Just Be Real

The Library Board…that mysterious group of people who meet in the evening once a month and decide our fate. My boss’s bosses. When they want to talk to you, you say “I’ll be there.”

Really, it’s not so bad. This is not New York or Chicago, nor is it a multi-national corporation where the Board is made up of world-famous movers and shakers. But still, our small town is home to a small college with students from all over the world, and the Board members are all community leaders and/or professors or wives of professors. Recently, they have decided that they would like to meet all of us who work at the library and find out a little about us and what we do here.

Today, my new co-worker Julie and I went together to the Board meeting to say hello and explain what our jobs are. I probably don’t have to say that this was way outside my comfort zone. I thought I was done when I said a little bit about doing circulation as we all do, helping with interlibrary loan, and that I spend most of my time doing collateral publications, posters, calendars, and such. Done. Whew.

Then Marilyn, my boss, asked me to talk a little bit about the special grant project that Monique and I are working on. I looked at the Board members who were all watching me expectantly, and decided to just go for it.

I was nervous, but I tried so hard to keep my thoughts in order and give more than just a basic overview of the project. I noticed them all listening intently to me, sometimes nodding, and Marilyn smiling at me. I tried hard to make sense and not be flustered.

Over the past few months, I’ve been looking hard at myself, and understanding that I really need to be more assertive. I’m not sure what got into me to make me just talk as if people were going to be interested in what I had to say. Julie told me later that she thought I did a really good job. I thanked her, and told her that it’s been a very long time since I put more than two sentences together at one time. Two short sentences.

I’ve been reading a book called “The Nice Girl Syndrome” by Beverly Engel. The main premise of her book is that women have been programmed to become nice girls, and thus set themselves up for abuse. A lot of what she said didn’t really apply to me, but some of it really hit home. It’s worth another post just to bring up a few of her observations, but here is an edited version of “The Four C’s.”

Confidence: The reason many women are too nice is that they lack the confidence to stand up for themselves, say no, disagree, or state their preferences. They fall back on the old standby niceness to get by because they do not believe in themselves or that others will respect their wishes, preferences, or ideas.

Competence: Most women are more competent than they realize. But because they have been taught to be modest and even self-deprecating, they believe that acting competent is the same as acting conceited, cocky, or narcissistic.

Conviction: Many women were taught that they should never disagree or argue with others, especially authority figures. Others become intimidated by those who are domineering or overly confident. Still others believe that they should avoid conflict at all costs.

Courage: It takes courage to become more confident and to then show it to others. It takes courage to own your competence and to stop hiding it from others. And it especially takes courage to stand by your convictions.

Today I guess I figured that I should give them what they were asking for, and they were asking to meet me and find out what my duties were at the library. I must have decided that what they wanted was for me to talk — they probably didn’t want to hear one or two sentences and then have to pry the rest out of me. It was a very easy way to practice being more assertive, when the end result of my courage was simply giving them what they wanted in the first place.

More difficult will be expressing my opinions and believing that they matter. It’s also hard to call people out when they do things that hurt my feelings, instead of pretending that it isn’t important. I’m thinking specifically of the next time my husband interrupts me. What would be wrong with asking him to please not interrupt me and let me finish my thought? I think that would be much better than just clamming up and letting him continue talking while I feel resentful. I’m pretty sure that what I am telling him is worth saying.

I’m sure that my long-term goals don’t include an appointment to the Hospital Board. Still, in smaller ways, the more I am able to express my thoughts, feelings, and needs to others, the more I will become less frustrated and more satisfied.

Something we were withholding made us weak. Until we found it was ourselves. — Robert Frost


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