A few weeks ago, I told my counselor that I wanted to unpack my apprehension around professional women of my age. I have long-standing relationships with women of all professions and caliber. I am honored to be connected to the sisters who make up my tribe. But when it comes to new friendships, if I am making connections in a work environment, my guard goes up. I am open to women in church, at my children’s school, through family friends and virtually everywhere else I can meet new faces, but when it comes to women in my same career field or a similar professional track, I have virtually no work friends. There are no other women attorneys in my life that I go to outside of the ones who have been with me since we started our first study group together in law school. I wanted to know why I have no work friends. I had an inkling of a reason but needed confirmation.
This week I have gotten to the root of my lack of professional connections and interestingly enough, it ties back to the fear of failure that kept me stuck professionally for so many years. I do not make new female attorney/professional friends because I do not think I have anything to offer them. For years, I was fearlessly pursuing my dreams and eager to connect with women who were doing the same. I suffered my first real “fail” in and regarding law school and unbeknownst to me, the failure traumatized me. It was the first time I felt like I could not do something I genuinely gave my best efforts towards. “Oh! I’m not as smart as I thought” came the notion, and every seeming failure since then has been a confirmation of my worst nightmare. I have been carrying a deep sense of inadequacy when it came to career and that weight kept me from connecting with others. In my eyes, professional women who were in my age group and other similar demographics were better than me because they took the same set of circumstances as mine and created success for themselves while I continued to struggle. Every affluent, professional, black woman was out of my league. I had nothing to give them. They were smarter than me, had more money than me and probably knew more about their field than I could know about mine. If I opened myself up to them, they would discover what a failure I was with my lack of income and lack of achievements and likely move on any way. It was better for me to keep everyone at arms length than risk their rejection when they discovered how little I had to offer. I have always known that young professional women scared me, but until today I could not pinpoint why.
Nowhere is this more clear than with my mentoring relationships. Women I have watched over and discipled since they were in middle school and high school are now thriving professionals in their twenties and whenever I glimpse their lives I am always filled with a mixture of pride and sadness. Pride at all they have achieved even if my contribution was limited to being a listening ear, a big sister and letter of recommendation for college. Sadness that at my thirty-six years of age, I had no connections or resources to which I could add to their life to benefit them as young professionals climbing their various ladders of success. It made me sad that I was only a benefit to them for that short window and could not be a resource now because in my own eyes, my professional life had not measured up to much.
I did not realize that I had measured myself against my peers, professional women I admire from afar who were thriving in their various field, and found myself unworthy of their friendship. What if I opened my life up to them and they realized how little I knew (I’m not as smart as I once thought, remember)? What if I invited them to my home and they saw how meager we were living compared to their multiple six-figures? What if they figured out I was a fraud who was only pretending to know what she was doing in this field (imposter syndrome in overdrive)? I was actually afraid to make friends within my professional circle because I was deathly afraid of rejection and embarrassment.
Once again, I divided my abilities between my career and everything else. In any other aspect of my life, I fully acknowledge that I am an empathetic and compassionate friend. I show up for my friends as often as possible and I give the best of me to the people I care about. I know that God has given me enough personality, wisdom and compassion to be a blessing to as many as He will lead my way and I derive deep and genuine joy from making authentic connections. But for some reason when it came to professional connections, I was convinced that I had nothing to offer anyone. If it sounds crazy to you, it is because it is. And if it sounds familiar because this is how you operate as well, then pull up a chair and let’s work through this thing together.
I am finally ready to admit to any woman who has known me for years in a professional capacity but with whom I have always “kept it cute and kept it moving,” never escalating our acquaintanceship beyond the few laughs we share between courtroom sessions or networking events – it is not you, sis. It is me. I was afraid I was not good enough for you. I was afraid that you would laugh at me if you truly knew my situation. I was afraid you would deem me as unworthy as I felt. I was afraid that you would talk about me because I did not have this or could not afford that. And I was jealous. Because you had lawyers in your family to guide you and I had to figure this thing out by myself. Because you got the LSAT score for a scholarship and I was drowning in debt. Because you got hired right out of law school and the last 12 years have felt like I am not good enough for a seat at anyone’s table. Because your life seems so much better on paper than mine. I was afraid. I was jealous and I projected all of my insecurities on you without even bothering to learn your story.
It was not you. It was me.
But I am working through my insecurities. I have pinpointed the lies I once believed and I am dismantling them brick by brick, session by session. I am ready to connect now, if you will still have me. Pull up a chair, sis. Let’s talk this through.