Last week I joined 24 Liturgical Music Ministers at Notre Dame Vision to help them wrap up a conference week with two morning presentations. We spent one day on relationships and community, and another on looking forward to how we can continue our growth as artists and ministers. I’ll be sharing a fleshed out version of some of my notes as the week goes on, but first, some ramblings on speaking.
Though I relish my usual conversations with middle-schoolers, I will say this: working with adults can be very, very enjoyable.
I’ve always been hesitant to address groups of adults in any sort of advisory or professional capacity. Years ago it occurred to me that I might like to work with the RCIA program, but I was hesitant to get involved because I was so young; what could I have to offer? Just a few months ago the thought crossed my mind that maybe I am old enough now to be able to minister to adults.
When I think about this all dispassionately I know my self-directed ageism is silly: people of any age can have worthwhile contributions to make. But I wonder how many of us don’t apply that certainty to ourselves. And I wonder (though I don’t wonder, I am fairly certain about this) if this is a problem that women deal with more.
It’s bad enough when others don’t listen to me because I am a woman, but that I don’t even want to listen to myself is disturbing. Sure, I have opinions out at bars and on the corner of the web that bears my name and when I’m on the couch next to my husband, but there I can soften the edges safely with “in my opinion” and “perhaps” and even with “I wonder if…” The creep toward Being An Authority On A Thing is a path tread slowly, hesitatingly, always looking over our shoulder.
Being out in front of people comes at a cost. I noticed that right around the time my twitter follower count passed 2,500, I started getting more negative pushback to things that I wrote, more criticism and more jabs. I don’t like any of those things, and it forces me to consider whether it is worth having an audience if the price is discomfort (it is).
These days of my early thirties should be a sweet spot: old enough to have some expertise, young enough to still be, well, young. I’ve spend my adulthood accomplishing things, learning enough to craft a bulletproof argument, to back up my opinions with facts, to communicate with people well. I’ve built the resume I would need to achieve more. But when I’m offered a platform I’m tempted to hit the brakes.
When it comes down to it, I worry about what I’m giving up. Will I still be seen as likable? Will I become a target? Will I still be seen as young?
(And then of course I must ask myself, why is it important for you to be seen as young, and I realize how much I have internalized the ways of the world, and I hang my head.)
If you know me you are shaking your head by now, firm in the knowledge that I will never, ever, keep my mouth shut. And it’s true, that’s just the way I’m wired, to not let my worry over criticism (and I do worry) keep me from speaking my mind.
If you share my worries, if your fear of perception keeps you from sharing what is yours to share, please know that I want to hear your voice. The world needs your voice.
Do you worry about speaking up? Do you think these worries are different for women and for men?