We hear that phrase tossed around, but how often do we actually think about what it means?
I’ve been wrestling with this concept this week a lot. As a fresh graduate opening my own practice, I’m having to think about my skills and abilities and the risks that I can afford to take in a way that I haven’t ever had to do before.
From an objective standpoint, I’m ready and more than capable. I manage the finances in my personal life and work part time as an assistant to a bookkeeper for a small business. I have that exposure. I’m organized to a fault. I think ahead. I have sought out advice, some freely given, some paid for. I have built a solid financial and practical foundation for myself.
I’m going into a field that is in high demand in my area. Counselors literally can’t keep up with the number of people seeking services. I have a guaranteed flow of clients sooner or later.
I have the necessary skills for my field. I excelled both in my “book learning” as well as the practical application portion of my training. As a student, I was involved in conferences and presentations that most don’t begin to pursue until well into their post-graduate careers, and my supervisors have all predicted that I will do well in my field (and I have to fight with myself to acknowledge that because it feels “arrogant” to write).
Growing up, I heard my mom downplay her intellectual skills. I watched her choose to work out of the home from financial necessity but never pursuing a career.
I took in the lessons about how women were supposed to be the homemakers and men the breadwinners. I learned that a college education for a woman was more about having an income option to fall back on, but should be something that wouldn’t outshine the husband (the finding of one was also a primary reason for college).
My brother, who struggled in the school things at which I excelled, defensively taunted me about being “book smart” but not “street smart.”
I learned to think of myself as a naïve dreamer who wouldn’t survive out in the world on my own because that’s how he saw me.
I learned to think of myself as incompetent and horribly dependent because that’s how he saw me.
In college, before I left the cult, I was pressured to learn violin pedagogy because, like my mom before me, teaching music to young children out of the home was the best marketable skill I was told I had. Meanwhile, my desire to pursue writing was deemed impractical. When I initially expressed that I didn’t want to get married, people tut-tutted about how I would provide for myself.
Graduate school wasn’t something I saw the women around me pursuing. Careers were things for men.
So now, as I dive into my future, learning to see myself as a professional woman with a career—a self-employed woman, no less—I realize that the strongest image I have of myself when I think about this next step is that of the naïve, incompetent, book-smart not street-smart child who has no hope of making it in the world on her own.
I feel guilty for putting money into setting up a practice (it’s extravagant and impractical!), nervous that I’ll fail miserably (maybe careers really aren’t for people like me!).
I can talk myself into seeing my competencies, preparation, and skill…most of the time. But it takes effort. My default is the image I was taught to see of myself—of women’s potential—as a child.
Which is why I’m determined to push through these doubts and take the chance of trusting the foundation I have laid between my education and my “worldly” experience. I drown out the doubts the way Thomas the Train climbed the hill: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”
Eventually, maybe I’ll see myself in a different light without so much effort.
And I hope that one day another little girl will be able to look around and see a rainbow of examples of women doing the things that I was taught they don’t do. Maybe one day I might be one of the Jenga pieces that topples the limited tower in which girls are kept because I dared to remove myself from that tower.