I have given a variety of answers to the question,“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Kindergarten: teacher, because I admired my teacher
4th grade: famous author, because people praised my writing, and why wouldn’t I believe I was good enough to be famous?
High school: lawyer, because writing isn’t a “realistic” career ambition, and I wasn’t as good as I’d once believed
Post grad: No idea, but benefits and a living wage would be a good start
When someone asks what you want to be, they’re really asking what you want to do. We make decisions about what we do in an attempt to be something else: financially secure, happy, respected, famous.
I’ve constantly changed my mind about what I want to do, but I’ve always wanted to be one thing: proud of myself.
This enigmatic, slippery state of being has proven impossible to grasp for more than a few moments at a time because it is a double-edged sword. On one side, I’m looking to others to affirm me. I need someone else to tell me that who I am and what I’m doing is sufficient.
On the other side, my own standards are higher than anyone else’s.“Oh, you think I did a good job? Well, thanks, but I should have finished it earlier and let me point out the mistakes I made.”
I’m writing in black and white here, but more often than not, I discount my achievements and place in the world until someone else affirms them, and then deflect the recognition when I do get it. It’s an exhausting, impossible quest, and I know I’m not alone.
At a time of unprecedented opportunity for women, my own experience leads me to believe that the greatest obstacle for women today is… ourselves.
Women continue to rise to leadership positions in almost every industry, proving their competence and value. It’s inspiring, but I can’t help but wonder: for every woman succeeding publicly and privately, how many intelligent potential influencers have we lost to their own insecurities? How many have believed the outdated script that their ideas are not worth sharing? How many have sold themselves short, waiting voluntarily in the wings without even trying out for the part?
My own self-limiting beliefs have held me back personally more than any outside opposition. No legislation, corporate policy, or cultural enlightenment will make a difference if we don’t first believe in ourselves.
A note to myself, and you, too:
Your value doesn’t depend on what you accomplish. You have a lot to offer, but no one will know until you believe you are valuable and competent, that your ideas are worth sharing, that your skills and knowledge are beneficial to the people around you. Whether those people are your coworkers, husband, children, or friends, everyone is missing out when you live life as an apology instead of a statement.