UMBC Women Who Rock: A Reflection on Encouragement and Accountability

UMBC Women Who Rock is a blog series I’m working on throughout the 2014-15 academic year. In my role as Women’s Center director, I have some of the best opportunities to become acquainted with some of UMBC’s best and brightest women on campus. I admire the ways they live authentic lives unapologetically that challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that are often assigned to women. By debunking these stereotypes and forcing us to check our assumptions, they allow us to expand our notion of what a woman is and can be.

-Jess

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UMBC Women Who Rock! A Reflection on Encouragement and Accountability

With only three posts in this series, it might seem a little too early to spice things up, but the spirit of this series is really that of personal reflection (in addition to of course, celebrating other women) and I have some reflections to share. So for this post, I’m expanding the concept of the series to not just write about a particular UMBC woman but the experience of working with other UMBC women.  In this case, it’s the experience of writing a chapter for a women in leadership book series called Advancing Women and Leadership: Moving the Needle through Applied Theory Building with Virginia Byrne of Student Life and Crystal Diaz-Espinoza of CWIT. Our chapter called “The Non-Traditional Patchwork of College Women Student Leaders: A Multidisciplinary Reflection on Theory” focuses on ways in which we seek to build bridges at UMBC between marginalized groups of women leaders and the larger campus community in an effort to encourage transformational leadership development. We specifically focus on the experiences of UMBC women adult learners and women students majoring in information technology and engineering.

Now that the first hurdle of submitting our draft is behind us, I’ve had time to reflect on the experience. It was hard! I knew what I wanted to write and had all the confidence in the world until I sat in front of my computer trying to put my thoughts into words. It was like teaching someone to tie their shoe or ride a bike. I’ve been doing the action for so long that taking a step back and breaking it down part-by-part proved to be more difficult than I thought. On top of the challenge of actually writing, we were doing so with a week left before the spring semester begun. I felt behind on my work in the Women’s Center and some of our biggest programming and events were coming up in just a few short weeks. And it was cold and winter is the worst. Long story short, I was a grouchy baby.

I look back over the past week of writing sessions and writing and recognize they weren’t some of my proudest moments. I kept looking for ways to convince myself that I wasn’t smart enough to write this paper and that I possibly didn’t have anything worth including in a real-life book. I kept hoping that maybe Crystal or Virginia felt the same way and we could quit this whole thing.

Shine Theory fail.

Through my love of podcasts, I’ve recently been exposed to this concept of Shine Theory. Explained by Ann Friedman in her article over at The Cut, she explores the idea that powerful women make the best of friends. She writes, “Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.” I can get on board with that, but what I really take away from Shine Theory is how Anne’s best friend, Amina, sums it up:  “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.”

Thank goodness Virginia and Crystal were willing and able to share their shine with me. As Friedman continues in her article, “True confidence is infectious.” While I know we all had our doubts, my writing partners wouldn’t let me quit. Time and time again, they’d share accolades and encouragement with me and with each other. This is great. You’ve got this. Yes, keep going. We’re going to finish this.

And, you know what? The more I heard it, the more I believed it. As our paper came together, I gained more confidence. The words came out easier and I was able to be a better teammate in the process.  I also think our chapter is pretty darn awesome and I’m really glad I didn’t give up. Thank you Virginia and Crystal!

When I hear people talk about Shine Theory, I hear it presented from the perspective of “you, good person… go find other great people to help you shine,” which I think is important and enriching for one’s personal and professional lives. We all need people to learn from and share encouragement. But, I want to hold myself accountable as well. I want to be a person that just isn’t doing the taking of the shine but is giving of the shine. This experience reminds how easy it can be to make something just about you. I wasn’t the only one who was busy and working through other deadlines or feeling challenged by the task at hand. Where could I have provided more support and encouragement to my writing partners? What steps do I need to take next time to get my shine on earlier? These are questions I’m going to keep in mind as I move into a busy spring semester and will be confronted with opportunities to shine for others and be motivated by the shine of UMBC Women Who Rock.

Shine on UMBC…. Shine on.

Who are the UMBC women in your life that inspire you to think outside your expectations and assumptions? What are the counter narrative stories they’re sharing with us allowing UMBC and our greater community to be more of exactly who we want to be? Comment below and maybe you’ll just find them featured in a future UMBC Women Who Rock post.

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Check out other UMBC Women Who Rock:

Amanda Knapp (featured August 2014)
Susan Dumont (featured October 2014)
Jahia Knobloch (featured January 2015)

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