R-E-S-P-E-C-T

17 Jan

For the past few months, I’ve been scared to write on my own blog.

There, I said it.

I’ve been paralyzed by the fact that I have so much to say, and yet I wasn’t sure of how to say it, so I froze.

Instead, I shifted the focus away from myself and my thoughts, and turned them toward people I know who are actively engaged in pursuing their dreams, and I’m not sorry I did. Dan, Laura, Colin, and Kate inspired me, gave me hope and did a mighty fine job of covering for me while I frantically searched for my writer’s courage.

Oh, I didn’t stop writing. For me, that would be akin to not breathing.

I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And wrote. But I couldn’t craft a blog entry that I felt I could publish, so I let it go and took a break from blogging.

I taught, I worked a second sales job (in retail) over the holidays, and I read books. Lots and lots and lots of books. But still I didn’t feel like I had anything worthwhile to say.

Last Sunday afternoon, frustrated by my inability to blog, and hungry for information related to a decision I am in the process of making, I traveled to my local library and found Mika Brzezinski’s book Knowing your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth during my ritual “wandering of the stacks.” I checked it, and several other books, out and drove home to make dinner.

That night I began reading and kept reading until I my eyelids were too heavy to stay up. The next morning I was up at five, with a steaming cup of coffee, and by nine I was turning the last page as I sipped the ice cold dregs.

As soon as I finished, I emailed J. to tell her what an amazing book it was, and, of course, had to summarize a few parts for her. I told her she had to read it!

When she emailed back a little while later, she laughingly said she’d add it to her list of books and thanked me for the Cliff Notes.

In my excitement, I misunderstood her gratitude as a request and proceeded to type out a synopsis of each chapter. Later we laughed about my overly enthusiastic response to her appreciation, but I was glad that I’d typed up my thoughts while they were still fresh. Rereading them, I realized why I had been having so much trouble finding my blogging voice.

I couldn’t find value in what I had to say.

I was embarrassed about all of the ideas I had. I thought everything I had to say was silly or trivial – and I was ashamed of what I thought.

Knowing Your Value was the key that unlocked – and opened – the door, and showed me that I wasn’t alone.

Brzezinski’s book chronicles her professional missteps as she got back into the television news business a year after she lost her anchor position on CBS Evening News. In it, she explores the ways in which professional women are often overlooked and under compensated, and more importantly, how they themselves contribute to the system that devalues their performance and contributions. Not only did she examine her own missteps, she also asked powerful professional women about theirs – and then reported their candid responses.

Women like Senior Presidential Advisor,Valerie Jarrett, former CEO of Yahoo.com Carol Bartz, former Chairperson of the FDIC Sheila Bair and Publisher Tina Brown all expressed the same kinds of experiences – feeling torn between being professional (read: being a “good girl”) and vocally valuing their contributions (read: being a “self-promoter”).

The example that absolutely shocked, and then reassured, me was from Elizabeth Warren. Yes, the Elizabeth Warren. The Harvard Law Professor. The longtime consumer advocate who locked horns with Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner. The Elizabeth Warren who has been on Time magazine’s list of the World’s Most Influential People for two years running, and who is now running for the Massachusetts Senate. That Elizabeth Warren.

Warren says that she’s always been the “good girl,” the one who said, “Someone needs to do this. Someone needs to mop the floor. Okay, hand me the mop.” What she hadn’t realized was how deep the need to “belong” ran, until the Wall Street Journal called her “self-promoting.” She said that she was transported back to her childhood in Oklahoma, suddenly feeling like the odd girl out, and remembers thinking, “Oh my god, I do so much less press than I’m asked to do, and when I do it, I always try to do it in the service of trying to teach something, trying to advance an idea’…it really stung. You know when someone says, ‘Oh, she’s just plain stupid,’ it doesn’t cut to the quick. It doesn’t undermine me in the same way. It doesn’t even throw me off. But the notion that I’m self-promoting somehow makes me gasp…I think more than once I’ve wondered, ‘Would you say that if I were a man?'” (Brzezinski 106).

I was stunned. If even Elizabeth Warren worries about being seen as a self-promoting know-it-all, then what hope do I have of figuring out how to say what I think?

As women, we are socialized in a way that leads us to doubt ourselves, and allows the opinions of others to silence our own. And because we’re scared of being labeled judgmental, uptight or holier-than-thou, we censor what we really think and feel in order to make others feel more comfortable or less insecure. It’s a horrible cycle that leads many women to give up trying to get their ideas heard, and I shudder to think how many possibilities have been lost as a result.

The problem, Ariana Huffington says, is that, “Too often in our culture, strong women get stereotyped as ball-busters, which is as insulting as it is ludicrous. In my experience, the strongest, most fearless women I know are also the most creative and productive-and the ones who most want to support other women. And honestly, wouldn’t any healthy man really prefer to be involved with a woman-either personally or professionally-who is driven by her true thoughts, feelings, beliefs and desires instead of her fears?” (93).

While reading these words, it hit me. All of the women in the book expressed doubt and fear about speaking up and asserting their worth, but they all put on a good game face, developed thicker skin, made mistakes, and kept speaking up.

They didn’t give in to the voice that threatened to silence them.

Even when the voice was their own.

I have a lot to blog about these days. Big changes are on the way, and I’m scared and excited by the prospect of possibly changing careers at this stage in my life (for those of you who have followed my blog, I will tell you for certain that I am not on my way to becoming a rock star – and that I’m sorry if you’re disappointed.).

I don’t know what’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen, all I know is that I have a lot to say about what’s going to happen, and I’m not going to allow my fears to silence me.

Well, not for long, anyway.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: