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Things My Mom Taught Me

Lessons from one working woman to another

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When I was a teenager, my mom sat me down for a talk about the facts of life. Not those facts of life -- the other facts of life, the facts about being a working woman. She pretty much assumed I would work and she felt that since her mother and father didn't really sit her down for this talk and my dad was basically socially developmentally disabled, it fell upon her to let me know what she had learned while working. Since Mother's Day is coming up and I like doing little odes to my mom (she was a rock star), I will now impart the wisdom she bestowed upon me to you, since it is great advice.

1.) If you don't ask for it, you won't get it. Women hear this over and over and yet they still get paid less than men. The last job I interviewed for I requested an additional week of vacation and I got it because I asked and had a great reason to ask for it: I had that much vacation in my last job and if they wanted me to work for them they had to ante up. Does anyone honestly think and employer is going to give them something out of the goodness of their heart? Right.

2.) Your work might suck, but it doesn't mean you're fat or stupid. This is particularly hard for women. Someone criticizes their work (or their cooking) and they take it as a personal attack (my husband still loves me even though one time I added a lot of oregano to refried beans instead of cilantro -- although he has asked me not to make refrieds like that again). Some people have a really hard time separating themselves from the work product they create. Yes, we put a lot into our work, yes we care deeply about the product, but it is a product of us, it is not us.

3.) Don't worry about crying, but don't do it in an obvious place. I have such a hard time with this theory but this was her logic: Women deal with stress in their own way, and that is often not healthy. Crying is an accepted way to deal with stress and women are taught this at a very early age. Boys, on the other hand, are told to "take it like a man." Women are also told to "be nice." (What are little girls made of? That's right: sugar and spice and everything nice. Notice there is nothing in there about stoic wherewithal or brass cajones). When a woman gets really stressed and frustrated, which are emotions they are not really taught to deal with, they scream and cry. It's what they do -- some don't, but lots do. Screaming is a career limiting move. Crying is seen as weak but not as much a career limiting move as screaming. People hate screaming and crying, but crying you can hide. My friend Tina has repeatedly said to me, "I need to vent for five minutes and then I will be fine." She vents, she tears up, and she moves on and gets her business done. Getting that emotional roadblock out of the way clears the path to take care of what needs to be addressed and is so much better than stewing over it. Of course, if women didn't take everything so freaking personally, this wouldn't happen as much either.

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