I have been underestimated my whole life. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but it’s happened to me so often in my career I should be used to it by now. In the last few weeks, it happened again, not once, but twice. Rather than let these slights slide away like snow off a steep slope, I found myself wondering yet again what it is about me that makes others second guess what I can or cannot do. I’d tell them if they asked (I have never been afraid to tell the truth about my abilities), but they don’t and in the end it’s their assumptions that hurt me.
Perhaps it’s my size. I’m short, some would say petite or fine-boned. Take your pick. I don’t complain and mostly I feel grateful for everything I’m lucky to experience and accomplish. I usually accomplish things I set out to do and when I don’t, I try to learn from the lessons provided. I never think it can’t be done (so it surprises me when others question it).
I don’t make a big deal about my accomplishments because really what makes mine any better than yours. We’re all special in our own way and if our collective efforts make our communities, our lives, our families better, isn’t that enough acknowledgement. Isn’t this the reason we do what we do?
Maybe I’m underestimated because I look for solutions and opportunities to collaborate rather than compete. I actually don’t like competition of any sort (probably because I’m not good at it). When I watch a hockey or football game, I feel sorry for the loser, even when my team wins. I think about how the losing team feels, wonder why there always have to be winners and losers.
Perhaps my abilities are suspect because I’m mostly soft-spoken (except when I’m being my opinionated self) and would rather just get on with getting the job done.
Twice in the past few weeks, someone has told me that I could not achieve my vision for the festival I’ve organized and successfully grown over the last 12 years. And it’s not that I don’t have the evidence to prove I can, and will continue to, produce a successful event. I do. But what’s the point of flaunting stats, feedback and accolades. It’s perception that matters. I don’t know how to change their view, and wonder do I want to try.
I could stamp my size 6s and wave my arms and draw attention to myself. I could be the kind of person who is in your face, shouting above the rest. Yes I could be louder, bigger, more passionate. Except as I write this I know I could not be more passionate about the literary arts than I am already. I am obsessive and zealous about what I do, not in that flashy way that is expected, but in the way that is mine: quiet, respectful, put one foot in front of the other, stay focused on the outcome, persevere and get the job done. Do I really have to change someone else’s perception of me or my work? Don’t know. At the moment, I’m hoping against hope that one day everyone will see the festival for what it is: a diamond born out of a determined passion and kept gleaming through simple hard work, commitment, knowledge, and sheer stubbornness.
Maud Barlow comes to mind as I finished writing that last paragraph. She was one of our guest authors four or five festivals ago. She is small of stature too, soft spoken, and yet with that quiet, grandmotherly voice of hers, she has made incredible inroads on issues related to the preservation of water and other environmental problems, not with a lot of fanfare, but rather with plain old fashioned hard work.
When Maud was in Whistler, she shared the facts, told us what she believes and why she’s doing what she’s doing and answered questions not in that over the top, finger pointing, it’s us or them approach synonymous with some activists, but in a way that made you want to listen and take action. Maybe people have underestimated her as well. Who knows? Now that I think of it, maybe it’s not so bad being underestimated. In a way, you’re always exceeding expectations and surprising others. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
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