I was born in the latter part of the nineteen-fifties and most of my learning years were the sixties and seventies. As a young girl growing up in these years we were taught very different ideas about what a woman’s position was in this world than the girls of today or even the girls from the eighties until now. The primary objective, at least in my home, was to learn how to be the best wife and mother that you could be. That was the goal because the majority of women did not work then and were being groomed for this very purpose.
For me it was not something that I resented or thought unfair. It just was what it was. I loved the idea of being a wife and mother. I loved to cook, the cleaning part not so much, and the sewing part was frankly a little overwhelming to me. But I learned early on how to overcome the odds so to speak when it came to the sewing. After four years of being in Home Economics in school you tend to learn a thing or two. The girls that were fantastic seamstresses were more than helpful when you had a problem putting an outfit together. I figured out that if I asked a different girl each day (the ones that whizzed through their projects and were finished) to help me with a zipper or a certain seam that you could practically have someone else do the project for you. Sounds a little devious, doesn’t it? But I was a lousy seamstress!
You would think that I learned to be conniving and lazy by that experience but actually it was beneficial for me in later years. I made a lot of friends in that class by asking for help and it was something hard for me. It helped me in many ways actually. I was shy and introverted but it helped me to push outside of myself to ask for help. I realized there were a lot of things I could not do but was expected to do by the world’s standards and especially my dear old dad. Sometimes you have to find creative ways to accomplish things when you do not actually possess the skills.
Because of the times I was living I remember my brother being encouraged to go to college but no one mentioned it to me. I really had not even considered the possibility or prepared myself for the contingency. Things began to change at the end of the sixties and the early seventies and not to my advantage. When I graduated in nineteen seventy-five, I was not prepared for anything but being a good wife and mother and when that did not happen I was frightened. I was going to try college but then my dad decided he was going to go through a mid-life crisis and leave when I was eighteen. My eighteenth birthday to be exact, I have no bitterness now… but then, whew.
Since there was no one to help me and I was not even prepared I made the decision to go to business school. I had worked since I was fifteen part-time to make money for clothes, and then gas, etc. but did not have any real skill set. Working at Mickey D’s and K-Mart in a small town does not lend itself to great potential when it comes to supporting oneself.
When I was in high school I took typing, on manual typewriters, and could type all of twenty eight words a minute! I really do not know what I was thinking in going to business school but there you go. That was another thing we learned in growing up in my generation…and I am speaking for my area of the country, not everyone’s. Being a secretary was a profession suited for a woman and was something we should all be able to do. I can see the eyes rolling as this is being read, but that was the truth. I did go and I did well in answering phones and I got a little faster at typing because we actually had electric typewriters with correction tape by then! Will wonders ever cease?
After business school I tested with the state to get a job working for the local state deaf and blind school as a teacher’s aide, helping with typing tests, mimeographing, doing mail, running errands, laminating posters, etc. It worked out well for me since my youngest brother was a deaf person and I knew some sign language and was comfortable being in that environment. He was still a student there when I got hired on and all his friends loved to come and talk to me because I could relate to them. It was a fulfilling position but the pay was lousy. It was a very small town in Florida and to make money in this particular town you either had to be in the tourism business or in a profession like doctor or lawyer to make any real money.
My brother had recently graduated from college and had gotten a job in a very large city in another state and I decided to move in with him and see what other type of work I could find. I immediately got a job through a girlfriend of his soldering small electrical components which I was not thrilled with. So I decided to go through an employment agency in this huge metropolis and they in turn sent me downtown. As I got off the bus and started walking down the streets with the giant buildings surrounding me I was overwhelmed with fear. I was interviewing for a receptionist position in a large actuarial firm. The agency woman told the human resource individual who would be interviewing me that I reminded her of “the all American girl next door, apple pie kind of girl.” I did not realize people thought of me that way before I came to work in the big city.
I got the job that day, mostly on the merits of my all American look, but also because I knew sign language and therefore must be bright enough to learn it, and finally because I was the only one to ever score perfectly on the spelling test I was required to take when applying. It was all so amazing to me that based on these criteria I was the best. I did not realize the world that I was about to enter.
Since I had no real skills I was wondering how this was all going to work out. Very quickly I found out that if you are genuinely nice to people, thoughtful, and helpful that you can go a long way. I had always been told I was a shy, introverted person when I was younger. I think this was because of the environment I was in but when I transitioned into the work environment in a large city I found out that I was not at all. I was confident in my abilities to make people smile, to make them feel comfortable, to help them with any need they had and if I did not know how then I would learn.
I found out very quickly that this was a great commodity in this crazy world of business. Many people have great intellects, or a great education and the skills that go with it but there were few people who had people skills and were flexible enough to go with the flow. I have seen countless people come and go over the years in the business world who were full on genius but could not get along with anyone. I have seen people haughty about their particular skill that was highly sought after but they could not for the life of them be flexible. I was shocked to find out that I got more jobs and more promotions based on the fact that I was willing to learn, flexible, pleasant, helpful, and kind. I was able to be honest, friendly, make people feel at ease, and know that I would do the best that I could in any job they gave me if they would give me a chance. I was trained to do so many things that I had no skill for based upon my disposition and willingness alone.
To boil it all down and in the spirit of women with imperfections everywhere I am saying that you can draw from what you know and not dwell on what you do not know. Use the talents, dispositions, and gifts that have been given to you and succeed on those merits. Do not focus on what you cannot do, put your focus on what you can. All of us cannot be Einstein, all of us did not have the same opportunities, but you can still succeed if you have the right attitude especially in this world today.
Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for www.babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to rachelthomas.author @ gmail.com.