The first thing I want you to know is that I am a feminist.
The second is that I am a self-aware, successful young professional. The third? I am extraordinarily embarrassed to be writing this. Yet, I find myself writing it because it’s important.
This is the true story of how I discredited myself at work in one measly, stupid sentence.
A long while back in my professional life, I had to meet with a higher-up in the company I worked for. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce myself, explain my role, and state my professional goals as well as what I’d like to see improve within the company. It was a standard meeting, although I woke up the morning of feeling surprisingly intimidated and nervous about the encounter. I felt anxious because I wanted to make a good impression.
It was going splendidly. As I sat there, answering questions about analytics and what’s working and what’s not, I was surprised by my abilities. I felt deserving of this job. I thought, I’m hella good at it and I have it for a reason. I am killing this one-on-one. I felt proud.
But in the last 60 seconds of the exchange, I screwed everything up by carelessly muttering one stupid sentence.
We were wrapping things up, I was getting out of my chair when a strange, involuntarily reflex came over my mouth and before I could stop it, I was saying, “Sorry, I hope I didn’t ramble too much and made some sense.”
Um, what?! I had answered every question with the air of supreme confidence, the tone of someone who is amazingly qualified. I met the needs of every task asked of me, yet here I was seeking validation from my higher-up. Why did I need a gold star? Was it because he was a man?
I deliberately sabotaged myself. All I had to do was thank him, leave, and it would have been okay. But I committed professional suicide in twelve words.
To add insult to injury, this awkward moment was not glossed over. In fact, it was met by the male higher-up with a confused expression.
Because I hadn’t rambled. Because I had made sense. Because I was smart and spoke so. Because I was good at my job and that came across very clearly.
Yet I sought forgiveness, expected to be judged or criticized, to be told that I was inferior. Was it because I was a woman? What was in me, causing me to feel like I failed even when I very much knew I had excelled?
“No, not at all,” he said, unable to feign semi-shock at my unexpected 180.
I smiled politely and booked it back to my cubicle. I replayed the last minute of the meeting in my head, feeling immediate shame and regret. Why was I so unwilling to accept the success I earned?
I still don’t have the answers and I continue to attempt to understand myself in that moment. But I hope the takeaway is this: Work hard, but also work hard at combatting self-sabotage. There’s some innate feeling of inadequacy lodged deep inside me somewhere because I am a woman. As confident as I am in my everyday professional life, that shadow of sexism lives in me simply because I am female and subconsciously expect to be told I am not enough: that I ramble, that I’m not smart, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I don’t deserve success. That I’m not validated in my success unless a man overtly gifts me that validation.
So work hard, ladies. But work even harder to shut up the voice that whispers you are not enough, that you are undeserving of your accolades. Because it will always exist, I think, no matter what we accomplish in our lives and that’s not fair to us.
We deserve everything we earn and more.