It’s bizarre to me how pregnancy is changing me–or, maybe pregnancy is not changing me, but the changes are happening anyway and the pregnancy has been working as a catalyst, or an opportunity. I don’t know. I don’t know what it is, but here, what I do know is that I am becoming different, and in the process, becoming more of myself (so, perhaps not different at all).
Things really started changing once we found out we were having a girl.
Before we found out she was a she, though, I was reading “The Confidence Gap” in The Atlantic. During research for another book, the writers were struck by how many successful–insanely successful–women were still plagued by doubt and lack of confidence. And the studies back this up. Women take fewer risks, are more afraid of failure. In one study, men and women took the same problem-solving quiz but scored quite differently, the men having much higher scores. When the women weren’t given the option to skip questions–when they had to answer every question, regardless of how confident they felt in their answers–the scores of men and women were nearly identical. Women performed poorly on the first quiz simply because they chose not to try all of the questions.
Reading that article, I saw myself on every page. How many decisions have I made because I was afraid? When I was sixteen, I wanted to go to undergrad at UC Berkeley. I fell in love with Berkeley when I visited at sixteen, my first time on the West Coast, my first time in San Francisco, and I instantly and hopelessly loved San Francisco and the whole Bay area. The hills and the blue bay and the burritos in the Haight and the wig shops in the Castro. The cold fog on my face. The sound of barking sea lions. The smell of eucalyptus. I loved every moment. And Berkeley, the school where my uncle graduated with his degree in engineering, Berkeley, was it, my dream.
So, when time came to apply for college, I didn’t apply to Berkeley.
I don’t remember how I excused it then. Maybe money, I don’t know. But what I do know now, what’s impossible not to recognize, is that I didn’t apply because I was afraid I wouldn’t get in.
I went to the University of Central Florida, where I knew I was all but guaranteed a spot. And I don’t regret the decision. I loved UCF, had a wonderful time there, married Jesse in Orlando after graduation. I loved Orlando, I loved the school, and I loved everyone I met there. But I was there because of a decision made out of fear.
When I applied to MFA programs, I obviously knew the program at Iowa was top-of-the-top. So, did I apply? No. Of course not. I wanted to go to Columbia, but I missed the application deadline. I don’t miss deadlines. Not missing that deadline would have been the easiest thing in the world. But I missed it and told myself it was an honest mistake. (Of course now, not having a single student loan, I’m rather glad for that “mistake.”)
We could go through decision after decision–down to why I’m at my current job–and I can point to fear being part of the equation.
Fear of failure, fear of bankruptcy, fear of being too far from family, fear of earthquakes. Fill in the blanks. Fear of jumping–fear that the net will not, after all, appear.
Part of what I love about travel is that for some reason, it allows me to suspend this part of myself. When I’m abroad, I make decisions based on what will make the best story. I decide based on what I want–what I want to see, what I want to taste. But when it comes to my day-to-day, when it comes to the reality of my life and career choices, I let this fearful, overly cautious part of myself take over. I listen to the voice that says, you probably won’t be able to do that.
The other day, Jesse and I ate hamburgers and talked about our baby, our baby girl, and we talked about the article. I took the online “quiz” posted by the authors of the article (link here if you want to try it for yourself) and when the results came back You have lower than average confidence, I nearly cried. Sitting here, typing this in an Atlanta Bread Co., chai at hand (my, do I miss the amounts of caffeine I used to consume), I want to cry again, looking at those words.
The thing is, I don’t think I have a shortage of belief in myself and my abilities. I think I’m smart, articulate, talented, compassionate. I can name a dozen things I think I’m good at. The thing is, none of that matters. Because regardless of how capable I think I am, I always think other people are more capable. Other people are smarter, more talented, better prepared, more everything.
In college, one of my professors told me I had impostor syndrome. She had just told me I’d won the department’s award for undergraduate creative nonfiction. My response? I asked her if she was sure she had the right name.
I guess not much has changed.
And now I’m going to have a baby girl. I don’t want this for her. I don’t want to teach her to doubt herself. I don’t want to teach her to avoid risk. (I do want to teach her to look both ways before crossing the street. But if she doesn’t feel 100 percent qualified for a promotion, I want her to apply anyway–because men will apply when they’re 50 percent qualified, not 100.)
What I am realizing is that if I don’t want this for her, I have to stop accepting it for me. I am the woman she will see the most. I am the one she’ll be watching for cues on how to operate, how to act, how to think of herself. If I make decisions out of fear, I will teach her to do the same. If I criticize my body, I will teach her to do the same. If I hold myself back if I’m not 100 percent sure of success, I will teach her to do the same.
And so what’s weird to me is that this pregnancy has made me take myself more seriously. It’s made me care for myself more. It’s made me ask myself–what do I really want? And what’s really holding me back? Not only for her–but for me too.
I don’t know where this leads. I don’t know what’s ahead. But while I am scared about the implications of starting to think this way (avoiding risk is comfortable! and I rather like it!) I’m also excited. Because I don’t believe my confidence is a static thing. I believe that I can change those quiz results. And I’m ready. I’m ready to see what’s next. I’m ready to see what happens when I start really trying. When I start asking, what if I can do it?