Can’t, Won’t, Shouldn’t

Like my friend Mallory Bower shared this week, when I was asked to give an Ignite-style talk at the NASPA Region II Confrence, I was not ready. Like many professionals, I’ve had plenty of experiences speaking publicly, but this was by far the most nervewracking.  I realized it wasn’t the format, the venue, or the presentation itself that scared me.  It was the mere fact that had been chosen for this opportunity, and I couldn’t possibly be worthy of this selection.  I feared the reactions from the audience, colleagues, and strangers alike.

What makes her an expert?

Why was she asked instead of me?

What makes her topic so important?

It made me think of all of those times that I was told I couldn’t do something.  “You’re too clumsy, you shouldn’t be using power tools” or “You won’t ever follow through on becoming a Jazzercise fitness instructor, it’s too hard”.  Too often we are told: “you can’t, won’t, shouldn’t do something” by authority figures and even friends in our lives.  This negativity coursing through my veins reminded me of this quote from Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In:

“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”

Think about all the times that fear of others holds you back.  Then stop thinking about them.  Think about all the times that the support of others empowers you.  So many positive examples have come up for me in the past few months, it’s hard to narrow them down.

-Meeting my fellow Instigate and Ruminate Speakers: I’m shouting them out again, but working with four amazing people (three of them women) including Mallory, Sue Caulfield, Suzanne Sullivan McGillicuddy, and Joe Ginese really taught me the support that can come from bonding over something incredibly stressful.  This support system has now developed into friendships.

The Summer 2014 Virtual Reciprocity Ring: Started by Amma Marfo, the SVRR brings together women from all over the country in multiple fields.  Each week, one woman pitches her idea or asks for support, and the rest of us provide that outlet.  Regardless of whether or not you post, the support coming from every woman is enough to lift you out of fear. Thanks, Amma.

-Long distance connections: Whether through phone, e-mail, or Google hangout, I have had some fantastic conversations with supportive ladies from all over the country about doctoral programs, the job search, what motivates us, and even just talking about refinishing furniture. Most of this is thanks to my taking the Twitter leap earlier this year and connecting through #sachat.

“Without fear, women can pursue professional success and personal fulfillment – and freely choose one, or the other, or both.”

It’s time to stop looking at what holds us back and start looking at what moves us forward.  What would you do if you weren’t afraid?