use your words

In 9 short days, it will be my 3 month anniversary at my new company.  It’s been a learning experience, for sure, and I still feel like I’m a baby lamb.  I’m still struggling with my old high volume brain.  I’m still trying to keep up with myself.  I’m still oversheduling and always feeling behind.  This past week has been especially difficult.  I was sick and had to be out two days, so all my stuff landed on Thursday and Friday–even bled into next week.  I hate when that happens because my days always have too many meetings.  Add in tons of interviews, and I’m a hot mess by noon.  I was pretty much meeting myself coming, felt exhausted and cranky.  Exactly how I shouldn’t be when I have to be “on.”

I struggle a lot with this job.  It’s never really come easy for me.  Or I should say–the people piece hasn’t.  I’m good with people, but managing my own needs against the needs of others is just not easy for me.  I can be a bit of a doormat.  I’ve worked on this over the years, but I’m still an INFP.  Which means I’m pretty introverted; a peacemaker, at heart; and someone who avoids conflict at all costs.  Until it’s something that will send me over the edge, I usually want to be agreeable and want to help.  Only I often don’t know what will send me over the edge!

In my field–there are things I have to do.  One is talk.  All day long.  One is present.  All day long.  I analyze and scrutinize every word, every pause.  I do a lot of solitary stuff too, but the people piece is the most important.  There’s an art to it–and that art is what I find most exhausting and hard to deal with.  I have to be calculated about what I say–how I present myself.  I can’t just be little old honest me.  I mostly am, but I have to reign stuff in because of policies and legalities and common sense.  I can’t chat away because my schedule is ridiculous.  And I’m being scrutinized too.  Especially here–where half the time, the person I’m talking to is related to someone who knows someone.  It’s a small world down South.  It’s also one where politeness is a big deal.  Where presentation is everything.  People are extremely kind–but only to a point.  And I have to mirror them to do this job well.

I’ve done this for so long that I’m pretty decent about doing all of this without being paralyzed with fear.  I’m pretty good at matching people.  I’m good at high energy and building rapport.  I tend to be a hospitable person, anyway, so that’s something that’s easier.  But a lot of what I do requires a great deal of effort because I don’t come from the same culture.  I have had a decent education, but I grew up speaking very differently.  When I’m exhausted, it’s more difficult for me to speak “proper English.”  Words I don’t normally use slip in.  Worse yet, I also adapt accents and speaking patterns–which can be sort of bad.  So I have to pay extra attention to these things to make sure it doesn’t happen.

One of my biggest problems when I’m overbooked is that I say “um” a LOT.  Mostly because I have a really difficult time focusing then.  I also have always used “just” a lot even when I’m not exhausted.  I do it all the time, everywhere.

This week, during our many calls, one of the subjects my co-worker brought up was this article about research that showed women use a lot of filler words–like just–in their everyday speak.  The article talked about how these things reinforced the subjugation of women.

My company, culturally, is very different from what I’m used to.  It’s been around a decent amount of time, but it’s very young in its demographics and mindset.  Part of that is because we have a really strong partnership that brings new grads into the fold–where they are trained and mentored to be fantastic leaders in our industry.  We have amazing people with fresh ideas who haven’t been beaten down by this world.  Part of that is just pure naivete and lack of work experience, but it’s really cool.  We also have a very progressive CEO who goes the extra mile to make people feel empowered.  And we have a shit-ton of women here.  Most of the senior leadership is female.  My entire team–including both my managers?  Female, save one great guy.  We have meetings where we talk like human beings about things that matter.  We have company-wide meetings that celebrate everyone’s success and feel like pep rallies.  I genuinely look forward to them.  So–the fact that we were talking about this article on a call wasn’t unusual.  And we all vowed to support each other in ridding ourselves of filler words.

Later, I completed a new intake for a brand new job with a manager I’ve worked with in the past.  She’s a great lady who has earned the respect of her peers and is pretty high up.  She shared how intimidated people can be by her, but she made no apologies.  She’s very straightforward and clear about what she wants and needs.  We even talked about filler words and how she didn’t want to see them on candidate resumes.  Especially not from women.  It was kind of weird, given that other conversation, that it just came about naturally–totally unrelated.  I noted it and went about my day.

But since then, I’ve felt a little odd about this conversation we’ve all been having.  I found this article today that summed up some of the feelings I’ve had about it:

I’m honestly torn.  I’m a word person.  I care about the way I communicate.  I’ve adjusted myself over the years to adapt to situations–to minimize the parts of me that are weaker.  I’ve done this because I am an educated woman.  I understand that this world doesn’t value women.  It doesn’t value difference.  It doesn’t value socioeconomic diversity.  There is a standard of communicating in the world of business–and that standard is defined by upper class white males.

The thing is–yes–we do create worlds based on how we speak.  But–at this point–the world we live in…that world that discounts some human beings…existed a long long time.  Maybe changing our speech to adapt to those white male standards will help us fit into that world.  But it also discounts the feminine and puts the onus on the people who have already had to bear that burden for far too long.  Why is it we have to change our speech?  Why can’t society *just* learn to recognize that there are many ways of being human–many ways of speaking and interacting–and it’s all valuable and worthy?

In an odd way, by conforming to these standards I never agreed to–that contradict the ways I learned to be since childhood–I am denying my inherent right to exist and my own experience as a female human being that isn’t in-line with white, rich, male America.  That’s a form of self-hatred, in a way.  It also reinforces that people who are not as privileged as I am will continue to be judged unfairly.  As a Master’s educated women who’s pretty successful, I’ve earned the right to speak any way I want.  But I also have the responsibility to make the road easier for those who didn’t get the opportunities I got.

So, as much as I want to be respected and liked–as much as I want to take down the Man by being just like the Man–I’m deciding I will keep saying “um” and I will use my just.  And I will honor who I am and where I come from.  Because that part of my life–my experience that is rooted in less than is worth acknowledging and honoring.  And I am done contorting to fit some standard of intelligence or grace that’s defined by people who will always find fault with me just because I don’t have a penis.


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