Posted by: Cecilia | September 26, 2009

Intimidation

I’d like to think that alot of maturity and self-acceptance take place between the time we step out of cap and gown and into a kid- and grocery-packed SUV or boardroom or center stage or wherever you happen to be twenty (give or take ten) years out of college. Now, I can understand, and even remember, the hesitation in attending our five year reunion or the periodic Wellesley Club get-togethers that seem to spring up in every corner of the globe. But nearly twenty years out, this spring and summer I found myself in two separate conversations with fellow alumnae – successful alumnae no matter how you want to define success these days – who were doggedly sure they did not want to attend a Wellesley alumnae event. “I’m too intimidated” were the exact words.

A funny thing happens when you attend a women’s college that prides itself on shattering the glass ceiling, that even launched the woman who made the most visible cracks in the nation’s highest ceiling: you graduate with the guts to pursue and even nail both career and a rewarding personal life (perhaps not simultaneously but you have done both at some point) but not the confidence to show it to your fellow classmates. 

Now, I don’t speak for everybody. There are plenty of alumnae out there who have incorporated Wellesley’s message exactly as it was meant to be incorporated, and they are sure of themselves and attend these events with high spirit and Wellesley cheer. But I am speaking for those who, for whatever reason, don’t leap at the chance to gather with old sisters, whose minds jump to titles, perceived achievements, money, and/or the pedigree of husbands before tossing their invitations into the recycling bin.

It took me seventeen years to attend my first alumnae event. I was in Japan at the time, and received four to five emails a year with announcements of get-togethers with both Japanese and expatriate alumnae. At least once a year there would be invitations to meet and greet fellowship students or a visiting faculty member. The lunches always took place somewhere swanky in downtown Tokyo and the club was headed by a Harvard Business School graduate.

Despite what I’ve written so far, I’m actually not very hung up on where I am in my life. Had I cared alot about power or money, I would have made different career choices and/or married into it. But what I want most in life – balance, love – I got (maybe in fluctuating levels at times but I think I’ve got it), and I figured, okay, I’m satisfied, maybe even “successful.” So what held me back from attending a Wellesley event for nearly all the years (8) that I lived in Japan? The fact that I spoke kindergarten-level Japanese. Eight years in Japan and I would turn white if a Japanese salesperson started talking to me in Japanese. I have alot of excuses – reasons – for never having become fluent, but, in the end, it is pretty lame  no matter how you look at it. So despite the fact that all the gatherings took place in English anyway, I never went until my final year in Japan under the fear that, once the alumnae heard me attempting to order in Japanese, I would be revealed for the linguistic dolt that I was. (FYI, the only reason I finally attended was because we were hosting a Wellesley administrator who was the cousin of one of my best friends, and I had promised I would say hi…)

But you know what happened, I had a wonderful time. The HBS head who I had thought was completely cold over email turned out to be quite lovely in person. I met a diverse group of down-to-earth women who ranged from investment bank managing directors and teachers to homemakers and students. When I moved back to North Carolina, it somehow became easier for me to accept a dinner invitation to meet the head of the club here who, by the way, turned out to be another Harvard Business School graduate and, who, not surprisingly, is a lovely person.

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