Dr. Cheryl Woodson

Woodsonian Inspirationa Musings on Monday: She can RIDE, but she Can’t DRIVE -Taking Control of Our Lives from Our Inner “Little Girl.”

No matter how successful women are, no matter how confident and capable we seem, there are times when we believe we don’t deserve our success. This isn’t a new idea (Clance and Imes published what I believe was the first article on the “Imposter Syndrome” in 1978,) but here’s my spin.
Every accomplished woman has a little girl sitting on her shoulder. Just when the woman is about to seize an opportunity, that little girl whispers, “Who do you think you are? Why would anyone believe you can do this?” This little girl is the voice of every teacher who questioned a dream of law school, warned against taking advanced science courses, or otherwise failed to be encouraging.
In my freshman year of college, a career counsellor recommended that I major in theatre instead of biology. He knew I planned to go to medical school and saw that my scores on the entrance aptitude test ranked highest in science, but he didn’t and MD in my future!
Parents can be worse. Some fathers applaud their son’s accomplishments, and ignore their daughters’, while “Mama Drama” can raise could destruction to a “whole ‘nother” level. In that same college year, the mother of one of my roommates told us, “They should move the old maid age back to 25 to give you girls a chance.” She went to college to get her M.R.S.; she never intended to have a career outside of her home, and she didn’t see why we would bother.
People like this didn’t believe we could (or should) reach our goals. A million other little hurts, discouragements, and outright criticisms accumulate over the years, and the little girl believes those people. Still reeling from the pain, she tries to shield her current self from future pain, pulling away from any action detractors would have attacked. Even though we’re big girls now, many of us let that little girl stay in control. For others, she doesn’t limit success, but she sure makes the journey more difficult.
Our little girls protected us by absorbing a lot of the neglect and criticism that battered our spirits as we grew up so, any thought of kicking them out can feel threatening. That’s okay. We don’t have to get rid of this girl, and we couldn’t, even if we tried. She’s us, and I don’t think we should want to leave her behind. In a way, she created us. Overcoming her fears made us the powerful, accomplished women we are, but it’s time to claim control.
I shared this idea with my coach, Monique Caradine, and in true, “Mo-form,” she took it a little farther. Mo saw a woman’s developmental journey as a mountain. You walk up the mountain, holding your little girl’s hand, but when she tries to slow you down, tell her not to be afraid. She protected you, but now, you’re here to protect her, and she can trust you to do that, even if no one else ever did.
At a stress-management seminar with Women Impacting Storebrand Excellence (WISE,) I realized that there was still another piece. I shared that we have grown into the powerful, accomplished women who would have affirmed and encouraged those little girls. Each of us, now IS what our little girl needed, and she CAN trust us to take care of things, going forward.
As we travel our respective life-roads, we don’t need to put our little girl out of the car, but it’s time to feel confident and move her out of the driver’s seat. Reassure your little girl (and yourself,) that you are more than ready to command the wheel. When she tries to get in the way, look her in the eye and say with love, “I’ve got this. You can ride, but you can’t drive.”

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