This afternoon I played tennis with one of my partner’s good friends. I’ve known Brad since high school and he’s one of the few people who were willing to brave the cold weather for a few matches. This was the first time we’ve hung out completely alone, so naturally, the conversation was more personal than our usual group side-chats.
Brad was asking me about my grad program and how it’s going. He asked a series of questions related to my academics and career goals in general. Just your average in between match chit-chat but I found myself uncomfortable with almost every answer I gave.
Most of the people in my life know I’m accomplished, but very few know just how accomplished I am. I tend to keep my accomplishments to myself, I like it better that way. As an accomplished young woman, I’ve not always received positive reactions from divulging my experiences.
In high school, I was president of three major clubs. I took almost exclusively AP courses, I had my sights set on elite universities. I maintained a social life, had attractive boyfriends, and made it on homecoming court one year. My accomplishments were always on display and I got treated as such.
Boys were often disinterested in me, I had too much drive. One of my good male friends during senior year told me although he found me attractive and would otherwise be interested in dating me, my drive would make him insecure. I will always appreciate his candor because it illuminated the vibes I got from most of the guys in my grade. I exclusively dated boys from older grades who were more insulated from my accomplishments.
Girls always felt a need to be competitive with me, even though I’m not particularly competitive back. During my freshman year when I was offered a lead dance role in the musical, a junior girl talked shit about me behind my back for months. It was degrading, I didn’t even seek out the role…the director just picked me. But it didn’t matter.
In college, I kept my academic accomplishments to myself. By then, I had learned the downsides of success. People — men and women — were more inviting and less intimidated if I avoided sharing how I was on track to get two degrees in three years or was providing research for NASA and senators alike.
To be honest, even writing about my accomplishments on Medium is an internal struggle. I know it’s important for women to speak out about the confidence gap, so I do but I hit the publish button with a scrunched face.
When I was playing tennis with Brad earlier, I was answered his questions as basic as I could. I avoided any boastful or overly-confident tone, even though I am incredibly proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished. When he complimented me, I found myself downplaying and saying things like “it sounds more impressive than it is” or “it’s easier than it looks.”
I was shy and uncomfortable, I kept pushing the conversation away and urged us towards more tennis. When I got in the car, I was disappointed with myself. Brad is a kind man and often very bold with his own accomplishments, I don’t think he would have minded if I showed more pride. Even if he did judge me, I shouldn’t care. If anything, Brad was the perfect person to practice my confidence on but my body wasn’t on the same page.
In a world that promotes subservience in women and demoralizes women for breaking the glass ceiling, it’s really hard to overcome the brainwashing. When women do rise above what society deems acceptable, they’re branded a “f*cking bitch.”
It’s hard enough to be a woman in our patriarchal society. It’s harder to excel in a society that actively tries to hinder women, consciously, and subconsciously. But it’s hardest to be successful and then exercise outward confidence in your success.
I’ve never been afraid of success, I’ve always actively sought it out. Inspired by my predecessors, men and women alike. But especially women. Women like AOC, RBG, and Angela Davis. Women like Winnie Mandela, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Frida Khalo. But I have not yet conquered the ability to unabashedly share my accomplishments with the world and the peers who actively benefit from my efforts.
I’ve written about this subject before and I will continue to write about the confidence gap because I think it’s immensely important in the fight for equality. I’m far from the only woman who struggles with confidently presenting their accomplishments in our society.
I’m glad Brad asked me questions today and I’m glad I answered, even if uncomfortably. I need more practice talking openly about my hard-earned success. I need to push myself out of my comfort zone and be bolder sharing all the things that make me Faith. And if my success makes people uncomfortable, then f*ck their insecurity.
So my challenge to every woman is to practice sharing their successes with the world. Post about that new promotion on Instagram. Share with colleagues about how you mastered the ukulele. Tell your blind date how you juggled three jobs in college while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
Be bold, be fearless. And encourage the women around you to do the same. When you sense a friend shy away from something they’re proud of, egg them on. Ask them to keep sharing and ask them to speak up. When you see a congratulatory post on social media, uplift that sh*t! Women deserve to be outwardly confident about their successes. Take up space.