Earlier this term, I left a school networking event with this bubbling feeling of wanting to cry, sprint, and scream, all at the same time. When it came to the point of the night’s event—the “networking”—instead of proudly speaking about my past successes, I kept walking on pins and needles and humbling myself all night.
I watched my friends meet new people and glow with excitement as they spoke to their idols. I met other students who burst with ideas, eager to talk about what they were doing and where they wanted to go in life. In that moment, I felt deeply proud of the program I am in, the people in it, and their abilities. I still am.
But then it was my turn. When I was asked “so what are you doing Sofiya?”, I shrugged and made jokes. I was completely unable to talk about any of the projects that I am in the middle of or preparing for. For some inexplicable reason, I felt uncomfortable talking about myself or my interests. In other words, I choked.
When introduced as “this, that, and an incredible human being overall” to the marketing head at a major Internet company from a distance, I turned beet red and avoided the potential contact all night. I was too embarrassed to be singled out like that and didn’t want to make others uncomfortable. Although, I’d bet you anything, no one even noticed that interaction apart from me (though I am incredibly appreciative of the person who introduced me).
Instead of approaching a director from an entertainment company—a link that could have led to amazing opportunities—I thought “enough of you Sofiya, let others talk. You’ll be fine elsewhere.”
When publicly introduced to the entire panel in front of a room of 100 people by a professor due to our previous work together, I acted angry - how dare he point me out like that?! Instead of thanking him for the introduction, I was embarrassed of my past connection—something we’re told almost daily to build on—and being singled out.
When I finally got the chance to talk to the one general manager from a big music label I’d been honing in on all evening all I could do was giggle, making little jokes about how I’m not ready to graduate and how I don’t know what I want to do with myself. This led to her dismissing me and moving on rather quickly. Honestly, I don’t blame her.
How many times have you shied away from a compliment because you were embarrassed by the attention? How many times did you avoid talking about your achievements because you were afraid of accidentally showing off? Or that you would seem bossy, or arrogant? How many times did you feel like you were (or maybe even got accused of) stealing someone else’s spotlight? How many times have you said “oh, I don’t know” when being pushed to talk about a job well done?
I stopped myself, thinking I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone by my loud voice and knowingly strong presence. The sheer idea of having to tell admirable industry professionals about my interests and the achievements I’ve had in the past year alone made me uncomfortable.
It’s no secret that women naturally fall into the trap of making self-deprecating jokes, not playing up their achievements, or humbly rejecting compliments when in situations like this. We feel like we have to because that is the “proper” way to behave—shy, quiet, and respectful. It’s bullshit and I’m tired of it.
Yes, we’re young and have things to learn, but we are ready. I am ready. As women, in a time when the fight for respect, having our voices heard, and equality is finally reaching the level it should have been at all along, we cannot afford to sell ourselves short. By doing so, we are not only denying our own potential and true ability, but setting the standard for all of those who are following our lead. By pushing ourselves into the corner of the room, we’re undervaluing everything we, as an entire population, have accomplished thus far. All those hours of hard work, energy, and ideas will be for nothing.
The next time someone asks “What are you doing now?”, sell it. Sell it like it was an interview for the dream job or project you’ve never asked for. Talk about your past, current, and future endeavours. Engage with others. Connect with them. Build your network. Talk about it—and you. Instead of saying “Oh stop, let’s talk about you instead,” it should be “Thank you. Now, here’s what’s great about what was done and here’s a hot tip for how you can do the same or maybe even better!”
Hard work speaks loudly, but the ability to talk about it speaks even louder. Literally.
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