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

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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47 thoughts on “Hardwired For Sorry [2]

  1. “…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…” Timi thank you, whenever I get a notification you have posted an article, I star it and return to it once I can

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marie, I’m glad you enjoy reading. Thank you for sharing the part of Bel’s story that resonated with you.

      Like Bel, I also talk to myself, reminding myself of my strengths so I don’t lose sight of who I am and who I am becoming.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember being in physics class last year with most of the students being boys, naturally they assumed that because i just came in, sat down, took notes and left while they gave explanations and argued with the teacher that i was dumb, once after a test, they were sharing scores when a boy decided to ask me my score, his friend to his right immediately said “she is just a girl, they don’t do well in this department”, to which he added “hey salma were there any female Einstein’s ?” i wanted to tell him yes there was a Marie Curie but she was a chemist not a physicist, until the teacher sat us down and started doing a correction, when he mentioned by the by that i got the highest score in the test, i now realised that, by myself i would not have told them my score, why ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your question, why, is one you’ll have to look within and answer I guess. One thing I’ve learnt, we don’t have to attend every argument we’re invited to or prove every point that’s asked of us 🙂

      It seems that perhaps the boys assumed the reason there weren’t more girls in class is because the subject is too ‘challenging’ for girls.
      Thanks for sharing your experience. I found the thinking pattern of your male classmates interesting …

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rereading this post, I realize how much was said in this. We all need to realize we have the right to express ourselves confidently, Bel. Sometimes this means we need to find an area we thrive in and know more about to feel like we have something worthy “to bring to the table.” Timi, again fine job on beginning the conversation and thanks to Bel Andrew-Amies for her contribution.

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  4. I think being perpetually quiet is useful but for me, it probably shouldn’t happen for long time.

    Nowadays it’s finding ways to say the most salient, critical stuff. Rest is fluff.

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  5. Wonderful post, Bel. Thanks for hosting, Timi. Sometimes we women are so apologetic about the things we get (like promotions). I know I have felt that way and I noticed that neither of my brothers has ever reacted that way when promoted.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love Bel’s decision to transform her life by telling herself a different story and living from that narrative instead. I know it’s easy for me to feel like there is something wrong with me when I realize that there are still ways in which I make myself smaller than I am- but it really is a collective wounding- one that each of us can heal for ourselves and each other one woman at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear diahannreyes, thanks very much for your kind comments. Indeed I agree with you about the need for a different narrative, and for the healing that comes when we begin to see the strength in ourselves. It’s by no means always easy – certainly I can attest to that. However, with persistence, it brings great results. Thanks again for your comments. I found them very insightful.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Hello Timi,

    Thank you so much for giving other beautiful voices space on your own space.

    Hello Bel,

    This was well written. I enjoyed the transition through self-doubt to self-validation, I found it very inspiring. Indeed, one’s life really is an evolution.

    I have the most vivid imagination, “Now I can only thank God for the steadfastness wherewith He glued my feet to the hot tarmac.” made me chuckle, and I chuckled even harder from the mental image of God’s huge hands holding you by the ankles, and pinning your feet to the ground XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Nedoux,

      Thanks very much for your comment. I am glad you found the article very inspiring 🙂

      In fact, I had quite forgotten about the JFK incident until I was writing the article. I stopped for a bit and pondered the affair anew. I found it interesting that the impulse to dash over and carry the shareholder’s bag seemed, in a sense, ‘natural’. And, on the other hand, the will to resist such an act seemed to be ‘foreign’ to me. I wondered about the impulse to please, to apologize, to make amends for things I did not bring about – why do those impulses seem ‘natural’? Why did I think it was somehow my duty to relieve Mr Influential Shareholder of the burden of carrying his own bags? The answer no doubt lies somewhere back in the mists of time, perhaps in the lessons that little girls receive from the world – the subliminal message that you are the caretaker, the fixer, the helper, the invisible one in the background.

