Invisible Fences

March 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

About four months into a new job, I had to attend a sit down supper in a hotel restaurant with the board of directors of the nonprofit where I worked.  I was nervous about my table manners.  Would I spit food on the president?  Launch a roll at the executive director? As I sat nervously at my end of the table trying to remember my mother’s table manners lessons, I looked up and realized that one of my dining partners was licking the butter knife.  Nobody was paying a bit of attention to table manners – they were enjoying the company & conversation! I felt a weight removed from my shoulders and enjoyed the rest of my dinner and subsequently had a fantastic time working with that group of people.  My own perceptions about roles had gotten in the way of me enjoying a great meal and wonderful dining companions.

An article at Get Rich Slowly this week got me to thinking about the roles of social class and our ideas about class and social mobility.  Normally J.D. Roth tries to avoid the topic of social class but recent travel to South America was the impetus for his consideration of class both abroad and at home.  The most interesting aspect of the post isn’t about different classes and who gets what, but J. D. asks the readers to consider their OWN perceptions of class and social mobility.

This article and the 200+ comments got me to thinking about how we let our backgrounds influence our decisions.  In some cases we may convince ourselves that we aren’t worthy of a promotion or we don’t have anything to offer business associates because of our background.  In other ways, it may create a sense of entitlement and the necessary work isn’t done leading to frustration and disappointment when expected opportunities don’t materialize.

I view flexing my social muscle as something that has to be periodically worked.  To that end, I take a deep breath and wade right into situations that make my palms sweat.  I have taught literature classes to recovering drug addicts in a jail and I have mingled with women who can trace their lineage to the Mayflower and everywhere in between.  And you know what?  In every situation, I have found a common ground and experiences to share with them.  In the process I discovered, the only perceptions holding me back were my own.

When we consider our mission at the Empowerment Center, our primary focus is bringing individualized coaching to an audience of women who could benefit from the one on one approach but because of economic situations, would not be able to pursue it.  Part of the work Cindy and Maria do on a daily basis is to guide women through a process of understanding her value and how to communicate that value, thereby overcoming her own self-imposed limits. No woman is “just a mom” or “too old to get another job”.

Have you ever realized that you have imposed limits on yourself or imagined what other people think of you only to find the exact opposite was true?  What advice would you give to someone who is pigeon-holing herself and not living to her full potential? How are you going to charge past your invisible fences today?

Posted by: Heather Comstock

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