I have been thinking about that very female habit of ‘not shining’ and not feeling able to admit to our talents this week. In actual fact, it all sits under a general theme about appearance vs intellect that seems to have been raging inside of me for a while. Ironically, whilst I might think Samantha Brick is a lunatic for saying people are jealous of her looks, she actually doesn’t write terribly, though I dislike her use of her husband as a quote source. Perhaps she’d get more nodding heads if she said she’d been disliked for her brains.
Women are the worst for disliking brains, I think. Whilst Steve often says I’ve got brains but no common sense (he’s wrong. I have fairly little of either!) he flatters me. I was once called a ‘flawed genius’ by a former boss. I corrected him on both counts. I am neither flawed nor a genius. I’m neither modest nor proud of my brains, if that makes sense. I accept my limitations. I’m fine at mental mathematics. Seven sevens are forty-nine. I cannot do equations, I get in a muddle. My graph work looks like I need to be introduced to Mr. Ruler. However, I’m pretty impressed with some stuff I do. I look at some of my photographs and I’m pleased with them. I’m pretty confident I can churn out some writing of an above-average standard and I’m a smart-alec when it comes to words. I’m also pretty darned marvellous at working with people and teaching. I’ve got a good way at getting most people to learn despite themselves.
However, I’ve been the ‘too clever for my own good’ girl – when a woman I know used to tut when I spoke in meetings. Nothing that came out of my mouth pleased her. Sometimes, you feel like you have to be small, be rubbish at stuff, just so you don’t hurt other people’s feelings or make them feel inadequate.
You will ALL laugh now. I infuriated one ex-boss so much that when our performance-related pay came up for review, we had to all submit an 11-page document detailing what we’d done to deserve it, and make reference to evidence. She asked everyone else for one or two pieces of evidence. She asked me for all of mine now. Not only did she end up with over 200 pieces of evidence, she could find nothing to complain about, so she put my target as ‘to be more humble’. Seriously. I needed to be more humble.
I am rubbish at humility. I went and asked her how I could be more humble. What do humble people do? Do they go around like Uriah Heep rubbing their hands together saying ‘Ever so ‘umble’. Is there a pie you can eat? And if it’s not genuine, is it just false modesty?! Isn’t that hypocritical and therefore worse than being proud?
I don’t know.
I never achieved that target, as far as I’m aware.
But at the same time as I joke, it got to me. I worked so fucking hard. Excuse my French. I worked harder than everybody else I knew. I was good because I worked at it. When other people were at home having a gin and watching Eastenders, I was working at being good. It’s the only thing I remember about 11 pages of things I’m good at and had achieved. I can’t remember any one of those 11 pages of things I’d done, except the one thing some miserable grump thought I was not.
And for a while, I thought it was my fault.
It is not, of course, my fault. It’s not a character flaw to be proud of what you achieve or to say you are talented at something. Saying ‘I can do that’ is not tantamount to being a child molester.
I love these lines from Marianne Williamson, the Peace Alliance activist. Sometimes they are alleged to be the words of Nelson Mandela. They are not. I have them printed off and they remind me of a different way of seeing things:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
And it’s true. There’s nothing more I love than being around fabulous, talented people because they validate me. They remind me that I have my own talents.
Now, I’m not one for this notion that all children have some innate talent that it is our job to find. However, I believe most of us have got some thing that we can foster and nurture and grow to be a talent. Having seen how much ‘talented’ people work at their skill, by the way, I’m not really one to believe in talent. Probably 1 in 1000 people who are superb at a thing are actually ‘talented’ at it. And they work at it too. Football is a good analogy. There are lots of wonderful footballers who are very good at what they do, but then there are the occasional Wayne Rooneys who have a special something.
However, I do believe that not all ‘intelligence’ is about school stuff. Although Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences is a little crude and simplistic, I like it. He says there are many forms of intelligence, including logical (maths) and linguistic (words) but also spatial, physical (like your great sports people), musical and naturalistic intelligence. Then there are two that don’t really fit: intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. Those who understand themselves and those who understand others. The great spiritualists, thinkers, actors and writers could equally have intrapersonal or interpersonal strengths.
And, to Isaac Newton to end:
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.