Over a week ago I am half a plate into traditional Nicaraguan breakfast of gallo pinto at Managua Hills, as I am having a very pleasant exchange with an older gentleman from New York. He has been coming to Nicaragua for over a decade with his wife, as part of a volunteer initiative. He speaks Spanish, loves the country, and the sunshine that it brings in the middle of his winter.
We talk about family, work and travel. We compare travelling alone with travelling with a companion. He asks about the upcoming Survival Run, and wants to know more about what kind of tasks we may be asked to perform. He wants to know about the countries I have been to, and is impressed when he learns about my 6-month trip to India.
Finally, he says: “You are a pretty amazing woman, you know”.
Without skipping a beat, I say calmly: “Yes, I know”.
He seems taken aback. “You really do not have a confidence problem, do you?”, he chuckles, almost visibly uncomfortable.
I shrug: “I used to have many confidence problems, and I worked really hard to overcome them. I still doubt myself, and feel insecure sometimes, because I am a human, and that’s part of the human experience, but I don’t have a confidence problem, no.”
“Well, you may want to be careful. Don’t want to peak too early”, he warns.
My conversation partner has a full head of grey hair and is in his 70s, so I think this is supposed to be his “fatherly” advice, as he is “looking out for me”, but instead I feel shamed. And furious.
Be careful. You don’t want to peak too early.
“Be careful” implies that you are doing something dangerous.
Be careful is what some friends and relatives told me before the race – perhaps, because I was about to climb an active volcano. Since when does confidence in women require a death waiver?
The reference to peaking too early implies that if you are confident, you get more and more confident over time, until you are finally an arrogant prick.
Compare the two scenarios.
1. You have a conversation with someone. They observe that you are amazing and tell you so. You agree.
2. You start the conversation by telling your conversation partner how amazing you are. Then you proceed to elaborate as to why you are in fact so amazing.
Feel the difference?
Yet, women agreeing with compliments seem to represent a radical departure from social norms. One woman ran a social experiment, agreeing with every compliment she received on social media. The responses were quite shocking.
I’d do better to mumble something unintelligible instead, or just blush and look at the floor.
I’ll try that next time. [Not].
One common response here can be the almost belligerent “I am amazing, and I don’t care what you think”. As in “don’t fucking tell me to be careful, and I will peak whenever the fuck I want”.
Unfortunately, I care about what you think very much. Caring about others’ opinions has been the bane of my existence, and will probably always be to some extent. Research suggests (nerd alert!) that things like self-monitoring, need for social approval and validation are stable character traits. So, it is likely that my Lisa Simpson syndrome is here to stay.
I care about you think of me. [And I can’t help, but wonder if even you, dear reader, thought me arrogant for at least a split second, as you were reading this post].
However, I (finally) care what I think of me more. It’s this last part that took me a long time to arrive at. And even now that I am here, it still hurts when someone implies that I am arrogant and full of myself, when I agree with a compliment.
It comes down to the fundamental belief that you are GOOD. The belief, according to Alanis Morissette:
that I would be good even if I did nothing
that I would be good even if I got the thumbs down