Culture & Society · Education & Career · Recollections & Reflections

What the little girl in me needed to hear

Today was a great way to start the best month of the year.

This afternoon I participated in a panel titled “A Double Whammy or Triple Threat: The Disparity of Diversity Amongst Women in STEM.”

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Can you guess which one I am? Photo courtesy of Women & HiTech’s Twitter page

If you’ve been reading this blog, you can probably deduce my first reaction. Why am I being asked to participate in a panel about STEM?

I’m the very antithesis of STEM, the lover of all things Liberal Arts. I think it’s good and important to have more women in STEM. But my issue is even larger than that: WHY are the Humanities so looked down upon? Let’s talk about that! Okay, maybe not now, because that’s another post right there.

But anyway, when I was first approached to be a part of this, I was naturally skeptical. When the organizer reassured me (more than once) that I wouldn’t be speaking on STEM, but rather Philanthropy and Academia, which is the breeding ground for STEM as she explained, the Pseudo-Academic that I am was all like, “I get to represent Academia! Yes, I’ll do it!”

But also, I made it one of my professional goals to say “yes” to every speaking engagement I could. Despite Speech Team in high school, Mock Trial in undergrad, and heck, singing in front of hundreds of people (not in a single venue, mind you), public speaking still gets me every single time.

I think I’m getting better. Of course, I was nervous. But not as nervous as usual. I didn’t spend days before the event trying to memorize a script. Mostly because the “script” was already prepared in the course of two conference calls prior to the event. I have to say: the organizers really eased my nerves when it came to preparation.

Also, I’m really proud of myself for going “off-script” when I referred to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her “Danger of a Single Story” TEDtalk. I could tell it was something people in the audience had not heard of before. I was asked a few times to repeat her name and title. I’m no avid TedTalk watcher; but because I love Adichie, I knew that one.

The moment of truth, if you will, came after the panel discussion though. I didn’t really have time to process everything and so when the first two women I had a chance to speak to said that I did a great job or something along those lines (honestly, I don’t really remember), the first thing that came out of my mouth was, “I just feel so honored to have been on stage with these incredible, accomplished women. I didn’t feel like I belonged there.” And the second those words came out, the two women politely rebuked, “No. Don’t say that! That was the point of the entire panel and discussion!”

I’m clearly not practicing what I (seem to) preach.

The first time I heard the term “Imposter Syndrome” was when I was a grad student at UChicago. I didn’t take it seriously because I didn’t think that most of the people who claimed they had it really did. I did; but not them. But doing well in most of my classes (with the exception of those two Bs) and graduating didn’t assuage the pervasive belief that there must have been some loophole in admissions. I don’t think even earning a PhD (if I could commit to it) would alleviate this problem, this longing for validation.

Because as I was reminded of again today, it has nothing to do with “accomplishments.” Well, maybe a little. But accomplishments are subjective. What matters most are the thoughts you harbor about yourself. Many of the panelists talked about encouraging our girls by being sponsors. I feel like the little girl in me needed to hear that. I’m not going to lie: I started to choke up afterwards. I don’t want to say that no one believed in me and thus I didn’t believe in myself, because that’s not true. But I spent a good deal of my life berating myself, comparing myself to others, and not feeling enough.

Now, I haven’t had a change in heart or anything. I’m forever a Humanities Girl, whatever that means. But I really needed a dose of that message: that little girls need to believe in their abilities and capabilities. Grown women need to believe in their abilities and capabilities, I being one of them. Being on a panel with other women who I consider to be more accomplished made me realize that maybe I too am accomplished, in my own way. In any case, I was and remain inspired by them and feel suddenly so much lighter.

As I made my way towards my car, I felt that maybe God chose me to be a part of this specific panel to reassure me. Too long have I felt undeserving. Too long have I felt the need to prove my worth. That’s not to say that I give up and stop working hard. But rather, to begin to believe that I have done good work and can, God-willing, continue to do more.