      Your imagination is truly vivid! Believe me, it certainly did feel as though my feet were glued to the tarmac. No-one else but God could have done that. Grateful that He continually saves me from myself 🙂

      It was a pleasure to read your comment. Thank you for taking the time to post.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I used to be quite bad at using this phrase often. I also had adjusted to waiting on people and being a doormat. Therapy and the final divorce helped me to become more self reliant and independent. I was really happy as a single Mom and was just fine. I would like to share my world but not feel like I am dependent. It is confusing but you have made it through your introvert stage. Congratulations, Timi. This inspires me.

    Like

  9. Hi Bel, thanks for contributing to the series. I was moved by the vulnerability displayed in your writing and the ‘quiet’ and powerful style you chose to use to tell your story.

    I wonder what the other (male) board members were thinking as you sat month after month, without joining the conversation actively. Do you know?

    The incident at JFK had me in stitches. The level of ‘politeness’ you wanted to display reminded me of the video– the part where Amy Schumer’s character, after being addressed as broad by a man in the audience and her profession misrepresented by same man, offers to get him some medication for his stomach? XD Hilarious, but does it speak to a deep need to please and be approved?

    I’m glad you found yourself and you’re standing without remolding your core. You’re a role model for the rest of us girls!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Timi, it was indeed a pleasure to contribute to your series. Thanks once again for the opportunity. Thanks also to your readers for their insightful comments, and for their being so willing to give freely of themselves by sharing their experiences.

      Regarding your question – what did my fellow directors think of my being quiet? Well – and I was surprised to discover this – they interpreted it as a sign of inner strength. How I thank God that the thoughts (and fears) of our hearts are not made manifest to the watching world unless we somehow give them voice. So, when they looked at me, what they saw was a calm, quietly confident, and thoughtful woman, someone who took her time to analyze issues, and who did not feel pressured to rush out a solution on the spur of the moment. They saw also that, while I did not seek open-voiced confrontation in meetings, I was apt to meet with them one-on-one to discuss issues. This they appreciated, because people often do not like being disagreed with in public. In this way, I built up my relationships with each one individually, until such a time as I became comfortable to comment in the group meetings. I must add that, regarding matters within the sphere of my technical competence, I had no such reservations. I was more inhibited when I had to turn my attention to other areas – within the scope of my duty as a director, but not necessarily my core competence.

      The JFK incident – indeed it is very similar to the one in the Amy Schumer video. I’m sure they both emanate from the same place – the desire to please, or even more frightening, to make oneself feel smaller so that we fit into the vision of what we fear another may think of us. So we reduce ourselves before someone else comes along and does it for us. And we make the other person feel better too – we give them a feeling of worth at the expense of our own. Where the blue blazes did we learn that from?!!!

      This article (and indeed your series) has made me aware of the things we do to ourselves just to fit into what we think the world expects of us. Maybe we feel that we must not threaten others, and so we take ourselves down a few notches. We have the opportunity to change our story, to change the way we tell it. I will definitely be doing so.

      Thanks once again, and congratulations on bringing this important issue to light. Bel.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. “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.”

    Wow!!! Very insightful piece. There is no better way to shape our own destinies than to first discover who we are and appreciate that there is purpose for who we are.

    Thank you Timi for availing yourself the right to be all you can be. You inspire me!

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    1. “There is no better way to shape our own destinies than to first discover who we are and appreciate that there is purpose for who we are.”

      This is so true. That said, the process of self-discovery can be a gruelling one. But staying on the path is vital. We will never truly know ourselves (and a good thing, too, I think), but the more we learn of our motivations, dreams, and unspoken thoughts, the closer we come to shaping our destinies.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Timi,

    I respect women; especially because the society has albeit unconsciously carved out a place for the woman…the second place.

    It is unfortunate that across cultures, traditions, professions, it is the woman that has to always fulfill a conditon in other to be complete.

    A bare chested guy on the street is only expressing himself, but for a woman, she would be indecent.
    Under the laws of certain countries, a woman cannot stand as a surety or take someone on bail; but all types of men….can actually sign the bail bond.
    I can go on;

    All these unconsiously build in a sense of subservience in the woman.

