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Is it gender, race, or just you?

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 3/8/14 8:59 AM

Is gender and race a lie we tell ourselves why we can't or shouldn't?

From grade school to high school, I was afraid of vampires. And when I say I was afraid, I mean the kind of fear that changes your behavior. For example, when I walked from my Nana's house down the street to home in the summers, I made damn sure I did so before dusk. When I went to sleep at night, it didn't matter how hot out it was, I was covered from head to foot in a blanket, with extra care to make sure that my neck was not exposed. I was convinced that the vamps slept in my mom's basement during the day, and when asked to go down there- no forced- I ran so fast up the stairs that I tripped and fell more than once.

And all because I watched my first vampire movie, and it stuck with me in my head in a powerful way. Oh, and did I mention that I also grew up across the street from the town cemetery? 

nosferatu ready to bite

Even when I was old enough to know that it wasn't real, it still effected my behavior. Despite the fact I knew in my head it was ridiculous, I still slept with a blanket around my neck through high school. (Like somehow that would deter the blood suckers.) The lie lived on in my mind. Eventually I became ashamed of my fear and wouldn't tell anyone what I was scared of.

How did I get over it? I don't remember the exact moment when it struck me how silly it was, maybe it was skinning my knees one too many times on those cellar steps, or leaving Nana's house too late and running the whole way home to escape the bats that I was sure were chasing me. But at some point, I got angry. Angry enough to stop running home and walk slowly on purpose, to sit on the bottom step of my mom's basement step in the dark and wait, to take all the blankets off my bed so that I wouldn't pull them around my neck in my sleep.

Come and get me - damn you vamps! And guess what? I never got bitten. It taught me something very valuable. Fear is a lie, and believing in them holds us back. Facing them head on is like standing up to a bully.

What does this have to do with gender, or race? I put both of these into the same category because these are two things you can't change. You are male, female, white, black, Indian, Hispanic, etc. by birth. You have no choice in the matter. And with that comes it's own set of presets, or things that we are told about our race or gender that can either empower us or birth irrational fear. So where does your fear come from?

"Women don't want to lead, they want to be led."

I recently spoke at a national conference and while there met with a male counterpart where we got into the debate about gender. And yes, this is really what he said. If you are a woman reading this, it probably pisses you off. It did me too, at first. Why are only 14% of female in sales leadership positions? Is it because their companies do not have training and programs that are female-friendly? Is it because women are more likely to have pauses in their careers due to family? 

Or is it just a lie that we tell ourselves? Is the bias against race and gender really just a reflection of the internal record keeping we play over and over in our minds, sometimes without even realizing it? Is the question not about race or gender, but really about individuals? If you want to change the dynamic, change the world- you have to change the individual and how they talk to themselves. Then how others talk to them and about them, will change.

There are things that still scare me. Like writing a book. At first I thought that this was a gender issue when I read an article about how women are more likely to feel they need advanced degrees and more training to do the same jobs as men. Women are not likely to "fake it til they make it." But is this a lie too?

I shared this with a dear friend of mine who is also writing a book. She told me to read Stephen King's book "On Writing". I found my answer in page 7 of his first foreword.

"I had been playing with the idea of writing a little book about writing for a year or more at that time, but had held back because I didn't trust my own motivations- why did I want to write about writing? What made me think I had anything worth saying?

The easy answer is that someone who has sold as many books on fiction as I have must have something worthwhile to say about writing it, but the easy answer isn't always the truth. Colonel Sanders sold a hell of a lot of fried chicken, but I'm not sure anyone wants to know how he made it. If I was going to be presumptuous enough to tell people how to write, I felt there had to be a better reason than my popular success. Put another way, I didn't want to write a book, even a short one like this, that would leave me feeling like either a literary gasbag or transcendental asshole. There are enough of those books- and those writers- on the market already, thanks."

King described my fear exactly. He decided to write the book because he wanted to talk about the thing that no one else talks about.

Bias has nothing to do with gender, or race, but the conversations in our own minds. So if you want change, stop playing that card in your head. Once you do, you might find the real reason you are being held back or motivated to move forward. 

Are you trying to change the way you talk to yourself? Maybe what you need is a mentor who will challenge your thinking. If you are willing- I am looking to pay it forward. Start facing your fears with a simple conversation. We will go over that wall in your head together.

Topics: personal development