The Lion Queen

I spend a good deal of time watching women hack through the jungle of self-doubt with a dull, rusty machete.

Scratch that. With a pair of cuticle trimmers.

I’d like to say it’s difficult trying to figure out why so many unbelievably smart, successful, frankly kick-ass women have trouble valuing their self-worth, except it’s not, because at times I am one of those women. You see, I’m not just talking out of my increasingly expanding ass when I say that women, on the whole, have a confidence problem.

There’s a saying going around at the moment which resonates with a lot of women I know.

Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.

On the surface the statement is a flippant way of looking at the way society is set up to benefit and glorify the accomplishments of  men, (many of whom absolutely deserve the accolades). But dig a little deeper and you’ll get to the self-deprecating heart of the matter. Female confidence is a tricky tight rope to walk. Too meek? You get walked all over. Too strong? You’re a bitch in heels. Speak up? You’re called shrill, loud, overbearing. Don’t speak up? Well, no wonder you don’t get that raise. What’s seen as confidence in men often comes across as entitlement in women. What comes across as assertiveness and leadership among males is perceived as aggressiveness and ball-busting in women.

If women have to constantly recalibrate the poles they use for balance, to find some Goldilocks just right version of confidence, is it any wonder we fall flat on our faces a lot of the time?

But surely we get a little bounce back from a safety net of other women underneath us, right? Oh, honey…no. Plenty of times other women are more than happy to watch you fall flat on your face. Whether this is simply human nature, decades of conditioning, or a combination of a thousand other factors is up for debate.

I write nearly every day of my life. I have a successful blog. I’m published. I’ve won contests, been nominated for Pushcart Prize, been paid for my work, completed a novel….and yet when someone asked me to tutor their child in writing, I balked.

Surely I’m not qualified! (Yes, I actually said those words.)

When do you become enough of a writer to qualify guiding others in the writing process? When do you become good, better, best enough to do anything? Is there a magic formula to feeling qualified enough? If so there seem to be a lot of magic formulas kept under lock and key and away from the manicured hands of women.

I have a witty, whip-smart friend in the UK who is a lawyer. Another who is a doctor. And this summer I  listened to both of them tell me how unqualified they felt as they returned to positions they’ve been educated and trained for, positions they’ve held before. Sometimes while pregnant, managing a household, morning sickness and a toddler who refuses to pee anywhere but the corner.

Ah, women. I love ’em, but man! Even when we are good at what we do, hell even when we are great at what we do, we doubt ourselves. Forget locusts, if women suffer any kind of plague, it is the plague of second-guessing their worth. We under-value our contribution. We give our work and time away for free. We volunteer instead of assuming we should be paid. We politely inquire when we should expect. We’re happy when people recognize our talents, when they flatter us, and our bank accounts wither and die as our expertise is taken for granted, our time and effort devalued and expected to be given for free.

I’m not saying you should demand the PTA pay you for helping hang Halloween decorations. I’m saying we need to value our work because when all we do is volunteer? Our work ceases to have value.

Your grandmother was right. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? We can lip service volunteer work all we want, and we absolutely should all do it–from time to time–but when we give too much of the milk away for free, the cow develops low self-esteem, doubts herself, and undermines her worth. And as loathe as I am to compare women to cows, when the metaphor moos….

But more than monetary payment is what happens when your work ceases to be valued–internally and externally. You convince yourself  you’re not as good as, worth as much as, as qualified as. The chips on your shoulder get heavier over time. They weigh you down like a bra full of bricks until you can’t stand up straight, until you can’t walk with your head held high, until you start believing it yourself.

In my day-to-day life I meet and talk to countless women who doubt themselves, who disqualify themselves, who dismiss their qualifications as not enough.

I do it myself.

The men I meet? They rarely worry they’re unqualified. They assume a natural position of qualification that’s been inferred upon them since birth. Like Simba the Lion King cub, they wear the crown of accepted leader. Their position is accepted…and expected.

Sisters! Lean in, lift up, whatever it takes. Look into the mirror everyday and channel Al Franken’s Stuart Smally character: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh-darnit, people like me. Whatever you need to do.

Because some days Sarabi** isn’t good enough. Go out and demand a crown of your own.

 

**Sarabi is the name of Simba’s mother. I had to look it up. You see how ingrained this shit is? I didn’t even know the name of Simba’s mother!

 

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Dear Reader…

Jane EyreIf I were Ms. Austen or a Bronte sister, this is the point at which I would say:

Dear Reader…

After two decades of procrastination, fifteen months of on and off again writing, one month of manic non-stop writing, sixty index cards, and several weeks of juggling scenes until I thought my brain was going to spontaneously combust, I currently hold in front of me….a solid first draft. There are edits to make and language to prettify. There are scenes to be fleshed out and others to scale back, but it is a solid draft. Printed, bound, page numbered and well, that’s pretty much all she wrote.

Dear Reader…now what?

Just simply Googling ‘what to do now you’ve written a novel?‘  is exhausting. Parsing through the squillion pages of advice of what to do and what not to do is excruciating.

