Archive for May, 2012

One of the quickest ways to annoy me is to complain that there aren’t enough women in business, or start-ups, or math classes, or whatever. I think it bugs me so much because I – as a woman – have participated in both business, and start-ups, and math classes.

I hate these questions because it hints at some intrinsic flaw that women have. “Women aren’t a force in start-up companies because they don’t like risk.” “Women aren’t in math and sciences because they lack the confidence to think they can participate.” I think there are truths to those statements at a very high level, but as an individual, I hear them and I think “Ugh, not again.” There are plenty of men who do not start their own company, plenty of men who get literature degrees, and very few people are going “Yeah, that makes sense, you’re doing that because you’re missing that certain something” in a judgy “if only you were better” kind of way. People don’t analyze men’s choices through the lens of inherent personality traits, but they do with women – they do with me — and I hate it.

Years ago, a male coworker – in an attempt to get under my skin – asked me: “Doesn’t it bother you that that guy over there that is your age with the same skill set – makes more money than you?” And my exact response was “No. Because if he makes more money than me, that means I negotiated a crappy salary, and that’s on me.” And I still feel confident in that answer, because the coworker he was referencing? Did not make more money than me. Do I *hate* negotiating salaries? For sure. Do I do it well? For sure. Women as a collective may be thought to have many flaws but as an individual person I would prefer if it was not assumed that I do.

(Disclaimer: of course there is an institutional bias towards women in industry. The conflicts of motherhood and working and the effects that having kids has on salary earnings – it’s all real. I do understand that. But that’s a flaw of the system, not a flaw of the person, and the assumption of personal shortcomings are the areas to which I am referring.)

This is all my way of saying that I bristled when I saw an article shared on Facebook titled: “The Trouble With Bright Girls”, because, like, greeeeaaaatttt, yet another example of my assumed less-ness. But this article pleasantly surprised me; for one of the first times in a girls vs. boys discussion, I actually related to the girls:

 She found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up – and the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel.  In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses.  Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing.  They were more likely to redouble their efforts, rather than giving up

Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this:  more often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

Ok, you know: this groks. It is not surprising to me that I’m good at my job– I expect that to be true; I consider my intelligence and general competence a part of who I am. How different would it be, however, if I considered my success to only be an earned result of sustained effort (which if I’m being objective, it must be) versus just an assumed outcome?

Now that I’m typing this, it seems remarkably silly. I’m not inherently good at athletics, but 5x/week of Crossfit and hey, look at me, I’m kicking ass there. The challenge of getting better is energizing to me, and because of that I’m seeing results I would never have expected considering my baseline athletic skill-set. How easy would it be for me to have just said “I’m not an athlete, I won’t be good at this” and just continue to … not be good at it? (Very easy, if the first 20 years of my life are any indication.) So this morning I read this article, and I thought of my crossfit life, and I found myself going: “…well, shoot.” Looks like my genderness had something to teach me after all. I would do well to remember:

No matter the ability – whether it’s intelligence, creativity, self-control, charm, or athleticism – studies show them to be profoundly malleable.  When it comes to mastering any skill, your experience, effort, and persistence matter a lot.

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When my oldest brother was a middle school teacher, his students used to tease him about “Mr. Lewis’s Happy Memory of the Day” – the point in each class when my brother would go “You know, when I was a kid….”

Along those lines, please enjoy these two true yet random and completely unrelated stories about me, as I kill some time between meetings.


Did you know I was born in Texas? I was! Lived there until I was 5, at which point we moved to Minnesota, and, I have to say, if at any point in your childhood years you have the opportunity to move to Minnesota to complete your upbringing, I highly suggested you take it. Growing up in Minnesota was awesome; I have seriously entertained thoughts of moving back just so I can send any potential children to my old school. Rock on, Minnesota. 

Anyway, what? Right, so: born in Texas, moved to Minnesota. Thanks to some very formative years in Texas, I was a bleach blond 5 year old with gold high heeled sandals, a bikini ( five years old, y’all) and a sharp Texas twang. My first few months at my new school in Minnesota, I took a vocabulary test, and I got the definition of “To Fix” incorrect; I had answered: “To Get Ready To Do Something

You know: Fixin’ to get some dinner. Fixin’ to go across the street. Fixin’. To get ready to do something. Obviously.


Last year:

Me: “Look, I didn’t FORGET about our anniversary; I just didn’t realize this Tuesday was the 31st”
Mike: “Our anniversary is the 30th”

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I have a tattoo on the inside of my left ankle. It’s an M-dot symbol, the official brand of Ironman Triathlon. I got it three or four days after I got married, at a tattoo parlor in Key West, in the middle of a hot and humid June afternoon. My husband  — a word that still felt new and delicious at that time – has the same symbol on his left calf, and I remember remarking to him “well, we’ve got matching tattoos – now this marriage will never last!”

(I appear to have been mistaken.)

I don’t know that I had always wanted a tattoo. In truth, I was fairly petrified and when my husband (“husband”!) pulled the bandage of a few days later I refused to look at it, refused to even look down my leg, so sure I was that I had made a huge mistake and would hate it, hate it, hate it.

(I love it.)

I never considered putting a tattoo on my back  or some other part of my body that I couldn’t see — any tattoo I got I wanted to be something I could see all the time, not something that was just on display for other people. And I do see mine; briefly in the dark light of 5am as I tie my shoes for Crossfit, in meetings at work as I cross my legs and my pants ride up just a bit over my ankle. It’s now a part of me, just as I wanted it to be; a reminder that once upon a time I stopped being sick and became an athlete, and I finished not one but two Ironman races, and I did so along side some of the best friends I’ve ever had. It’s a reminder of how much I love the life I created for myself, and of how weird life is, that a nerdy bookworm drama geek could become the type of person who competes in races that take longer than 12 hours.

(About a year after getting my tattoo, I ran into an ex boyfriend at a coffee shop. “Wow” he said. “You ruined a perfectly good leg with that ink.” I stared at him for a minute, this person whose approval in all things I used to crave, and smiled. “Well, my husband absolutely loves it” I replied.  Yes, this ink does indeed serve as a reminder of how much I love the life I’ve created.)

I’ve been thinking about ink lately, especially coming from watching the Crossfit Regional Championships. These competitions are filled with beautiful, beautiful shirtless bodies, some with such impressive tattoo work that I can’t help but be envious. I want to know when they got theirs, I want to ask if they considered what it might look like when they’re not 30 and a Crossfit King and no longer have a body that they want on impressive display. I want to ask them about their stories, what kind of jokes they cracked with their tattoo artist while they waited one, two, three hours for them to finish.

But I also think about the timing of getting inked. My tattoo reminds me of a good time in my life, but if I had gotten when I just started becoming an athlete, when I still on the cusp of invalid, would I remember more the old me? Would it serve as a reminder of the bad times, not the good?

I need to fix my m-dot. I want it outlined in black, a detail that got lost in communication back in Key West. (“I can’t outline it now” said the tattoo guy. “The black will bleed into the red. If you wanted it outlined you should have told me before.” Pro tip: Functional communication skills are an important life skill, in marriage, careers, and in discussing permanent brands one places on one’s body.) But I’m hesitating on fixing it; I’ve placed so much power in the story behind how I got this ink that I’m worried about adding to it. What if the narrative changes to me, what if it becomes a reminder of some harder things I’m dealing with now – do I wait until the storm has passed, so that when I catch a glimpse of my ankle, the only thing I do is quirk a slight smile, and remember how lucky I am?

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