I heard on NPR the other day that a woman’s self-esteem peaks at age 9. Nine. For most people, that’s fourth grade. I was equal parts shocked and not surprised to hear this: shocked because I personally feel more confident now than I did 13 years ago, but also not surprised given the way a lot of girls come of age.
Girls at age 9 are not afraid. They’re not afraid to be loud, to get dirty, to take up space, to speak out of turn, to tell on a classmate that has been mean to them. But something changes as girls grow up. It definitely has to do with the way certain traits are associated with masculinity—bravery, toughness, and loudness—and others with femininity, like being quiet and agreeable. Internalizing those stereotypes as a young adult has, I think, made many women more risk-averse than men.
Of course, I am myself aware of the perils of stereotyping. “Women” are not a monolith that can be characterized by a few adjectives (and the same goes for men). But a disparity of success and achievement among the sexes is undeniable. For instance, only 7% of partners at top 100 venture capital firms are women, a figure made more disappointing only by the fact that it is decreasing. There are many reasons for gender gaps in representation, but I think one change that would make a difference is building confidence in girls and young women.
I am not talking about the picture-book version of confidence, which looks like Elle Woods in a pink suit or even Sheryl Sandberg on the cover of Lean In. Start small. I spent the first few years of college being afraid: afraid to say the wrong thing, to look stupid, to try at something and fail. And I regret the time I wasted not using my voice or taking risks.
To me, having high self-esteem means applying for a job that I might not be totally qualified for, raising my hand in class when I’m not exactly sure what the answer is, or asking the person next to me if they want to be my partner for a group project. To you, it might mean negotiating your salary, learning to say “no,” or pursuing a passion project. But it starts with a choice to recognize your own abilities and embrace risk.
The meek may inherit the earth, but women cannot wait for that.
I guess you could say I stumbled into engineering (as one does). I did well in my math and science classes throughout high school, so when senior year rolled around, it seemed logical to apply to engineering schools. I truly had no idea what it was going to be like; all I knew is that it would be a challenge. Actually, that’s a lie. I did have one particular vision of studying engineering: one day being able to understand special relativity. And now I do! Well, sort of.
It wasn’t always a pleasant journey. In fact, I wondered for a while if I’d even made the right choice. But now, at the tail end of my senior year, I can say that I have no regrets. Engineering challenged me in all the right ways and pushed me harder than anything else could have. Along the way, I learned some lessons that I later realized apply not just to engineering, but also to life in general. So here are some takeaways:
1. Know what you don’t know.
It sounds simple, but it’s actually not. Figuring out the holes in your understanding of a concept or problem takes a lot of work. You’ve got to do research and ask the right questions. Countless times, I have gone in to a professor’s office hours with a list of specific concepts I don’t understand—after spending an hour making that list. Do your homework.
2. Understand the problem you’re trying to solve.
Yes, this sounds a lot like (1) but I promise it’s different. And not just because I want 5 things on this list. I’ve noticed how most people, including me, tend to jump to solutions as soon as we’re presented with a problem. If someone asked you, “How do you get millennials to save for retirement?” Maybe you’d immediately think, “Obviously they should save more of their paycheck.”
But think harder. What’s the real problem? Are millennials spending too much on bulletproof coffee and avocado toast? Or do we have different financial goals than our ancestors (the baby boomers)? Either way, you can’t arrive at good solutions to any problem until you know the problem inside and out.
3. Learn how to work on a team.
Have you ever heard the saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself?” Words to live by. Just kidding!!! I love working on my own, so it’s always been hard for me to give responsibilities to others and share the work. But you always have to work in teams—whether it’s in a marriage, or at work, or in school. So learn how to work well with others.
4. Failure is certain.
Okay I lied; there are 4 things on this list. But that actually dovetails well with my last point, which is about failure. My dad always says, “Success is an occasional visitor. Failure is a constant companion.”
Social connectedness has made perfectionists of us all: we want to get everything right on the first try. But what if instead, we learned how to fail fast and smart. What if every time someone said “no” or “best of luck” or “we’ve decided to go with another applicant,” we re-examined our strategies and tried again harder. After all, you only need to find one way to make the lightbulb work. (That was a Thomas Edison joke.)
I had never fallen in love with a pair of headphones before—until the Plantronics BackBeat Fit.
I love many things about these Bluetooth headphones, including the battery life and the quality of the sound and the fact that I got it marked down on woot.com. But the earbuds are what make it an absolute winner. I would estimate that 80% of headphones on the market have ball-shaped earbuds. Take, for example, this Bluetooth headphone set:
This headset has over 10,000 Amazon reviews with an average rating of 4.2 stars. Maybe it works for very low-impact activity, such as listening to an audiobook or taking a conference call. But in my experience, as soon as you move around a bit, those spherical earbuds fall out of your ears.
Not with the Backbeat Fit. You can tell these were designed with regard for the physical shape of the ear canal, which curves in towards the front of your face. Paired with the flexible ear hook, these earbuds actually stay put when I walk, run, work out, or lie down. The buttons are unobtrusive and intuitive to use. There’s nothing gimmicky about the design, either: no unnecessary long wires or annoying lights.
For a pair of Bluetooth headphones, I’d say it checks every box. They're the type of headphones that look like what Bluetooth headphones should look like. But, as with most great products, the cleanest and simplest design takes the most work.