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Once upon a time, I thought it was inappropriate to write about feminism on Adventures Around Asia. I figured I’m a travel blogger, how can I write about issues that affect women? What if I alienate my male readers?!
Then one day I woke up and realized… that’s ridiculous.
The advice I’m going to talk about today is mainly geared towards women, but it’s also a great reminder for men as well. Sometimes we all feel like imposters… like we don’t deserve our success. We downplay our achievements and struggle to demand what we deserve.
I recently started reading a book called Lean In, which is a must-read for any woman. While I’m only half-way through, I’ve realized there are a lot of big things I should be doing differently.
“I’m Okay With Being Nobody”
As many of you may know, I work as a college counselor in Beijing, helping Chinese high school students apply to American colleges. One of my students has been accepted into some amazing schools. She’s smart, talented, creative… but she’s also shy. She belongs at a highly academic, small, liberal arts school. She needs a place that will nurture her, and a school without too many other Chinese students so she’ll be pushed out of her comfort zone.
But the best school her boyfriend was able to get into was the University of Washington… a public university with 30,000 students. Rather than go to a school that fits her, she’s about to accept an offer from UW to be with her boyfriend.
Don’t get me wrong, UW is an amazing school and it’s in my hometown of Seattle. But it’s not the right fit for her at all. The only reason she even applied was because her boyfriend was also applying there.
Her Chinese counselor is having a fit. Her mom is beside herself. Our head counselor has tried everything.
I’m just disappointed.
She’s throwing it all away on a guy she’s been dating for literally one year. I think we all know my thoughts on tossing your dreams aside for a boy. Been there, almost did that.
You know what she said when her counselor told her she’d be a small fish in a big pond?
“I’m okay with being nobody. That’s fine with me.”
I’m okay with being nobody… Let that sink in for a little bit.
As part of my job, all of the college counselors have chosen a book to share with a group of students. We’ll read the book together, analyze it, and have bi-monthly discussions.
I was inspired by this beautiful, intelligent girl who wrote a fantasy novel and had it published in high school. The shy, creative soul whose common app essay is literally a work of art: she inspired me to make a difference with my students. She pushed me to make sure these teenage girls don’t make the same mistake I once almost made.
That’s why I chose Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.
“Bill Like a Boy”
I’ve been combing through this book with a highlighter, underlining anything I think is profound or useful for discussion… I’m really trying not to underline every other sentence but it’s hard.
However, tonight I read piece of advice that stood out to me: “bill like a boy”
“When I first started working for Larry Summers, then chief economist at the World Bank, he was married to a tax attorney, Vicki. He was very supportive of Vicki’s career and used to urge her to “bill like a boy.” His view was that the men considered any time they spent thinking about an issue – even time in the shower- as billable hours. His wife and her female colleagues, however, would decide that they were not at their best on a given day and discount hours they spent at their desks to be fair to the client.”
Then I realized… that’s me.
Giving it Away for Free
Last week I was at an Australia Chamber of Commerce networking event, meeting up with a friend. I felt good. I was wearing my custom-tailored dress from Vietnam, and I looked professional, stylish, and sexy all at the same time.
While walking around the venue looking for my friend, I couldn’t help but notice the entire place was packed with men. Suits… suits everywhere.
In my Beijing Women’s Network group, we joked that there’s no need for a Beijing Men’s Network group because every networking event is a men’s networking event by default. In that moment I couldn’t have agreed more.
Eventually I started chatting with a really attractive Australian man. It turns out he’s an actor who plays the role of “random white person” in kung fu movies. He also models in Hong Kong… no big deal.
We started talking about my blog, and how I had to leave the event early because I had a “Chat about China” Skype call lined up. He asked how much I charge for my time, and I said $20.
He just about fell out of his chair. “You should charge $200!” he exclaimed.
$200?! Who would pay $200 to Skype ME?! These are poor college students we’re talking about here. I barely get any Skype call requests as it is. With such little demand, how can I raise the price?!
A part of me knows he’s right. Maybe not about the $200 price tag, but I know I should be charging more. I know my knowledge and my time are valuable. So why do I undersell my expertise?
I tell myself so much bullsh*t.
‘Oh these kids can’t afford anything more than $20 an hour to Skype with me.’ ‘It doesn’t even feel like work to Skype them, it’s fun!’ ‘I’m just charging something so I don’t get bombarded with Skype calls.’ ‘If I make them happy through this Skype call, they’ll be a loyal reader of my blog!’
Here I am, thinking all these thoughts. Then along comes a guy who barely knows me and he tells me he’d charge $200.
Where is the disconnect? Why do we view things so differently?
The Imposter Syndrome
Sheryl Sandberg calls this “the imposter syndrome.” Men consistently overestimate their abilities and achievements, while women consistently undervalue themselves. When a man achieves something, he attributes it to intrinsic ability and hard work, while women say they “just got lucky” or they had help from someone else.
Women who do achieve often feel like they’re frauds.
Who am I to request a press trip? Who am I to demand consultancy fees? Who would pay to fly me to another country? My page views are pathetic. I have no social media following. Who am I kidding? I should just keep my desk job forever. There’s no way I can run a business. I don’t even know how to do my own taxes!
I have to take a deep breath and remind myself: I’m smart. I have a Master’s Degree. I’m determined. I have an incredible blog. My site is a niche site: I don’t need to have a ridiculous amount of followers as long as they’re the right followers. I work really hard. I deserve everything I receive.
It’s difficult, but I’m working on it.
“I Could Do Your Job”
A few months ago I got in a fight with a male coworker.
