Have you ever driven home from work crying? On Friday afternoon, after a very hard week, I drove home crying.
Granted, I was listening to StoryCorps on NPR. This particular story was about a 60 years old woman, Kristi, remembering her mother, Norine, who had just died. She described a moment of “blissful laughing fit” when she and her mother were laughing together so hard that laughing was not any longer about something funny that one of them had said, but just about laughing together. Few days before she died, Norine told her: “Kristi, it has been really nice knowing you.” Kristi said that was the sweetest thing ever. And we both started crying.
My sadness resonated with Kristi’s sadness. She was mourning the loss of her supporting and loving mother. I was mourning my unsatisfied need for a supporting and loving work environment. Was it the hard week I had at work, with a lot of beating and little recognition? Was it that a few days earlier I hit deer driving home from work way too late in the evening and I was still in shock? Was it that after just a month back in my old IT department I was already starting to doubt my skills and my value?
This morning I talked to my mother. She was in a good mood and happy to hear from me. She was also in older-daughter-praising mode, which is quite unfrequent. She was happy at how successful I had been, in spite of all the obstacles, difficulties, and confusion I had to overcome. She told me about my first grade teacher, who was mean and rude (I remember I was terrorized by her because she used to throw pencil holders at her students when she was angry). The teacher told my mother I was stupid and did not understand anything in class. A few months later, my parents discovered that I was severely near-sighted. I went to school for months without being able to see what my teacher wrote on the blackboard. They gave me prescription glasses and my grades went from almost failing to very good.
Correcting my vision saved my academic career, but it also confirmed my earlier suspicion that I was defective. By the time I was in third grade, I had to go to school wearing eyeglasses, corrective shoes, and braces. (Ah, the 60s! What a wonderful time.) I remember one dream I had when I was 7 or 8. I dreamed I was made of glass. In the dream, I walked very carefully, because I didn’t want other people to notice the noise I made when I moved. Hopefully, nobody would realize that under the white and red dress I was not a real person but a fake, just a girl made of glass. Then I bumped into something and broke in a thousand pieces. Somebody swept the floor and threw the pieces in the garbage can.
I am 45 years old. I am woman. I am strong. I am smart. I manage a group of really smart and talented people. And yet, sometimes I feel as powerless as that girl who once dreamed she was made of glass. I feel that the world is too big, too powerful, too out of control, and definitely not on my side. I still feel that I am a defective and fragile item in a world of perfect ones. I still feel I am a fake, I don’t belong, and shouldn’t be there.
I am still reading Necessary Dreams (and yes, you should read it too. You should read it if you are a woman; you should read it if you are a teacher; you should read it if you are a manager; you should read it if you still believe that women are “less ambitious” and care less about their careers than men do; you should read it if you feel overwhelmed and ready to give up.). Anna Fels unveils the many subtle and less subtle biases that have the net effect of providing less social recognition to women, which translate in a greater fragility of women’s ambition. She tells me that if I feel overwhelmed and inadequate it’s probably because I don’t have enough support and recognition in my work environment, not necessarily because I am bad and faulty; and that this is true of everybody, not just of me. People who have achieved much are not necessarily stronger and more talented, but likely more supported and more able to create the conditions for strong, motivating r
So, what’s a girl gotta do to be happy at work? Sometimes I feel like fighting to get what I deserve. Sometimes I feel it’s really not worth the effort and I would be better off leaving for good. In the meanwhile, I am left wondering, with The Clash:
Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An’ if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know