Embarking out into the world of business, it has become painfully obvious which of the habits I’ve picked up have served me and which have not. Though I was an adventurous child – my parents pushed me to try new things and face my fears of getting hurt, crashing, or being bad at something whether it was mountain biking, skiing, or in school – I still manage to sponge up quite a few of the self-defeating, archaic traits of modern-day womanhood. I apologize when someone runs into me, when I must step aside in the isle of the grocery store, when I bump into an inanimate object, you name it. I find myself shrinking in space constantly. Legs crossed, arms crossed, shoulders hunched. I have trouble asking people to do things and asking in a way that conveys that I honestly think that I deserve those things.
This last one comes up all the time as I work with different suppliers, factories – you name it. In manufacturing and most likely in other areas of business most everyone means well but you have to set the standards you feel you deserve. And, to start with, you have to believe that you are deserving.
There are nuances with how this is conveyed. Someone who feels deserving does not write elaborate emails and say “thank you” several times throughout. A friend of mine said, “write like a mediocre white man” (no offense to white men): quick and simple, occasionally with misspelt words because you are running a business for god’s sake and not the front desk at the New York Times. But it’s not just the emails. It’s everything. So much about the way we are told to hold ourselves as women: shrinking, little screams over silliness like bugs, softly, kindly, inoffensively asking for things, referring to ourselves in self-deprecating ways, letting perfection get in the way of everything and so on and so forth – all of these behaviors become extremely detrimental to our efficacy as entrepreneurs. AND, these behaviors are not something innate to us as women. They are LEARNED social behaviors.
So identifying the problem is the first step to recovery and I’ve been working, painstakingly on breaking old habits. I’ve had a fair number of women to model better behavior, and family, friends and supporters to help me correct it. Yet my best teacher so far has come in an unlikely package. He is a 120 pound, hairy, big-eared German Shepherd. When I started dating my boyfriend, his dog and I eyed each other suspiciously. He tested me constantly. Who can make it through the door first, who gets to the bottom of the stairs first. Basically, who takes the space. Who calls the shots. After months of asserting myself here and there, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, my training was formalized in our game of fetch. Brosef, my four-legged teacher is extremely focused on sticks like others of his breed. I had grown exasperated with trying to play with him as each of our games rapidly deteriorated into him returning the stick further and further away from where I stood. I even came armed with pork sausage, to no effect.
Finally, with some coaching from my boyfriend, I decided to take a different approach. Stand up straight, take up space, hold my head high, employ a commanding voice (this was surprisingly difficult to get used to), use simple, clear, language and directions, set up clear expectations and discontinue the game if those expectations are not met. Sure enough, the stick came reliably back to my feet. Occasionally it didn’t and then I stopped playing. No hard feelings, no anger.
Small experiences added to our lessons. If I answered a phone call during our game, he stopped responding. He only gives me his full attention if I give him mine. Simple, easy, and straightforward.
When I am playing with him, I am the best version of myself: confident, clear, decisive, and focused. Little by little that shrinking, soft-spoken, apologizing, indecisive woman, overthinking and questioning each move, falls away. I am not perfect, I just am.
I know from a short lifetime of experience, reading and reflecting on what holds women back, that these self-sabotaging attributes are not exclusive to me. Plenty has been written and discussed on this topic. But, more interestingly, what happens when they fall away? Well, so far I’ve experienced for myself that your passion, your knowledge, your unique understanding of the world, your gifts are shared with others unimpinged by the baggage of living in a world that still doesn’t respect women. I am gaining some familiarity with what this means for Reid Miller. What blows my mind is imagining what it means for all the other women out there who are also beginning to see this and what the cumulative effect of this would be on our world.