As part of my new job, I sat in on a meeting of the Going Places Network, a program to help unemployed women build professional skills and gain support. I really enjoyed observing, it seemed like a really encouraging group, I was impressed with the drive and ingenuity of the women involved, and the dedication of the volunteers and program staff.
One of the things that struck me most was when everyone, the clients, staff, and volunteers, went around and told what they believed their most employable skill and their greatest gift was. There were a number of varied skills in the room, from food preparation, to working with their hands, to administrative skills, organization, computer skills, communication, and leadership.
Almost to a woman, however, the gifts were a variation on the same theme: helping others, compassion for others, empathy….
This fascinates me. First of all, if this was a group of men, I highly doubt that the vast majority would consider their greatest gift to be helping others. I don’t buy into the sexism that men and women have different inherent skills/gifts, but men and women are socialized differently and that does affect how we view ourselves and the traits we develop. We are taught to value different traits. My guess is, for men, the lists of professional skills and gifts would parallel each other, but women are not appreciated for their professional skills to the same extent men are in our society. This was a diverse group of women: culturally, age, professional experience, socioeconomic background, etc; but with the exception of two, each valued themselves most in relation to others.
And that’s what it comes down to, what is valued most, by ourselves and society. We define our gifts by our values.
Also, I must admit that I said my gift was creativity, I was one of two women today who did not define their gift within the theme of nurturing. Not that I don’t think that taking care of others is important, but I always considered that a product of compassion for others. What I value about compassion is that I care about not take care of others. This could be because traditional gender roles were not emphasized in my family growing up. My most influential female role models made contributions of value as individuals rather than supporters. I feel the pressures of societal expectations as I write this, however, as I have a strong impulse to qualify that statement by saying that being valued as an individual does not mean you don’t nurture and support others. While this is true, if I was talking about male role models I would not feel the need to qualify their independence. Men are expected to be independent, women are expected to take care of others. I may not value myself according to society’s expectations, but I am not immune to them. I want to write that even though my gift isn’t taking care of others, I still do, in my own way. Which is true, but I should not feel guilted into saying so.
So, without guilt, let me say that I am an individual, I feel that I have a gift for creative thinking. When I give of myself to others, I do so because I care about them, and I appreciate when those who care about me do the same. I do not want to feel guilty for valuing myself in this way, I want to feel empowered. And I am, I really am.
So what is your gift? and do you feel empowered in it?