A few months ago, I changed jobs after putting a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the process. For those of you who have yet to endure the strain of looking for a job while you have one, it’s tremendous because you have an income, but also exhausting because searching for a job is almost a full-time job in and of itself. I was working by day and scouring websites, updating (useless, in my opinion) cover letters and looking for every possible lead. I did it on and off for almost two years. Taking breaks when the search got the best of me, or when I felt like my situation might improve, but coming back when it didn’t.
Getting a new job might have sounded easy given my qualifications - Master’s degree in my preferred field, experience in the industry that was the focus of my search, an array of knowledge and leadership across many platforms. But, it was taking forever.
After years of searching, countless applications, a bazillion interviews and the added stress of offers and negotiations that didn’t go as planned, I FINALLY got a fantastic offer. It was a great company and good pay, with a work environment and supervisor that both seemed to possess the qualities I would have hand-picked. I was elated and I took the job.
As my people found out, they were super excited for me. It’s always fun to share a moment where you feel triumphant. But, then I had one of the weirdest experiences ever.
Now, before I tell you what it was, let me admit something that is actually pretty hard to say because we’re programmed not to. Here goes… I consider myself an attractive person. Am I a runway model? No. Would Gavin Rossdale, Trent Reznor or Charlie Hunnam hit on me? Probably not, though I’m open to the opportunity in case they are reading. Do I struggle with feeling like I’m a hideous witch some days? Absolutely. But, I am aware I have a certain level of looks that may have granted me a thing or two in my time, and I don’t want to be ashamed to admit that feeling beautiful has provided me with confidence on more than one occassion. I haven’t always had it, and there are times I wish I had felt it more, but feeling beautiful is a teeter totter. However, what a female family member said to me upon getting my new job floored me. It went something like this…
Her: “Are you excited for your new job, Jess?”
Me: “Yes. I feel like it’s a good place and the manager seems great.”
Her: “That’s great. We’re happy for you.”
Me: “Thanks. I’m excited and hopefully he’ll be as good as he seems.”
Her: “Great. You know, I bet he gave you the job because you’re pretty.”
Me: “… … … I hope not. I hope I got it because I’m smart and qualified…”
Her: “Yeah, but I’m sure it’s because he thought you were pretty.”
Yep. Totally true. I was mortified. But here’s the kicker. I have female cousins (one in grade school and in her first year of high school). Guess who absorbed the entire encounter. If you said both of them, you are right. In a matter of nine words my education, experience and work ethic were reduced to one thing…looks. Was it hurtful and maddening to me? You bet, but not only because it devalued me, but because of the terrible bar it set for my cousins. They were hearing, “nothing matters, except that you’re pretty.” I know my family member didn’t mean it like it sounded. I’m sure she was only trying to build me up, albeit not in the way the situation warranted. I was definitely uncomfortable and upset.
Afterwards, I found myself careful about the things I was saying to the young women in my life. Suddenly things I’d never really thought about before became very apparent to me. I noticed that if I complimented the females in my life it was often with statements like, “You’re pretty, your hair is beautiful.” So I decided I needed to tell them something more, outside of just validating their looks.
Yes, I’ll tell them those things, too, because self-esteem and self-worth about your appearance are wonderful, important feelings. Every woman, young or old, should feel beautiful. But I also want them to remember the other things that make them special - that my seven-year-old cousin is a super-talented artist, my freshman cousin is a rock star actress and cheerleader, my youngest sister can actually do math (super jealous) and is a beautiful dancer, and that my oldest sister is hilarious (again, jealous) and strong-willed. But, they are those things IN ADDITION TO being pretty. At first glance they have that one thing in common, but dig deeper and you’ll see they have an extensive list of qualities that set them apart as unique individuals.
I don’t just compliment the thing that’s easy to see. I’ll them they are pretty, but I’ll also strive to always give them the gift of feeling good about something else besides that small fragment of who they are. I am more than a pretty face, but so are they. It’s important they hear the other messages, too.