Resisting the Seduction of Inadequacy

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For a week now, I have fretted over an answer I gave recently during a taped interview for our local PBS television station. I was invited to join a roundtable discussion that would air during Women’s History Month (March), and the other women invited carried impressive resumes and careers; all seemed so much more eloquent, poised and lovely than me. When I was asked whether what I was doing now was something I had always dreamed of doing, I answered honestly. And ever since, I’ve been kicking myself for not being more eloquent, for not having a better answer, for not saying something that might inspire a new generation of girls to pursue tech.

I don’t know. Maybe my answer could have been better; it probably could have been more poised. In fact, I’m sure of that.

But after listening to an amazing speech by the lovely actress Lupita Nyong’o (shared in its entirety at the end of this post), I am reminded that even at my age, I am still doing exactly what she describes – giving in to the seduction of inadequacy. There is great temptation in focusing on our inadequacies, in tearing ourselves apart over the things we want to change about ourselves. We can’t possibly challenge ourselves to move forward, to face our fears, to try even scarier things if we can convince ourselves that we couldn’t even handle the challenges we’ve already faced. We can fall into complacency with the “truth” that we tried but just weren’t good enough, and then who can blame us for not changing the world if we can’t even change one little thing about ourselves?

NMTCWIT Honorees Roundtable Interview on KNME PBS.

NMTCWIT Honorees Roundtable Interview on KNME PBS.

Who knows – maybe I could have found a more polished answer, but the truth still has value in its unvarnished form. The truth is that I never once dreamed of living the life I am. I never thought it was possible. I wanted to be a mom. It is all I ever wanted, and I embraced motherhood wholeheartedly. I have absolutely no regrets for the time I spent raising my children. It was time well spent. So, no, this new journey I’m on is not one I dreamed of. I didn’t think girls who weren’t really smart (I didn’t think I was), who couldn’t do math in my head (unless it’s calculating the discount on a dress I want to buy, I still can’t), and who didn’t get started on a career until their forties – I never, ever thought my journey was even possible for a girl like me.

That does not mean I am not pursuing passionately and whole-heartedly this new journey. I’ve stretched myself so far since I launched APPCityLife in 2009 that I could give Gumby a run for his money. I’ve learned (and learned and learned some more) every time I find something else I need to understand to meet a new challenge or obstacle. There are still times I wake up at 3 AM and wonder what kind of a crazy person launches out into a new industry with the goal of changing the way cities communicate with the people who live there, but then I get up and go look in the mirror to affirm that this is the kind of crazy person who does that – who actually does that. We have already started to change the way cities interact with the people who live there, and I couldn’t be more excited for the future of our team at APPCityLife.

So when you listen to my answer on the upcoming PBS interview with a few of the New Mexico Technology Council’s Women In Tech 2014 honorees, I may not be the most polished. But I’m ok with that. I was invited to have a seat at the table with some pretty amazing women, and for a girl who thought this kind of opportunity could never come in her lifetime – who still has to resist the seduction of inadequacy, that’s enough for me.

Note: the PBS In Focus interview will air on KNME at 7 PM MST, March 6, 2014. View Details and link for online video

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Criticism: What We Are REALLY Saying

20140109-053055.jpgWhen we criticize someone, what we are actually saying is this:

“I want you to feel uncomfortable, self-conscious, and to focus on hiding your fault instead of interacting every time you are around me from this moment forward. I want to make it just a little harder for you to be vulnerable, not only with me but with everyone else.”

When we find fault, we do not set someone on the right path towards changing the very thing that we do not like about them. We actually make it harder. Change and growth come so much easier when we make it safe for others to fail without fear of rejection or criticism.

This doesn’t mean that we have to just put up with problems caused by others or that we shouldn’t intervene when we see someone we care about behaving in self-destructive ways. But how we approach the problem can leave someone feeling empowered or insecure.

A recent study actually backs up this premise. Described in great detail in the Harvard Review, the study conducted by Richard Boyatzis, revealed that focusing on dreams and goals made it easier to change. Imagine the power of something so simple – helping someone focusing on the possibilities, on hope instead of their faults and failings – can actually evoke the change we want to see in them. It really is possible to be the good guy and still address problems.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was brainstorming how to address a problem behavior with an employee. Her initial thought was to point it out directly, but after talking a bit more, we arrived at what might be causing the employee’s annoying habit. She found a way to resolve that problem for the employee, and not only did the annoying behavior go away, but her employee ended up feeling more empowered in their role in her company.

The next time we think we are helping someone improve by pointing out what we see as the problem, we should take a step back and try to find a way to be supportive. Change is scary, and if we can create an environment of trust and care, we will make it easier for others to feel safer to risk trying to change, to feel safe risking failure.

A very interesting study recently published indicates that at least for women, the very fact of being overweight causes a dislike of exercise on a very core level. Why? Fear of failing at the exercise, of feeling awkward or not being able to do what the rest of people exercising are capable of accomplishing. The next time you think you’re helping motivate someone who needs to lose a few pounds by pointing out that fact, think about that. They know they’re overweight. They see it every time they look in the mirror or put their clothes on. Or do much of anything. No one is surprised when someone else points out they’re fat. Try making them feel safe enough to risk new activities, new habits. It may work wonders.

I’ve recently started a fit class with a small group of women that is led by one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She is constantly pointing out and praising small successes. She expresses her belief in us as a group and individually. She asks us questions about how we are doing in the middle of trying something new and encourages us to take risks to challenge ourselves. I have yet to hear her find fault or criticize someone for how they look or what they can’t do. Because of this, I feel safe for the first time to look awkward, to fail when trying someone new – and, for the first time, I am looking forward to exercising. And it is working – eleven pounds lost in a little over a month. She has succeeded in helping me change where criticism never would have worked.

The next time we’re tempted to point out a fault, to criticize, it would pay to remember that it likely won’t accomplish what we want – it will, in fact, make it harder. Help someone else focus on their dreams, of what might be possible, and see what happens. Oh, and by the way … this works for ourselves, too.