My first day of law school rattled me. I sat at a table and discovered that, out of the nine of the 10 of us, I was the only one who had not graduated from an Ivy League undergraduate college. I felt out of my league.
How was I going to compete with these classmates? After a semester of low-grade anxiety over this question, I found that I could. And I did.
There are multiple kinds of intelligence. Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor who is well-known for his study of multiple intelligence theory posits:
“I claim that human beings have a number of relatively discrete intellectual capacities. IQ tests assess linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, and sometimes spatial intelligence…. But humans have several other significant intellectual capacities. In my original book, I described musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal (social) intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence (understanding of self). A few years later, I added the naturalist intelligence: the capacity to make consequential distinctions in the world of nature. I also have speculated about two other possible intelligences: existential intelligence, the intelligence of ‘big questions’; and pedagogical intelligence, the intelligence that allows human beings to convey knowledge or skills to other persons.”
https://howardgardner.com/faq (accessed February 17, 2019). I believe this.
I never felt as logical-mathematically intelligent as my law school classmates. But I always had confidence in my resourcefulness. If I did not know the answer, I knew how to find it.
I fared just as well as my classmates in the legal market and was hired straight out of law school by one of the largest law firms in Washington, D.C. I later won a political appointment in the Clinton Justice Department. I believe my professional success derived as much from my interpersonal intelligence as it did from my linguistic and logical intelligence. I interview well. I build strong professional relationships. I have good timing and what is sometimes colloquially referred to as “street-smarts.”
It took me a long time to appreciate my individual strengths and to stop feeling less than others around me. I learned to practice affirmations to help increase my self-confidence. It took my willingness to learn from my mistakes instead of running from them, in order to grow into myself. I changed the negative tape in my head that berated me and told me I was not as good as others. I accepted myself and my personal abilities.
I would have appreciated a mentor to help me learn these things earlier in life. I do my best to help others, especially young women, know these truths about themselves. Sometimes, it takes so little to lift someone else up. A word of encouragement to someone who is struggling with self-doubt can help immensely. I build self-esteem by doing esteemable acts. I sometimes envision my young self as I do so.
As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other…. I do not have a magic formula for how every woman should live her life, but I do know that we need to give one another a hand.” https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/13/opinion/madeleine-albright-my-undiplomatic-moment.html. At a time when the glass ceiling has been raised, but still exists, women need to step up and extend their hands to those behind us.
It took me almost half a century to get to the place of self-acceptance I now enjoy. Hard-fought lessons enabled me to escape the imposter syndrome that hounded me for decades. Of course, life still throws me curveballs, and will continue to do so. But I am now able to tolerate discomfort, and to look for lessons in every situation.
As I continue to navigate life’s ups and downs, I do know one thing. I am enough. And always have been.