Confession: I am still sort of, kind of waiting for a fairy publishing Godmother to wave her wand and grant me happily ever after in the form of a book deal. But at my advancing age, I’m not sure I have time to wait around on magic and wands. At my age Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo starts to sound pretty damn silly. I’m willing to put in the next round of work, but I don’t even know where to begin.

I’m not a strategy player. I routinely get trounced by my six-year-old playing checkers. Looking ahead to the next move, whittling down the information, I am clueless. You could tell me to meet Miss Scarlet in the conservatory with a wrench and I’d go. That’s how clueless I am at the moment.

I need your stories. I need your advice, your inspiration, your experiences. I need whatever candlesticks, pistols, ropes and lead pipes you can throw at me.

Reader, I didn’t marry him, but damn if I don’t feel like I’ve given birth. Like any new mom, I could use some help.

Dear Reader…

Help.

 

That 70s Show

bikesForget running to the convenience store with a note to buy your mother’s Pall Malls. Forget rolling around in the way, way back or playing kick the can in the middle of the road until the porch lights flickered on. Forget swimming unsupervised and sweating in the car while your mother ran into the bank. Forget never needing to account for the ten hours a day you spent without supervision, cell phones or other means of communication, whole days when no one knew exactly where you were. Forget all those things. The one thing that truly stands out to me about being raised in the 1970s is this:

The hesitation to praise, promote or otherwise indulge my own abilities.

Kids today, including my own, steam through life towing their very own cheering squad behind them. From the moment they are born (Great job making your way through the birth canal, Jack!!) to their experiences in school (Everyone’s a Winner!) straight on through to adulthood, they are constantly and consistently praised for achievements, both real and exaggerated. They get a medal for showing up; they get a medal for being born.

I did not grow up that way, nor did most of my fellow Gen Xers. No, I did not have to walk to school uphill in my off the shoulder Flashdance sweatshirt or through the snow without my Capezio shoes, but it was generally expected that I not just show up, but that I do the work, and that I do it well. If those conditions were met, then praise was parsed out. I won’t say sparingly, but certainly not as lavishly as it is today.

dunce

To give you an example (and forgive me, Mom, you know I love you): in my junior year of high school I belonged to an organization called DECA. As part of this program, I competed in various disciplines at progressive levels. When I was 16, I won a spot at the regional level. I won a spot at the state level. I competed on a national platform, and I placed 4th. In the nation. My mother’s response was this: “just think, if you’d worked just a little harder, you could have placed 3rd!”.

She was thrilled for me, of course. She was proud of me, I know. I don’t hold anything against her or hold any grudge (plus, it makes for a great story). My point is, that kind of thinking, the attitude of you show up and do the work, that was part and parcel of growing up in the 70s. You were expected to do, to do well, to do your best, to work hard. Some times you were acknowledged or praised. Sometimes not.

Us 70s kids were born and raised before multi-hyphenates became a thing. I am both floored and flummoxed by the ease at which younger generations are able to attach words and titles to themselves, the ease at which they are able to confidently call themselves “X”. Truth be told, I am a bit envious of it as well.

What this means is that the notion of deserving something is a difficult one for me to ingest, even as an adult. While I am inwardly thrilled when something good happens, the notion that I ‘deserved’ it makes me uncomfortable. It is just how we were brought up way back in those Happy Days. You didn’t flaunt, you didn’t brag, you didn’t exaggerate or pretend. The problem with this deep-seated tendency to down play is that when I am acknowledged for something, even something that I have worked for, I have a difficult time finding the right balance between justifiable pride and arrogance; it is a fine line to walk.

For all my leftie, pink-0, liberalist leanings, I hold a very old-fashioned view of myself. I blush at the very notion of calling myself a writer. When I joked recently about it being a big deal to change my work status to include the word ‘writer’ on my Facebook page, I wasn’t kidding. Recently I had to write a short bio and it took me a painfully long time to decide whether to use the sentence Dina is a writer.

8fec81204944199ea73f9dccf14cfb94In the way, way back of my 1970s mind, there are certain criteria I must meet to call myself a writer, criteria which I haven’t yet met. Honestly, and you can go ahead and laugh here, there is still a small Cinderella part of me that thinks that a Fairy Publishing Godmother is going to happen across something I’ve written and whisk me away to the land of book deals and movie rights.

The problem is that my self-imposed criteria will never be met without a hefty dose of self promotion. I don’t mind the work. I am used to the work part of it. But I bluster and bluff when it comes to getting my successes out there. I worry incessantly that I appear to be merely fishing for compliments. Social media makes it easier, but I still sweat over whether or not something sounds too boastful, too full of braggadocio, too full of myself. If I told you how long it takes me to hit ‘post’ on a tweet or a status update which is acknowledging something I’ve done, you would laugh.

So, how does a product of the 1970s update her thinking?  You would think that between the writing and updating a status or a tweet, that the latter would be the easy part, right?

If it is, you were probably born a lot later than me.

 

How do you walk the line between pride and hubris? How do you comfortably promote yourself and your work?