I got a text the other day from a colleague. It said simply, “I suck”. He had forgotten an important event. I read this and wanted him to put the toothpaste back in the tube…but he can’t. He just put himself down. He belittled himself. And what should my response be? “No you don’t”? “You’re awesome and usually on top of things”? I feel like when you put yourself down it’s either a billboard sign saying “I have no self esteem” or “Please, please, please….make me worthy”. I realize, it is a cry for help but this is not the best way to go about it.
I have read practically every book on Julia Child. She is my gastronomical, feminist hero. In the book “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child” by Bob Spitz, there is an occasion where Julia has prepared lunch for a friend. This was when she was first discovering how to cook French food while living in Paris. She prepared a béchamel (white sauce) which came out like plaster. She laid the plate in front of her friend and herself, sat down and ate it. Every last bite. It was wretched but she never, ever apologized. As she is quoted, “You should never apologize at the table. People will think, ‘Yes, it’s really not so good.’”
I love this. I try and live by it. There are lessons to be learned in cooking – especially when it comes to cooking because it is so easy to roll down that slippery slope of self-deprecation. You share a part of your soul in cooking; it’s the grand gesture to taking care of someone, of sharing of yourself with someone. And you can really get caught in – It’s not hot enough. It’s too spicy. It’s too thick. Too thin. Yada yada yada.
So here are some tips to help you stay away from stomping your guts out every time you make a mistake:
1. Bite Your Tongue. So if you aren’t happy with how the project came out, don’t sit in the cafeteria and talk about it with your cronies. Bite your tongue. The soup you just made is a little too lemony. Eat a saltine. Shut up and slurp up. Having a bad hair day? Keep it to yourself. You really don’t need to give a running commentary on every failure of your life to everyone around you. Bite your tongue.
2. Spin. Put the positive spin. If you were your own publicist (and really you actually are), what positive nugget can you find. Find it and say that out loud. “The project came in under budget.” “The soup has a bit of zing to it. ” “I love this new blouse. ” “Did I tell you I volunteered at the homeless shelter yesterday and met some wonderful people?” Something is going well today, so focus on that, put out the positive spin.
3. Implications. Think through the implications. There was a study by Dr. Judith Baxter that studied speech patterns at work. When women are trying to be humorous, in particular, they use self-deprecating humor 70% of the time during meetings. It falls flat. Crickets chirping. Is this the way you really want to come across in the workplace? Being self-deprecating, even in trying to be funny, only shines the light on your lack of self-esteem. You are not being modest. You are not Woody Allen. You are being weak. What are the implications?
4. Silence. Be comfortable with silence. Don’t feel like you need to fill the space with the sound of your own voice. Count to 5. Count to 10. It will be awkward at first. Listen to your heartbeat. The clock on the wall. The fluorescent light overhead. Be the silence.
Sorry. Quit apologizing. This is the crutch of most women I know, including yours truly. I was helping my daughter unload the car at her dorm the other day and I said “I’m sorry” for not picking up one of the boxes (did I mention I was already laden with two backpacks and one tripod hanging on my shoulder and holding two pillows)? And she says, “What are you sorry for?” I have no idea. I’m on auto pilot. If something doesn’t go right in the world, it must be my fault. Really? Can’t carry all the grocery bags at once, so the default is to apologize. Especially for women – the fixers of the world. Stop it. (yes there is a place in the world for apologies…but 9 times out of 10 it’s overkill). Don’t apologize.
I have this need to be modest and also to take the ‘blame’ for others (we are taught this as women) and my default can be to put myself down. Shine the light on what’s going right or smile while you bite your tongue. Be your own publicist.