What are you afraid of?

Giant red eel-like sea serpent on antiquarian maritime map, extendedThe wildest thing I ever did to impress someone was jump out of an airplane.

It was terrifying. I am not, by nature, an adventurous person. But I was dating someone (who I later married) who got deep pleasure and satisfaction from giving himself a rush of adrenaline, and skydiving was a hobby of his — along with watching scary movies, snowboarding in parks and backcountry, and other things designed to induce the sensation of jolting your heart into your stomach.

I’ve spent over ten years not understanding this rather significant part of my husband’s personality. To me, the activities he finds exciting and thrilling are all things to be avoided: they scare, upset, and disturb. But a recent episode of Hidden Brain about the science of fear finally explained some of the reasoning behind it. (read more…)

That Time I Policed a Woman’s Voice

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I recently read an article about “radical candor” in the workplace (the idea that supervisors should give very direct feedback to their team) that contained a shocking anecdote.

While at Google, a woman named Kim Scott gave a presentation to senior management. She was nervous, but overall felt the presentation had gone well and could tell that the owners of the company were pleased. But afterward her boss – who happened to be Sheryl Sandberg – took her aside to give her some feedback on her presentation style. At first Sheryl was gentle with her criticisms of Kim’s public speaking, but could tell none of it was landing. According to Kim, Sheryl finally said, ‘You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. I’m going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.’”

At first Sandberg’s comment seemed startlingly direct to me, even offensive. But I realized that I’d done something similar to someone I used to manage. (read more…)

My 12 Spouses

Kerala mural paintingI work for a small, family-owned business that, for many years, was run by a father and his son. They had a loving and close relationship, but would occasionally get into terrifically loud, heated shouting matches in the office. This made everyone else fidgety and awkward, and whenever it happened, my colleagues and I would half-joke that our parents were fighting. While the rest of us who work at the company are not related, my coworkers really do feel like family members, people I’ve come to love because of our relationship – and disagree with hotly sometimes, just like I do with my husband.  (read more…)

“Do you want kids?”

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“Do you want kids?”

This is possibly one of the most fraught things you can ask a woman, and at 33 years old, with a new fetus or baby popping up on my social media feeds every day, I hear this inquiry – real or implied – pretty frequently. Putting aside for a moment whether you want to share this personal information with the person asking you, what if you don’t even know what the answer is? What if you can honestly imagine your life both ways?  (read more…)

Three Rejections

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Rejections feel awful.

It doesn’t matter if it’s something small, like not hearing back from a potential romantic match on Tinder, or large, like being passed over for an important job. What makes rejection so upsetting, so intolerable, is the possibility that it indicates something really, really wrong with us – our skills and abilities, or our worthiness and lovability.

After a rejection, I want to feel better but sometimes recoil at well-meaning expressions of sympathy. Certain situations are painful because it hurts to admit how badly we wanted something, and even small slights can be upsetting if they shake our sense of self-worth or confidence. Rejections are made worse by the fact that we rarely discuss or publicize them, heightening the sense that they are shameful and dark. The failures themselves feel awful; the only thing more embarrassing is sharing them with others. (read more…)