Dear OWHE: Unsure

Dear OWHE is an advice column for OWHE Members. When folks have a question they'd like to ask the OWHE Board, they can submit a question and board members will do their best to respond in an authentic and meaningful way. 

Dear OWHE,

After being involved with the organization for just over a year it's clear there are a lot of amazing womxn doing phenomenal things. Being in OWHE has motivated and empowered me, but I also find myself intimidated and unsure of what's so special about what I can offer. As a result, I'm struggling to answer two big questions: How do I reconcile championing others and celebrating successes with cultivating my own identity and confidence? How do I balance supporting others with staying professionally competitive?

  -Unsure   

 

Dear Unsure,

Thanks so much for taking the step to be vulnerable and ask for input! I’m going to address this in chunks.

Being in OWHE has motivated and empowered me, but I also find myself intimidated and unsure of what's so special about what I can offer.

I was totally intimidated by OWHE and the board before I joined! The only advice I can give is to realize we’re super accessible, don’t want to intimidate anyone, and are just regular people who have the time management skills to want to take on the extra job of being on the board. I believe we are just as passionate, sharp, feminist, and badass as any of our members, we just had the confidence (or support - I know I certainly didn’t possess my own self-confidence much when I applied) to apply for the board. Everyone brings something, even if it’s not “rare” - all of our BOD members and hopefully most/all of our members are so caring, willing to try new things, and passionate about equality. Those things are super important and special in a world that so often lacks them, even if we all share them. And each individual has their own special spin on that, a way their unique life and creativity live through their work. You don’t have to have some unique superpower to kick ass, but the fact that you are an individual human who cares about the mission does mean you have something to offer. Equality isn’t something that one person with the “right” answer can do, it takes as many people as we can get collaborating, doing things a little differently, and making as much change as we can.

How do I reconcile championing others and celebrating successes with cultivating my own identity and confidence?

Icon from Airplane Safety Guide For Putting on Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Helping Others

I have struggled with this quite a bit. After I realized that, as a women raised in a traditional setting, I was basically molded to think that everyone else was more important than me, it has been difficult to reconcile still being supportive while also acknowledging and growing myself. It is a journey, but a collaborative one. I can support others without treating them as more important than me. I can say no to someone if I have a good reason. Advocating for my own happiness, confidence, identity doesn’t mean I am disparaging others’. In fact, coming to develop my own identity and confidence has made me a far better advocate for others - I know my strengths better and I am more effective in my advocacy work. Plus, when I am exhausted from poor stress management, low confidence, etc, I can’t really show up for others as well. We need to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others - put the oxygen mask on yourself first so you don’t pass out when trying to help someone else.

How do I balance supporting others with staying professionally competitive?

In terms of your career advancement, the same thing applies! You can support others while supporting yourself; the more I’ve come to accept this the better professional networks I’ve created, more mutually beneficial relationships come out of that, and the more awesome stuff we’ve been able to do together instead of politely telling the other person to go first (cue that Portlandia “no you go” episode). American rugged individualism and the masculine-dominated, competition-focused culture that we live in tells us that there is limited pie and you must constantly fight for your piece of the pie. Happiness and success multiply when shared - you can succeed while supporting others in their success. And if it literally comes down to you are both vying for the same job, well, it’s the hiring manager’s decision to hire who will be best for the organization so you can wash your hands of having to be the one to “concede” - it’s not your decision. There will always be someone better at something than each of us, and always someone not as advanced - it doesn’t mean they are more or less deserving of a happy life. I always think about how much more I can do (from the number of people I can help in my job to the amount I can donate to charities as my salary increases) from my own professional growth, and artificially deflating my career because I think the rest of the world is somehow more deserving than me is definitely not helping that. I wouldn’t tell a friend (or you) to give up on their dreams to support others, and I am not going to tell myself that either, because the same rules apply.

So, repeat after me: everyone else is not more deserving than me. I still have to remind myself of this - it’s a big change for some of us if we’ve spent our whole lives thinking the opposite. And the more baby steps you make in the right direction, the more you’ll develop that identity and confidence that will continue guiding you. Go get those dreams!

Sincerely, 

Brenna Kutch, Co-Chair of the Annual Conference & OWHE Board Member

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