I’m going to be a little lazy here and lean on generalizations, but having heralded from a British mother and an American father and having lived in both countries, I began to wonder if 50% of my cells are programmed for polite modesty, while the remaining half are bursting with bravado?
And if that really is the case, then how do I convey my authentic message humbly without sounding arrogant or too loud?
And then suddenly a memory popped into my head… something I hadn’t thought about in a long while, but was obviously still loitering in my psyche waiting to pounce.
I was on a job interview for a position in the counselling department of a university in London, just a few months after completing my psychotherapy training. The man who was interviewing me was wearing a waistcoat and jeans. I can picture him now. He looked gentle and approachable, and I was sitting opposite him when he asked,
[quote]“So Rory, what are the strengths you will bring to this job?”[/quote]
I liked the question. It was both direct and relevant, and I begin to list some of what I considered to be my most effective counselling attributes. I had just completed a rigorous training and was finally learning how to ‘own my strengths’ rather than consistently denigrate myself.
And then this happened.
I paused, and the man held up his hand. Like a stop sign.
“Right, well I get the idea, you wouldn’t want to blow your own trumpet now would you?”
I recall feeling stunned by his statement and blanketed in shame. I looked down at my black lace-up boots. They certainly didn’t appear too small for me, in fact I thought they fit very comfortably, but in a short and sharp second this man had reminded me otherwise. His words struck a familiar yet muted chord and it sounded something like this: Don’t get too big for those boots, missy. Don’t be TOO much. Shrink. Blend. Don’t call attention to yourself. Shhhh. Leave it up to others more capable. Sit back.
In therapy we talk about clients being influenced by their unconscious. Looking back, I wonder if that so called ‘enlightened’ male therapist in the waistcoat and jeans, was actually being driven that morning by a wayward force out of his awareness; a rusty paradigm that for years has kept women ‘in their rightful place’.
I am the daughter of a powerful mother who fought in the 1970’s to carve out a successful niche for herself in the then male dominated world of fiction, and remains there forty years later. I come from determined creative stock, and yet on the day that I was told to keep my trumpet quiet, it was the reverberations of my grandmothers’ struggles that I recognized in the quickened pace of my heart.
I felt a sudden kinship with the previous generations of women in my family who had been shaped by a patriarchal society – an environment where women’s strengths were swept under the carpets they were cleaning, and trumpet blowing was definitely out of the question.
So what did I learn from being baited to brag, only to be painfully hooked for my boldness?
I learned that trumpet blowing, tempered with humility, is essential – for women and men alike.
Not the ‘look at me on Instagram!” mode of trumpet blowing. Nor the Facebook friend foraging frenzy. But the kind of trumpet blowing which requires true introspection and self reflection. The kind of trumpet blowing which takes time and patience and commitment, until it becomes lucid and clear. The kind of trumpet blowing which might involve sitting still with ourselves after the peanut butter crackers and hearing our own repetitive tunes, and then finding the courage to write some new notes.
My trumpet sings: I am a really really good listener. I’m very intuitive and I’m excellent at encouraging people. I also have this special knack for helping others unthread tangles. And I’m NOT afraid to say it!
I guess that’s the only ‘marketing campaign’ I need after all. A united front. The British and American parts of me meeting over the ocean on a starry ship’s deck, soaking up a unique jazz blend. My own fusion of truths.
It doesn’t really matter what any of our trumpets sound like. What matters is that we are brave enough to play them, even in the face of those who tell us not to. What matters is that we polish them until they shine, and we make a sturdy case to protect our precious instruments. What matters is that we reveal our treasures, rather than toss them overboard where they will sink, never to be found.
So imagine that I’m interviewing you now and I ask YOU what your strengths are. But before you answer, I pass you a permission slip. The letters are LARGE and colourful. The words release you.
PLAY YOUR TRUMPET AS LOUDLY AS YOU WISH! BLOW ME AWAY…
Writing Prompt: Ten minutes on your strengths. If you’ve never done this before, reflect on why it feels so hard. Whose voice is holding a finger to your lips quieting you down? Be tender with yourself. Care for your strengths and be curious as to where they can lead you. Stay aware of your surroundings. Listen to your tune…what’s stuck? Where does your rhythm need to change?