Seize Opportunities, Don't Say No - Reflections on My Mother

03/28/2017 08:37 am ET

I teach the Women in Leadership class at the University of New Hampshire, and I believe that women are stronger when we listen to each other’s point of view. The following blog post is written by Rachel Vaz, Women in Leadership student, University of New Hampshire.

Much of our outlook of the world is shaped by our parents, and how they view reality around them. The things we grow up hearing affect our beliefs, and our expectations for ourselves. For women, their relationship with their mothers teaches them how to view being female, which affects many areas of their lives like their relationships and careers. Focusing specifically on our careers, our aspirations are created based on values as well as how much we think we are able accomplish, both ideas which may be passed down within families.

I recognize ways in which my mother’s ambitions have shaped mine, an example being her answer when I asked her why she had been working so hard to get her PhD: “I need a PhD to make the same amount of money the guys in my office make with their MBAs.” This response stuck with me and I can see now how her approach to this situation of injustice was somewhat accepting of power inequality as an immutable fact, but also showing defiance in a form of civil disobedience, by fighting it, but only within the limits of the system. In a way, she recognized that the odds were stacked up against her, but she believed that by working hard, she would be able to accomplish a great deal. Although feminism today makes me more optimistic about changing our current systems, the belief my mom transmitted in this instance is one I still carry today: if I work hard, I can succeed.

Observing my mother as a single mother and a professional, I absorbed some of the values and positive characteristics she has. I watched my mom work very hard for the things she was passionate about. For a long time she worked in corporate social responsibility and sustainability, and from a young age I learned to value finding meaningful work that brings about positive change. Seeing the many roles she took and how hard she pushed herself has also motivated me to do the same. I have become a high-achiever and am always looking for more exciting opportunities to embrace, as my mother did. However, with this drive also came a bad habit, the inability to say ‘no.’

My mom once told me of a coworker she envied because of how unapologetic she was saying ‘no’. She told me this coworker was not willing to change her schedule for meetings or other tasks, and always put herself first. One day, after a meeting where her coworker had turned down a request to host an event, my mother asked her why she said she was not able to do it, and her response: “I have a nail appointment then.” It was not her manicure that was appealing to my mother, but the freedom she gave herself to turn down opportunities she was not interested in. I join my mother in her envy, as I have the same problem turning down commitments or even opportunities that will add too much to my plate.

I have inherited many positive values from my mother, her integrity, hard-work, and drive, however, I have also inherited the habit of taking on too much, and not standing up for myself and saying ‘no’. Realizing how ideals are passed down from your parents to you, allows you to question what you have previously accepted as fact, and make changes to correct bad habits. As I discover more about my mother and how she viewed her career, I have learned a lot about my own needs and characteristics. As I continue to dig into these patterns, I am becoming better equipped to undertake my own career.

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