How many times have you felt like the only nervous, shy, unprepared, person in the room? For me, it has been more times than I can count. I have found myself feeling all of these things on the first day (or month) of classes, or when I start a new job, and definitely when I meet new people. It’s terrifying. And isolating.
Over time, I realized that I was always more reserved with my thoughts and ideas when I was around other women than when I was around men. This realization came to me while I was in a meeting at work, at a job where I worked with mostly women. I loved my job, because I got to do what I loved to do. What I didn’t love, however, was my work environment. It felt hostile, and not the kind of hostile where people were having West Side Story-esque rumbles in the hallway, but the unspoken tension that occurs when people don’t trust each other. I was sitting in this meeting (towards the back, very much my style) and a question came up on how we should proceed on a certain issue. I spent the next ten seconds internally debating whether or not to raise my hand and speak up. Although I knew that I had a valid solution to the issue at hand, I was still nervous to put myself out there. I was honestly more apprehensive about giving a good suggestion because it put me at risk of judgment from my co-workers. It was then I realized that things really needed to change.
I feel like this situation plays out so many times every day for many of us, whether it’s at school, work, or in our own circle of friends. I wonder why we, as women, treat one another like this. How do our relationships form into these bubbles of inescapable hostility? We are supposed to be in this together, right? I knew I couldn’t change how the women around me treated each other (or me), but I decided it wasn’t something I wanted to be a part of anymore. Going forward, I would make a conscious effort to be more supportive of other women. I wouldn’t criticize their choices; instead, I would welcome them. It isn’t easy. It almost seems like women are pre-programmed to be competitive with other women, like we have to hold others down to get our own heads above water. We need to realize that there is plenty of room at the top for all of us.
This moment of clarity has had a ripple effect in my life. It all started with that one meeting, and it has snowballed into a whole new outlook on my life and my career. I have since started a website that offers women career mentoring and classes to help them get started after college. I want to help other women succeed. I don’t want them to feel inferior to anyone. I want to help give them the confidence I lacked for so very long. We are strong as individuals, sure, but we are unstoppable together.
When I started this venture, I needed help. This was not something I could achieve alone. I looked to women who had been down this path before me. I connected with so many strong, independent women who were willing to share their stories and guide me along the way. There were a few women I reached out to who wouldn’t return my calls or would simply tell me they weren’t interested in helping anyone out. I thanked them for their time and moved on.
Eventually, I found all the amazing, supportive women I was looking for. They made all the difference to my success, and I want to pass that on. Because this unsettling, tense feeling doesn’t have to be there. It doesn’t have to separate us. We can choose to lift each other up instead. Let’s do that.
Mackenzie Molinari is an Iowa native currently living in North Carolina and is the founder of SheAspires.Org, an online mentoring resource for women. She is a yoga-pants enthusiast who never does yoga and enjoys all things Mindy Kaling. You should follow her @SheAspiresOrg or email her at email@example.com.