Last week, Frank and I went to a crab boil put on by our mortgage company. It was part-thank you for clients and part-staff party. It also felt a bit like it was part-networking, as the name tags included a profession, as well. Since I was a “plus-1” my name tag was handwritten without my occupation.
After getting our drinks and waiting for a lull in the zydeco music, we introduced ourselves to the couple to our right. I can’t remember what the husband did, but the wife was a former accountant, turned stay-at-home mom. We found an easy connection and talked about kids and preschool and testing and all the things parents are supposed to talk about. I felt comfortable saying that I, too stayed home and wasn’t it just wonderful to be around for these formative years?
The couple to our left included a medical researcher. I have always had a bit of a fangirl reaction to researchers. I loved that aspect of college. In fact, one of my favorite (and most successful) art history classes was one in which we spent the entire semester curating an annotated bibliography. I was so happy spending time in libraries around the city, reading first-edition texts, taking notes, and collecting research. We talked about the fascinating field of medical research and I peppered her with questions about her work.
At the appropriate point in our conversation, this brilliant woman asked me what I did. “Oh. I’m just a teacher and I also stay home with our daughter.”
Not one week earlier I had the privilege of attending Women in the Mix‘s Work-Life-Thrive Summit. I spent a day with amazing, thoughtful, smart, successful women. It was empowering and intimidating all at once. Something I took away from this day of encouragement was that I am not just. I have a lot to offer and I am good at what I do. (Even if it is just reading Erandi’s Braids again…)
In fact, a whole presentation was about women being confident in their skill set. Men don’t apologize or depreciate their accomplishments at nearly the same rates that women do. For whatever reason, women are more likely to apologize, to lump themselves into a group accomplishment, and to discount achievements rather than to accept words of praise.
Yet here I was, discounting my own abilities. Not everyone can teach a roomful of 8-year-olds to tell time, to read, and to behave in socially acceptable ways. Not everyone can facilitate an experience in an art museum that leads kids to realizations and connections beyond the art and into their own life experiences. I need to be proud of my own accomplishments and recognize that I am not as expendable as I feel.
This interaction reminded me of a conversation I had with my cousin’s wife a couple weeks ago. She has started a new job as an executive director. She is one of the most qualified, confident, and approachable people I know. Her life experience makes her perfect for this job and she has every reason to expect to excel in it. Yet, when she was offered the position, she said she felt like a fraud. She wondered if she was old enough to be an executive director or if she had enough of the right kind of experience. We talked about how easy it is to assume that someone else would be better for our jobs. But, someone else isn’t better.
I have another friend, who after a rough day with her preschooler, said she had to remember that she was chosen to be her child’s mother. Even though it didn’t feel like it in the moment, no one else could do her job of mothering this particular child better than she could.
Whatever the title – from mother to teacher to director to researcher – I wonder how often we discount our contributions. How often do we add just to our titles? I’m trying to be more assured in my choices, to model confidence in these decisions, and to remember that I am the best person for the roles I’ve been given.
How do you introduce yourself – do you include your occupation? Have you ever struggled with the feelings of being just…?