“Don’t forget your dreams, why you’re doing this,” she told
me on the phone.
Easy to say when you have income, I replied silently.
I’d told my friend I was on my way to an interview for a sales
position. And she reminded me where my North Star was.
But sometimes you have to steer out of the storm in order to
get back on course, right?
That said, this is the usual “Molly looking for work
pattern”: Spend a few weeks seeking the thing I actually want, see that it’s
harder than I thought, or notice that I don’t know how to go about it and give
up on it, and then go toward the easy but unfulfilling role.
This search result looks like a different sheep’s clothing, but it’s
still a wolf.
I’m trying to interrupt the usual flow of events at the point of acknowledging that “It’s too hard” really translates as “I don’t know how.”
Because from there, I can ask for more help.
That is hard, too. To ask for help when you’re not really sure
what you’re asking or who to turn to.
I feel like the simple son of the Passover Four Questions,
The one who doesn’t even know how to ask.
For the one who didn’t know how to ask, the questions and
answers were provided to him. He just had to show up, in his ignorance, and
I have been able to interrupt other patterns of behavior
mid-way, once I saw them. The flirting with the married men. Waiting until my
fridge was empty to buy groceries, and eating tuna from the can. Following
thoughts down a dark path toward isolation and despair.
This is no different. But changing, modifying all of the
above took (and takes) effort. Concerted
consciousness. Awareness of my feelings, of my triggers. All borne of scarcity
mind. There’s not enough. I can’t have any. I don’t know how to advocate
And this — advocating for myself — was part of a very long conversation I got to have
with my mom yesterday (as I chopped and roasted vegetables, making that conscious move to feed myself well and stop eating out all the time or going slightly hungry).
The other day, after I’d boldly walked into Neiman Marcus
with no resume and no plan and ended up in an impromptu interview with the HR
director, I spent dinner with a friend. I was asking her about sales, since
that’s her vocation. I was talking about the statistic I’d heard that women
rarely negotiate their salary, and men nearly always do.
She handed me a book titled, Women Don’t Ask. And I’m devouring it. Studies that show men see
opportunities to ask where women assume circumstances are fixed. Indeed, the
cultural pressures and reinforced gendered stereotypes that keep women in
positions of not advocating for themselves are plenty virulent, too.
I said to my friend that if I got this position in sales
with Neiman Marcus, I’d hope that I don’t go all mousy-girl. That I don’t begin
to feel like an impostor, feeling I don’t belong helping women with gobs of
And she said something interesting: Since cancer, you haven’t been mousy-girl.
She said before then, it’s true, I can turn (in my own
interpretation) not mousy, but quiet observer. I will stand back, get the lay
of the land, and then maybe add some ideas. But for the most part, I’ll remain
In fact, in high school, a boy once asked, “Do you ever
You’d hardly know me by that attribute anymore! But that
part of myself exists.
Although, less so these days.
I recounted all this to my mom, my friend’s comment about my
new assertiveness, and how I’d lost that subdued, passive nature since
surviving Leukemia. I gave my mom a simple example:
That same afternoon, I’d gone to pick up some lunch at this
organic yummy place. There were two platters of smothered polenta: one had two
slices left, and looked like it had been on the warmer for a few hours. Next to
it was another that was obviously just pulled from the oven, piping hot and
The older woman ahead of me ordered polenta, and got a slice from that bedraggled lot. I ordered polenta after her, and I asked if I could
have a slice from the new batch.
“Sure, of course.”
The older woman waiting for her change looked at me, with a
look of, “That’s not quite fair.” But, it was. I’d asked. She hadn’t.
I am not the mousy girl I was. I am a self-advocate. Some of
it was borne of cancer and my time bargaining with nurses and doctors on what I needed (“I guess that’s okay –
no one’s ever asked before.”). I completely changed my experience to suit my desires in what one usually sees as an immovable situation.
In the present, not knowing how to proceed – how do I market myself as an
essay tutor, how can I market myself as a home organizer, all in service of the fulcrum
, all to leave time available for creative and intellectual pursuits – doesn’t mean I can’t
proceed. It means I have to ask for help. I have to ask for help on how to even
form my questions.
And I have to remember that I’m no longer the woman who gets handed