Why Haven’t I Lacked Self-Confidence?
I read an article in The Atlantic last week about the vast “confidence gap” that separates the sexes, and it made me ponder why I haven’t suffered from the same self-doubts that afflict so many women. The article’s authors, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, point to several studies showing that women not only lack confidence about their performance and careers but often under-estimate their abilities—in contrast to men, who generally have few doubts about their competence or capacities. This lack of self-assurance holds women back because, it turns out, confidence matters as much as competence in achieving professional success.So, I wondered, why am I different? Why haven’t I lacked confidence about my career? Why have I never doubted my professional abilities?I think the answer lies in my relationship with my mother—which is odd, since my mother was hyper-critical of me. Beginning in my adolescence, my mother complained non-stop about what I wore, how I fixed my hair, how I walked, and how my hips were “too big” even though I weighed a mere 102 pounds. She criticized me for being too serious, too outspoken, too aloof, too messy, and, most of all, for not doing the things that would make me popular. She warned me over and over, “Don’t be too smart or the boys won’t like you.”I responded, not by wilting, but by rebelling against her admonitions. I rejected the path she told me I should take and refused to try to be popular. Instead, I vowed to march to my own drum, say what I thought regardless of what others might think, and do what I wanted rather than what would make people like me.The more my mother pressured me to fit in, the more I resisted. I wore turtlenecks instead of sweater sets, black instead of pastels. I wouldn’t wear a girdle, even though practically all the other girls did and my mother warned that my backside “jiggled.” I listened to like folk music and Joan Baez rather than Elvis Presley and rock and roll. I was outspoken and dared to compete with my male classmates. To spite my mother, I never hesitated to show how smart I was or how much I knew. Throughout my life, I’ve relished showing that I can handle challenging assignments.But that still doesn’t explain why I’ve never been plagued by self doubts, why I’ve always been certain of my abilities.The answer resides in a very different side of my relationship with my mother. Despite her incessant worries about my looks and my social life, my mother always told me that I could be anything I wanted to be and do anything I wanted to do. She was a stay-at-home mom who had to quit school in the tenth grade in order to work as a shop girl and help support her immigrant family. Yet, she was sure that I was destined for big things and frequently told me so. I remember her saying, while we were watching Barbara Walters on The Today Show, “I can see you doing that, Susie.” She instilled in me an unwavering confidence in my abilities, and so, when I celebrate this coming Mother’s Day, I will once again thank my Mom for the precious gift of self-assurance.