The 'Is it coz I'm a woman' syndrome

I'm tired of beating myself down. Tired of always second-guessing myself. Tired of volunteering to carry around bags of negativity that don't belong to me.

Let me explain.

Today when I dropped Khanya (my 3 and a half year old son) off at school, his teacher told me that he's been telling anyone who rubs him up the wrong way that he's 'going to tell his daddy'. The teacher says she found it interesting that he didn't say he's going to tell his mommy.

As soon as she'd said that, this pang of guilt hit me right in the gut. And a sigh of incompetence, self-deprevation escaped my body. I then went on to explain myself and told her that I'd just changed jobs from morning shift to afternoon shift, so it stands to reason that daddy's the preferred parent now - as he spends more time him when he picks him up from school in the afternoons.

When I left, I wish I hadn't explained. Explaining made me feel like I was doing something wrong - like I was abandoning my kids by having a job. Like I'd just been caught out for being a faux parent. Can you tell how ridiculous this sounds?!

This got me thinking a lot about other examples in my life that I could find where I virtually wrote myself off as a failure - and it was all in my head.

I was recently a part of a leadership seminar with my peers who are investments bankers, rocket scientists, policy makers, entrepreneurs etc. Once I'd read the biographies of these individuals and met them, I felt a terrible lack of confidence - I was but a journalist/ humanitarian. Once I'd gotten over that hurdle, I then had to contend with bringing my opinion to the table - I figured it wasn't logical enough to match up to the analysts' concise and precise opinion. Then the big one came... I stood up and volunteered to facilitate a session where we were meant to come up with a group name. As if the courage and sense of initiative wasn't enough, I still felt like I was being judged for my amateur facilitation skills (something I was actually qualified for).

The thing is... not one person (except for that insignificant comment by the teacher) had outrightly said, 'you're incompetent'. I was the only one coming up with all these things. And there are other examples where I even put my hand down or shut myself up when my opinion might have made a difference.

I've been reading Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In and she's been making me aware of the implications of my self-doubt. It's like she's speaking to ME.

Sheryl says that for centuries, women have navigated society with feelings of self-doubt and 'the impostor syndrome'. She says: "For women, feeling like a fraud is a symptom of a greater problem. We consistently underestimate ourselves. Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better than it actually is."

As a word of advice to me and other women who constantly wrestle with this impostor syndrome, Sheryl quotes Tina Fey (writer and actress): "You just have to try and the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud. Seriously, I've realised that everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it."

I'm still going through the book and can't wait to get to the chapter, 'Own Who You Are'.

I was raised in a society where I was asked the question (by my father), 'who's going to marry you' - after I'd announced that I bought myself a flat (at age 23). To me it was a massive achievement but to my folks it would make it difficult for any man who wanted to be in my life to match up. And we wonder where we get all these crazy feelings of self-doubt.

Look, I've come a long way since believing that I need to dumb down my own ambition and success in order to accommodate a man in my life. But the feelings linger. The conditioning. It's heavy but I'll shed the load from the baggage day by day until I find the courage to empty and throw away the bags of negativity and self-doubt. One day at a time.


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