    And then we talk about the inhibitions that some women place on themselves.

    Timi, the mind is like a prison,… but the beauty of it is that you have the key.

    Most women think they must live their lives to impress someone.
    She must marry to impress her family, have children to impress her in-laws, look good to impress her husband. If she fails in any of these…..she will resort to ”sorry”!!!

    It is definately not right to live like this!!!

    Hopefully, with this story, we can begin to raise daughters….who will not be wired for (aimless) sorry!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We, women, have come a looong way! There’s still ground to be covered, but it’s great that we have role models who have gone ahead. What’s also great is that we’re having these conversations and admitting something’s not right somewhere …

      Amy Schumer’s video, I’m sorry, moved me deeply, hence this series. I hope that humanizing these issues by sharing personal stories and opinions of other writers help men and women reflect and do life better.

      @the mind is like a prison,… but the beauty of it is that you have the key, so true.
      Thank you so much for sharing Obinna. Did you read my next post already? Lol, your comment is like sneak preview 😉

      Like

    2. Really well said, Obinna. Thank you. I agree with you that the way we raise our daughters has a great deal to do with it. There is of course a cultural slant to this in many places, but, in my view, the premise is the same – somehow women are socialized to see themselves as smaller than they are. And oftentimes when life conspires to lift a woman out of that ‘small’ place (or otherwise to turn the spotlight on her), her discomfort can be unbearable. This thing about apologizing may very well stem from that.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This guest post is a good addition to Sorry #1, Timi. Bel realized that the men around her were brimful with confidence but with not much ability. I think most women can’t imagine being confident without good reason, so they probably expect the men to be as competent as they pretend to be. This difference between men and women is well documented.

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    1. @ I think most women can’t imagine being confident without good reason, so they probably expect the men to be as competent as they pretend to be … I know, right? Is it testosteron or socialization or both? 🙂

      Thanks, Nicki.

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    2. Dear Behind the Story,

      Thanks very much for your comment. I agree entirely with your observation. Indeed it came as something of a surprise to me that someone could be walking around confident without any real reason so to be. I had never thought that that was possible, and so I was surprised when I discovered that some of the men were nowhere near as competent as they had appeared.

      Something else I noticed. When I look at CVs written by women applying for jobs, a lot of the time, they describe their achievements in the passive voice – ‘sales of EUR 1,000,000 were achieved’ or ‘the target was met’. Whereas a man would typically write – ‘I achieved sales of EUR 1,000,000’ or ‘I met/exceeded the targets’. Whenever I conduct interviews and come across the passive voice being used in a CV (typically by a woman), I always question further, and, invariably it turns out that the woman in question had actually achieved the goal being talked about, but had chosen to play it down by using the passive voice.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Jill,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that sharing our stories strengthens us all, and helps us to grow in many ways. Certainly I have learnt a lot by sharing mine, and by reading the responses to the article. Thank you very much.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear Val, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found the piece to be insightful. Writing it made me more aware of my thoughts and motivations. I thought I knew myself well enough, but watching the video and writing this article brought me new discoveries. Have a nice day! Bel.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Adaeze, I think it can be reassuring when we locate ourselves in another’s story.

      @gender thing, I guess differences and exceptions exist. In my experience, especially in volunteer recruitment, while men tend to cast a compelling (sometimes overblown) vision as bait, women typically apologize for everything- for taking up your time to make the ask, for your busy schedule, for the inadequacies of the opportunity, and then cast their vision in modest terms. This ‘humility’ is akin to saying someone’s no for them while making an ask ….

      But maybe it’s cultural too; that desire to help the influential shareholder with his bags at JFK … XD

      Like

    2. Hi Adaeze,

      Indeed I had never really thought about it as a gender thing until I started to question myself a bit closer. I’m glad to hear the article resonated with you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Bel.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Self awareness is powerful too. I think that conquering the ‘enemy’ within is an ongoing project because we are social beings and we internalize ideas from our socialization, sometimes unconsciously . . .

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