Hardwired For Sorry [2]

Permission to Stand

 

Permission to Stand

I still remember my first board meeting. It was three weeks after my promotion took effect. After only one year in middle management, I had been promoted to executive board level in the publishing company where I worked.

For sure, I had done very well. My promotion was speedy, and, many people agreed, extremely well deserved. In addition, it was the first time in the history of the company that a foreigner (and a woman, at that), had been appointed to the board. My co-directors and their predecessors were all cut from the same cloth: Dutch men in their fifties, same lifestyle, same background, same jokes.

And so I was the proverbial breath of fresh air. Or so the CEO said as I took my seat at the table. I wasn’t quite sure what they were expecting from me. They looked kind enough, they asked my opinion, and they deferred to me on matters within my area of expertise.

Yet, I was largely quiet. For the first few months or so, I said very little. That could of course be due mainly to my introverted nature—scanning the world, observing life and its interactions, and formulating my views before expressing them.

I would never have dared utter a word unless I was sure of my premise, my arguments, and, vitally, my conclusion. I watched in admiration as my co-directors did the opposite. Especially Max, the commercial director. He would begin with a statement, firm, emphatic, sure. He would wind down various alleys of logic and counter logic, never once wavering in his sense of conviction, and then he would end his monologue, having arrived at a conclusion antithetical to the premise with which he had opened.

I would have been mortified had my thought processes been so exposed to the world, but by his manner (born of an assurance that I never before knew existed), I knew he had no such reservations.

However, my introversion was not the only reason for my reserve. In fact, it was a convenient label I put on myself, a comfort blanket which, protected me from the sharp gusts of truth: that, in a world seemingly governed by others, I was unsure of myself, earnestly seeking permission to stand.

I could not fathom why I felt that way. My technical experience and leadership skills had carried me to the place that I now occupied. Having accepted my appointment, I had every right to play my role. Everyone treated me as my new role demanded. Every voice spoke to me with much respect, save for the voice in my head.

I remember now with mirth a business trip I took to New York during those days. As I stood waiting for a taxi at JFK airport, I saw one of our most influential shareholders at the airport. He was carrying his bags and looking for a taxi. I had this crazy impulse to dash up to him and offer to carry his bags. Now I can only thank God for the steadfastness wherewith He glued my feet to the hot tarmac.

It took me a while before I realised my self-doubt was from within. That, somehow, it was bound up with being a woman. I don’t know when I came to that realization. Maybe it was when I discovered that some of the men around me were brimful with confidence but with not much ability. Maybe it was when I saw  junior male employees swaggering around with an arrogance that could be explained not by talent, and certainly not by achievement. Maybe it was when I noticed that the same self-doubt that tortured me was also present in the minds of some very fine, intelligent women in our company.

Fortified with this knowledge, I set out to change my story. No, not the perception of me that others might have had, but rather the story of me that I told myself. However, in order to do that, I had first to look at myself, come to terms with what I saw, and then begin purposefully to change that vision.

And so I did that. I have begun to tell myself, first, that I am bigger on the inside than I am on the outside. It is true that I am slightly built, soft spoken, and often given to quiet introspection. However, these are all remarkable qualities, and they add something special to whatever table I may grace. They are not weaknesses to be excused away. They are strengths, because they bring empathy and perspicacity to those with whom I have to do. I also know that I am bold, principled, and strong.

I was all the while seeking permission to stand. Now I have granted myself that precious right.

 

Bel Andrew-Amies makes her home in Amsterdam. When she’s not immersed in the world of international business law, she works on her short story collection.

Watch Amy Schumer’s video which inspired the series.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

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