samedi, juin 22, 2013

Meet the con woman

A few days ago, I sat in a classroom with students who were mostly half my age.

Thank goodness for the teacher in her fifties. Thank heaven for the other harried middle-aged mom, torn between an elderly father and her four college and high school kids.

Not that the younger ones, the twenty and thirtysomethings, haven't been great. They are gracious, accepting, and much smarter about statistics than I am.

But I do stand out, not only for my relative senior status, but because while a lot of them (though not all) are at the beginning of a career, I have a few behind me.

Not to mention a few that I'm juggling right now.

A panel of experts was discussing how to assess programs in student affairs offices (hush, now), and I brought up a few questions that had been bugging me. Later that evening, one of my student colleagues complimented me for bringing in a different voice and perspective -- asking the unusual questions.

"Oh, I'm a journalist" I said wryly (almost unthinkingly). "I'm trained to ask the questions. Finding the answers is much harder."

Deflection. Denial. Avoidance. Turning away a compliment quickly and, I must say, rather smoothly.

Damn, I'm good.  If someone is running a competition for not accepting compliments, tell me where to enter. Of course, I might lose the stamp and have run out of envelopes, and write down the URL incorrectly but still....

And oh, if some guy compliments me, tells me I'm pretty -- aw, he's telling three thousand other women the same thing. Or he's in search of a willing and gullible female for a quick romp between the sheets. Or he has some kind of visual difference. Because who else but someone who can't see that clearly...well, you get the idea.

The problem is, that there is a grain of truth in these caricatures, though not enough, really to build more than a cartoon series on.

When it comes to work, love and child-rearing give me credit for trying is my mantra.  But don't give me too much.

I bet it's the mantra of many women -- or else why would "Lean In," the book by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, be so very popular?

One of her chief arguments is that part of the gap in earnings between men and women is fueled, in part, by a lack of confidence among otherwise various very talented women.

You don't have to look too far to see that trait in many women.

But not accepting (authentic) compliments -- well, it's getting a bit ridiculous at my age. I don't know about you, but I sacrificed a lot of my thirties to denying my abilities.

Men accept compliments if they run a marathon, finish an office project, achieve a personal best, look good in a suit. Sheesh.

Why shouldn't women be that bold?

Because, possibly, saying "thanks" doesn't only imply that you have earned the nice words. It also suggests that, next time, the bar may be set a little higher.

And if we accept that we are gifted in some areas, then we also have to own up to deficits in others. I can rattle those off right quick.

When it comes to physical attractiveness, we are even more besieged by mixed messages.

Beauty, as we all, know, can fade -- unless it is a fire the emanates from within. And, in fact, some men and women who are by no means models of Grecian perfection are dazzling not because they would be great magazine models, but because of an energy and yes, a confidence, that wells up from their core.

I am going to be working on my own personal "confidence gap."

Next time a friend lobs a bouquet in my direction, I'm not going to toss it over to the guy next to me, because undoubtedly he really earned it. I'll simply say "thank you" -- and move on, feeling a bit more inspired, a little more challenged.

What will you do, my sisters?

I hope you join me.

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