Grounding Myself in Confidence
It is a coincidence that I’m publishing this post on International Woman’s Day. But, here it is, a bit of a ramble that I hope is helpful for other young women.
This year I’ve decided to focus on my professional development and a part of that focus is attending events not just for the networking and socializing but also to explore topics that are interesting to me. That means I’m on the hunt for lots of international law, international development, and environment and public health events. I’ve been talking to other, more senior and experienced professional woman: How did they do it? Can I do it? I’m doing this, what else do I need to do? I’m also knee deep in Coursera; I might be addicted actually but I love this resource. Free courses from top-notch universities and a very engaging and lively learning environment. Free! Why didn’t I know about it before this year? I already have classes lined up through September. I have Hermione tendencies too but I’ve already learned the lesson about taking too many courses at once. Good thing I learned this before I go back to paid school part-time…ha. Unlike Ms. Granger, I do not have a time turner so I have to contend with a measly 24 hours in the day…and accept that because I work full-time, coach, blog, and manage other projects and although these are online-based courses with no set class time, that they still require lots of attention. I like to do things well and I don’t care that there’s no grade. I have to be satisfied with my effort and what I learned…and I have to maintain a balance in my life, a lesson my body forcefully taught me three years ago.
Another and very important part of my professional development is building my confidence. I’ve decided to accomplish that, partly, by becoming familiar with the life stories and work of others, their success and failures. Importantly, what have other women done and how? During my workday I usually listen to the radio or some music. A favourite of mine is the BBC, which offers a wide array of live and recorded programs. Earlier this week I’d exhausted my supply of usual comedy and drama programs but soon came upon a series called ‘The Age of Reason.” The BBC World Service is celebrating 80 years and as part of that celebration it is interviewing female octogenarians about their lives but also generally about how they have seen the lives of women change during their lifetimes. The women featured are: Vigdis Finnbogadottir (Iceland’s first female President), Professor Romila Thapar (one of India’s prominent and pioneering historians), Dr Alice Rivlin (an American economist and top advisor to President Obama), Amina Cachalia (a South African anti-apartheid activist), Professor Mildred Dresselhaus (an American physicist who’s done pioneering and foundational work in nanotechnology), and Dr. Nawal El Saadawi (an Egyptian doctor and writer who has long campaigned for women’s rights in Egypt). Often while listening to these interviews I exclaimed out loud but in a good way. These women’s lives are truly inspirational and have already been useful for how I think about my professional life and career choices. The recordings of the interviews are available for at least another year. For all the women reading this, young women in particular: check these interviews out. You will not be sorry.
Last month I was forced to think carefully about the accomplishments of Mrs. Repole. Then this week I watched Ory Okolloh, an accomplished and respected Kenyan activist lawyer, and Google executive, help Kenyans harness technology to ensure smooth and open general elections. This week I also caught up on the brouhaha about Sheryl Sandberg’s forthcoming book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Criticisms abound for Sandberg and her book: how dare she rich Facebook executive dare to offer advice on feminism? And how dare she encourage women to be honest with themselves and demand that they overcome their own internal barriers to success? Did I mention that some of the criticisms are from those who have not read the book? Or from women who think Sandberg is blaming the victim? OK. To say nothing of attempts to pit Sandberg against Anne-Marie Slaughter, as if their approaches to the social and economic problems facing women are mutually exclusive or inherently opposed. You can tell how I feel about these criticisms. Quite frankly, these attacks are no better than slut shaming and seem to subconsciously (want to) reinforce good ol’ patriarchy and oppression. I’m not steeped in feminist discourse (shout out to @DonnaTruly for the brief impromptu lesson last night) but I have a healthy skepticism about some things I see (so-called) feminists say. They simply don’t make sense to me. Maybe I’m fourth-wave or whatever the fancy term is but I have a huge problem with folks claiming to be feminist telling me that what I’m doing — what I’m choosing — is wrong or “setting the movement back” simply because it’s not what they think I should be doing. Yep, interested in meting out their own oppression. Consider the criticisms of Michelle Obama. I have pre-ordered Sandberg’s book.
But I digress.
My point is that all of this recent exposure to issues and stories about being a woman and a professional woman has pushed me to think about things that I have not thought about before or have not thought about in a long time. Sometimes I grasp and welcome that by simply being who I choose to be that I am a political statement: outspoken black Jamaican who willingly emigrated from Jamaica and then chose to become an American lawyer and to wear her hair locs (Grandpa is still accepting this choice I think). But other times I’m wary and simply want to be. Sometimes I don’t want my choices to make me political. Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed, tired, and muzzled by it all. Yes, muzzled. To say nothing of the “bitch” label, which at one point I embraced but then grew uncomfortable with. Because when men speak up they’re leaders…women do it and they’re too aggressive and bitchy. But so far this year, and in particular this week, I’ve been thinking about my choices within a much larger context. I do not feel as hemmed in…instead I feel energized. Ironically too I realize that it is OK to be overwhelmed and bothered but that it’s OK (and necessary) to speak up. Contrary to popular belief it is not always easy to speak up and out about things that many have decided you have no right to discuss because of your choices and (perceived) privilege. Consider the attitude of many resident Jamaicans toward those of us in the Diaspora.
So I am grounding myself in confidence acquired through various ways…in myself and in my goals and beliefs. Not hubris, not obnoxiousness, not conceit. Confidence: better than any make up or sophisticated outfit.