Posts tagged happiness
Posts tagged happiness
Successful women know only too well that in any male-dominated profession, we often find ourselves at a distinct disadvantage. We are routinely underestimated, underutilized, and even underpaid. Studies show that women need to perform at extraordinarily high levels, just to appear moderately competent compared to our male coworkers.
But in my experience, smart and talented women rarely realize that one of the toughest hurdles they’ll have to overcome to be successful lies within. We judge our own abilities not only more harshly, but fundamentally differently, than men do. Understanding why we do it is the first step to righting a terrible wrong. And to do that, we need to take a step back in time.
Chances are good that if you are a successful professional today, you were a pretty bright fifth grade girl. My graduate advisor, psychologist Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) conducted a series of studies in the 1980s, looking at how bright girls and boys in the fifth grade handled new, difficult and confusing material.
She found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up - and the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts, rather than giving up.
Why does this happen? What makes smart girls more vulnerable, and less confident, when they should be the most confident kids in the room? At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty - what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence, and to become less effective learners as a result.
Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: more often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.
How do girls and boys develop these different views? Most likely, it has to do with the kinds of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children. Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their “goodness.” When we do well in school, we are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever, ” or ” such a good student.” This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness, and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.
Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., “If you would just pay attention you could learn this,” “If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.”) The net result: when learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t “good” and “smart”, and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.
We continue to carry these beliefs, often unconsciously, around with us throughout our lives. And because bright girls are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be women who are far too hard on themselves - women who will prematurely conclude that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in a particular arena, and give up way too soon…
I think this should be titled, “The Trouble with Bright Kids.” While I have no idea if it’s more prevalent with girls or boys, I’ve definitely seen it happen to both, regardless of gender. It’s more, like this article says, an issue of emphasis on being “smart” and “great” and not so much on hard work and self control. This is similar to the issue of meritless self-esteem building. Children are taught that they are wonderful and special, but not encouraged to grow their skills and develop through hard work.
I was raised in a very religious Catholic family. Church every Sunday, followed by Sunday School. Like many Catholics I know, I am now an atheist. This has been challenging for my mother and she likes to ask me questions about my lack of faith. Recently over the holiday while in the car with my parents, my mother asked me, “If someone doesn’t believe in God, where do they draw strength from when they experience adversity and difficulty?” Below is a paraphrased summary of my answer.
Truth. And self.
Truth, because I know science doesn’t have all the answers, but there’s at least logic and reason behind it. I can see the answers and how they are derived. They follow rules and that’s comforting. I don’t need to blindly accept just because someone told me to. I’m okay with not having all the answers. I’d rather have holes that can be filled-in in the future when satisfactory answers arise than try to plug those holes with false and imaginary truths.
Self, because I am responsible for my path. If I fail, it’s because I failed, not because someone willed it or conspired again me. Sure, I am affected by my environment and helped/hurt by the people around me, but in the end, I fail because I failed and I succeed because I succeeded. My path isn’t predetermined or omnipotently laid out for me. I am the master of my fate. If bad things happen (and they will), it’s up to me to over come them, not rely on some unknown force. I know I’m capable of so much. Far more than “God” has ever shown me capable of.
We no longer live in a world where we are more or less restricted to the same type of life we were born into. We can just as easily transcend class and status with hard work and a little luck. This may be blasphemy in your eyes, but I refuse to give credit for my successes (or pass blame for my failures) on someone or something other than myself. To me, that’s just a copout. It’s an easy and dishonest copout. I am my maker. I deserve the credit for all my successes and the blame for all my failures. I can’t expect anyone else to take responsibility for my actions.
Truth and self. They are incredibly powerful things. Both are what I put my faith in and where I get my strength.
Take the time and watch this. It’s only 20 minutes, but I think it might be my favorite TED talk yet.