Executive Coach and Certified Martha Beck Life Coach at SmartWorking LLC in Los Angeles. She’s on a mission to lead smart, successful professional women to rediscover the joy, self-assurance, and respect they deserve.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsay Gomez July 10, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Thanks for the post Ann and Amy! These words are so true, especially your first example of getting a stellar performance review, but only remembering the one critique. I went through that situation almost one year ago, when I got the awesome review, but can only remember the part where my manager told me that I lack empathy. This crushed me! I thought, “psychopaths and sociopaths lack empathy, so what does that make me?” After doing a lot of work on myself (much of it with the help of Amy – thank you!!!), I realized that this was just his opinion of me and it doesn’t make it fact or true or anything. I know my truth and others can have any opinion they want to have about me because that’s part of their truth. I’m still working on my rhino skin and letting comments like those roll off my back. This post is a great reminder to keep it up.


Ann Marie Griffin July 10, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Yay! Yes, keep it up Lindsay! Take in whatever is true and helpful – and treat all the rest like junk mail!


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