I’ve never been good at geography.
I only know where a country is if I’m planning to visit it, and I retain the information for about five minutes. My friend Megan got top marks in geography at university. Twice. She can yack on for hours about cloud formations and the movement of sand along a shore. I try not to let my eyes glaze over. I like to gaze skywards as much as the next person – especially if the clouds are pink and fluffy and maybe have cute little sunbeams emanating from them – but I don’t really care if they’re cirrus or cumulonimbus.
It’s shocking how little I care about my geography blindness. A lack of skill with numbers, on the other hand, is considered a huge failing by those afflicted. Megan won’t mind if I call her out here. Her head fills with white noise when more than one number is mentioned in the same sentence. And while I can see how a grasp of maths is helpful in everyday life – unlike cloud formations – I didn’t see why having a blind spot in one skill set was a cause of shame.
Until I started my new job.
You’d think a professional writer could type, wouldn’t you?
Well, I can’t. At least not very well. I look around my new office and see my colleagues’ fingers tap dancing across their keyboards, correcting at speed as they go. And I am filled with shame.
When you are new to a job, it takes some time to come to grips with the culture, the job description, the way the workplace operates. I have never worked in a large organisation before now. The acronyms and jargon they use are unfamiliar to me. I am conflicted: my job as policy writer requires me to understand it, but my mission as a lover of plain English is to stamp it out.
My degree of difficulty is made even harder by the fact that my experience as a policy writer is limited. But the organisation has a deadline to meet and I happened to be in the right place at the right time. My imposter syndrome has been assuaged somewhat by the belief that having me there is better than nothing, but my lack of typing skills exacerbates my feelings of inadequacy. Big time.
And then I had an epiphany.
I was at a meeting during which one of my colleagues was apologising for her ‘terrible typing’. She is an expert in her field, with a burden of responsibility for which no amount of money would compensate me.
‘Your skills lie elsewhere,’ I said.
It was a spontaneous comment: one of support for a similarly challenged sister. And in that moment, I realised the same could be said of me. Over the past few weeks, I’ve helped develop a non-threatening approach to collaborating with policy reviewers. They are the poor ‘owners’ of each piece of policy on which the reputation and continuing operation of the organisation depends. These people are highly skilled in their fields, but many are filled with dread at the prospect of having to wrangle words.
Just yesterday, one of the main reviewers requested that I work exclusively with her. I know for a fact I wasn’t chosen for my policy-writing experience, or my typing skills. We had established a connection at our initial meeting. I had managed to gain her trust with this important job; a job which would ultimately bear her name.
Women are, in general, bad at accepting compliments and good at self-deprecation.
They prefer humility to hubris every time. Humility is often mistaken for having a modest or low view of oneself. But that is not the full meaning of the word.
Humility means having an honest appraisal of ourselves, in which we recognise our weaknesses and clearly see our strengths.
According to Forbes, men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. My advice to every woman reading this story is to think – really think – about your strengths when applying for jobs. Initiative, enthusiasm, inclusivity, logical thinking, kindness are all huge assets in the workplace. Your performance skills in the job will follow. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a high powered corporate position or helping out at the school tuckshop. This is one of the rare occasions I recommend you follow the male lead. Get out there and fake it till you make it.
Because you will make it.