WHO AM I TO BE TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO?
A book is, after all, nothing more than a personal letter to the world... at least to those who want to read it.
I can't remember when I didn't want to write this book. After a lifetime of experiencing little confidence, two separate, but related incidents led me to stop thinking about it and sit down to prepare, and eventually write The Confident Woman
The first incident took place when a colleague of mine, Dr. Kim Yeager, chief of the California Office of Women's Health, asked me to give a presentation for an upcoming National Roundtable on Women's Health. The other presenters were going to be people who were considered "the experts" in their respective fields, so my immediate response was to tell her that I was sure that there were many others much better qualified than I to do such a presentation. Frankly, that was the truth. Nevertheless, Kim left the invitation open.
That evening I flew up to the San Francisco Bay Area to see my kids perform in a Stanford University improv program. Before the show, I went out to dinner with another colleague, Dr. Iris Litt, Director of Adolescent Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. As we were sipping a glass of wine at a local cafÈ, I mentioned to Iris that a National Roundtable on Women's Health was going to be held in California and that she might want to get in touch with Kim Yeager about doing a piece on adolescent girls. Just as an idle aside, I mentioned that Kim had asked me to give the talk on women's mental health and then casually told her of my response.
What ensued was life-changing for me. Iris, who in spite of her remarkable accomplishments, is a very soft-spoken woman, took my hand in hers, looked me straight in the eye, and in an uncharacteristically, strong voice said: "Marjorie, don't you dare not accept this invitation! Don't you know that when asked to give presentations, even the most highly educated, most qualified women--both Ph.D.'s and M.D.'s--continually take themselves out of the arena. Predictably, they say no to invitations because they don't think they know enough, are good enough, are experienced enough, are prepared enough to speak on a subject. Even when they are experts in their fields, many women don't seem to have the confidence to do the job."
"On the other hand," she went on, "when most male Ph.D.'s or M.D.'s are asked to present, they say yes readily, whether or not they know anything about the subject!1 Hey, my friend, you've been offered a wonderful opportunity! You've got to do it. What do you have to lose?"
I was stunned. Iris' words both challenged me and gave me courage to do something that I would not otherwise have done. (Now that's a good friend!). So in spite of not having the extraordinary academic credentials of my fellow roundtable presenters, I decided to participate. With the help of a colleague, I spent six months relentlessly tracking down the research on women's mental health. Eventually we managed to put together a respectable presentation. At least it was effective enough to have the sponsoring organization ask us to give it again on two other occasions. I will never forget that experience because it forced me to succeed at something about which I had little confidence.
The second incident took place just after I gave the roundtable talk. One day a colleague of mine called to ask me to lecture on The Superwoman Syndrome to women faculty members at a major medical school. My non-confident side whispered, "Who, me? What could I possibly offer these brilliant women?" Then I thought back to the previous incident and Iris's encouragement. I realized that my colleague was asking me to speak on a topic about which I knew quite a lot. (After all, I was the author of the one and only book on the subject.) In spite of my initial trepidation, I said yes to her invitation.
Once again I relied on my trusty work orientation and decided that to feel comfortable talking before this high-powered group, I needed to know more about them and what their respective "Superwoman" issues were. As I agreed to do the talk, I also made arrangements to conduct interviews with about a dozen of the future audience members, all M.D.'s and/or Ph.D.'s. As I interviewed these extraordinary women, I was astounded at how many of them seemed to lack self-confidence. They said things like (and these are their EXACT words):
I keep thinking, I hope I'm good enough.
I just don't feel up to a lot of things...teaching, my research, being a good mother, keeping the household going.
I know I need to take better care of myself...I just can't...I'm worn to a frazzle; freaked out with too much to do and yet guilty and miserable when I try to take some time for me. I'm desperate for even a little bit of time alone.
I'm insecure, damn insecure, but pleazzzzzzze don't breathe a word of this to anyone.
I couldn't believe my ears! Here were some of the most accomplished women in the United States, women who enjoyed all the accoutrements of success--degrees, decrees, prestigious careers, expensive homes, children in the best schools, new Volvos in their parking spaces--yet, so many of them appeared to be lacking in confidence. And they were the cream of the crop...the top of the heap...the academic dream team!
So many questions popped into my head: If these uncommonly successful academics and physicians don't have confidence, who does? Does any woman? Do people fake confidence? (Hadn't I done that myself?) If there are women of real confidence, who are they and how did they get it? Why do others not have it? Is one born with it? What can a person do to develop it? It's not as if you can traipse down to your local grocery store, open up a mail-order catalogue, or even go onto the Internet to buy some (If it were only so easy!) I also thought about young girls and what we--as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends, teachers, mentors--can do to insure that they grow up having true confidence.
Right then and there I decided that I had to write this book. From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Confident Woman by Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz. . Excerpted by permission of Harmony, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.