He was considering staying in his job for another year, and he wanted a raise. The problem is, this guy is a huge slacker at work. He comes in late, watches football in the office (audibly), and never goes above and beyond the job description. However, he does a great job with his students, and he gets a lot of kids to sign up.
Currently, my salary is higher than his. This makes sense. I have a master’s degree, more relevant experience, and my part of the company makes twice what his does, with only two more employees.
Now, this guy wanted to get a raise so that he would be making more money than me. Wait… what? Now getting a raise is standard, but he wanted a BIG raise, and for some reason this made me angry.
Here I am working 10 hours a day six days a week (or at least I was at the time), and he comes strolling in at 2 pm thinking he deserves more money than me!
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I asked him what he would do if he didn’t get the raise he wanted. This guy had the gall to say: “Well… I would just do your job at another company.”
Excuse me? ………Excuse Me?!!
Let’s just look at credentials for a second:
I went to the George Washington University which is one of the top schools in the US for my major, international affairs. I applied to other top schools, including an Ivy League. I have a master’s degree. I took the ACT four times. I worked in GW’s admissions office interviewing high schoolers for their applications. I am a professional travel writer (who is definitely well qualified to be editing college admissions essays). I have a TEFL certificate and I taught English to high schoolers for a year.
This kid went to a state college that’s nowhere near the top 50. He doesn’t have a master’s degree. He’s never taught English. He doesn’t have a TEFL. He doesn’t have writing experience. He sure as hell wasn’t applying to Ivy Leagues. Not to throw him under the bus or anything, but I think I’m a bit more qualified to be a Chinese college counselor.
But yet, he still thought he could get my job and be paid as much as me or more.
I wasn’t angry, I was FURIOUS.
As I began to unleash my fury and rain hell fires down on his ignorant A*$, he brought up a point. He said, “You’re always saying you don’t know how to be a college counselor. You say you weren’t trained. You say you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re able to do the job with no experience, why can’t I?”
The difference is I actually do know what I’m doing. I just felt like a fraud because I’d never technically been trained as a college counselor. But I do know how to write a captivating essay. I know how to teach. I know what colleges want from my experience working in a US admissions office, and I know what needs to be done to get into a good college because I did it myself.
I didn’t even realize that my causal remarks about “not knowing what I was doing” were making people really think I don’t know anything. They made this guy think anybody could do my job. No training required. No skills needed.
I didn’t know what to say. I had shot myself in my own foot. A self-proclaimed feminist, I had been underselling myself for months to everyone around me without even noticing. Why did I do that? Do I always do that?!
In her book Sandberg references a study about job applications. A man and a woman see the job requirements, and a woman will refuse to apply unless she meets 100% of them. A man, however, will apply even if he only meets 60% of the essential requirements.
Why do you think there’s barely any women in high-powered positions? If even feminists like myself undersell themselves to everyone around them, how can we be expected to be leaders, managers, and CEOs? How can you get the job if you don’t even apply? How can you get the raise if you don’t think you deserve it?
I’m Actually Pretty Confident… For a Girl
The worst part is, I’m not even that bad! I negotiated my salary before I took my college counseling job, and I managed to get a raise after just three months without even asking for it. I’m a strong girl, and I’m confident enough in myself to demand what I deserve.
Even in my travel blog, I’m becoming very confident. I had no problem handing my media kit out to companies at TBEX. Last weekend I met with two potential clients who are interested in long-term partnerships with me. I demand high prices for sponsored posts and content. Just a few weeks ago a guy sent me a nasty email saying my blog wasn’t good enough for the prices I set! (I chose not to dignify it with a response).
I’m fairly confident and secure.
The problem is, I’m fairly confident and secure… for a girl.
It wasn’t until recently that I started realizing how under-confident I am compared to the men in my life. I’ve given you just a few examples, but I could go on and on. Why is that? Was I socialized to be this way?
When did this happen?! I went to an all-girls high school! I’m a feminist! I’m a strong, independent woman!
Men Aren’t Wrong
I realized that being angry at my co-worker wasn’t the right course of action. While sometimes their over-confidence and self-presumptions are infuriating, maybe there’s something to be learned from the boys in our lives. While I’ll still never be ridiculously overconfident, maybe I can take the advice of the men around me and start pushing for what I deserve. Maybe it’s okay to credit myself for my accomplishments and be a bit more demanding.
I don’t have all the answers and I know it’s tough for us women out there. Women are routinely punished for demanding what we deserve, while men are praised for it. It’s harsh but it’s true, and there are plenty of studies to prove it… oh, and this one too.
While gender inequality isn’t our fault, we’re not entirely helpless. No one is going to hand you equality: whether you’re a woman, a minority, LGBT, or disabled… you have to demand your equality. Even the most well-meaning of people rarely hand over privilege, and most people fail to see their own privilege a lot of the time.
If I want to be successful I have to push for it. I have to get myself at least part of the way there because society is not going to change until we have more women in power. It’s never going to be okay for a woman to be demanding until there are more of us demanding things in solidarity. No one is going to hand you equality on a silver platter. We have to go and take it.
Demand what you deserve, because you do deserve it. You are not a fraud. You know what you’re doing. So let’s stick together in solidarity. Let’s bill like a man. Let’s stop underestimating our skills. Let’s change our language and the way we compliment ourselves… Because let’s be honest, we deserve it.
Do you ever feel like you don’t demand what you deserve? Do you undersell yourself on accident?
For those of you interested in reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg, you can get your copy on Amazon for about $6 paperback and $12 for Kindle.
Heads up! There are affiliate links in this post. If you buy something through my link I make a small commission at no cost to you.