I have a long history of using the qualifier “just” in reference to myself. I bet you do too.
I just stay home with my kids. I don’t have a job.
I just have an Associate’s Degree…but I read a lot!
I just play the piano for myself. I don’t play for other people.
I am just a volunteer. I am not someone who matters here.
I think there is often an assumption out there that other people are judging us. Perhaps they are. But their judgment is NOTHING in comparison to how we judge ourselves. The world is full of women who have done huge, amazing things and it might often feel like our huge and amazing should be of equal import. It has taken me into my early 50’s to accept that there is something equally important in making an impact in a much more localized way.
I want to talk about some of the ways I have marginalized myself into a tiny box with my use of the word “just.” Perhaps you will see yourself somewhere in there too!
I am just the spouse/dependent.
I spent the bulk of my adult life overseas as my husband and I followed his career around the world. In the particular world that we inhabited, he as an employee of the U.S. Government, my role was clearly defined. I was the “dependent.” To be fair, a male spouse would also be termed a dependent so while at times it felt like a sexist thing, it wasn’t. I was what was also known as “diplomatic baggage” or my personal favorite, “trailing spouse.”
In my personal case, I started this adventure at the young age of 23 with a 3 year old already in hand. I had worked for many years as a legal secretary and paralegal, but I left that behind. It was exciting but also humbling, this new world, as I discovered that from a practical standpoint, I was rather irrelevant. My husband was the only one authorized to perform many tasks including, much to my shock, registering our kids for school!
“Just” entered the conversation often – especially when asked if I also worked on base/at the embassy/for the government. “No, I’m just the wife.” Ouch, amiright?
I just am taking some classes/have an associate’s degree/am working on a degree.
Getting married at 18, having a baby 2 years later, working full-time and then hopping a plane to Australia with all my worldly possessions did not provide a lot of time for pursuing a college degree. (Although, I got a few courses in while we lived in Maryland). When we arrived in Australia I took a college course through University of Maryland – Asian Division – every chance I got. So why did I feel such shame at not having a college degree? Pretty much because everyone I met had one. Or at least my brain only registered those who did. Didn’t help that my father was a University Professor and our whole family valued education, as did I. Over the following years, when I met a young woman who already had her PhD I almost shrank in shame and dreaded the question “Where did you go to school?” as I was fairly sure she was not referring to Princeton High School (Class of the Rat! Go Vikings!).
I continued to take classes here and there, getting my Associate’s Degree while we were living in Germany and taking many fascinating courses while we lived in Guatemala and ultimately while I went to school full-time for the year Jeff spent in Iraq – focused on Anthropology. It is only in the last couple years that I have let that go. I know that I can finish at this point, of course I can. But it no longer feels like something I NEED to avoid shame.
I am just a volunteer. I don’t work (and therefore don’t matter) here.
What do you do when you’re smart and interested in the world but don’t feel you qualify for any particular job? You volunteer. And the world needs volunteers. Volunteers are a gift to their community. But for me, I also welcomed the “just”ness of the volunteer world. “I just come on Tuesday mornings. Please go ask someone more entrenched here.” “I just help out with feeding the patients one night a week, I have no words that will make you feel better. Perhaps there is a social worker somewhere around?”
Being a volunteer has left me face-to-face with women that I admire who pursued careers that I was interested in at one time or another: nursing, social work, music therapy, health-care administration. I devalued my contribution…my work…on an almost daily basis.
I just stay home with my grandkids. Nothing to see her.
This is my latest “just.” I just stay home with my grandkids. I am just in companionship with my husband post-retirement. I just sit on the front porch and say hi to neighbors. I just do this little Norwex adventure. I just volunteer and create and assist and inspire and empower and mold and love and care for and craft and read wise words and share wise words and reach out and reach in and stick my hand out and put my arm around. I just want each and every person I come into contact with to know that I see them, that I hear them, that their life is interesting to me (and to so many others) and they have value just by virtue of being.
Just some last words.
As you can imagine, I have many many more tales of my “just”ness. I have a feeling that you could also create quite a list. The fact remains that we have value, right where we find ourselves. We don’t have to rule the world or rule a company to have value. The people that we come into contact with everyday are lifted up (or pushed down) by us and what is more important than that? Remember your value.
Just a couple more last words.
One definition of the word just is “simply; only; no more than.” But did you know that another, equal, definition is “exactly?” As in “That is exactly what I need.” If you find that you cannot delete the word “just” from your vocabulary completely, perhaps reframe it in your mind as “exactly.” As in, you are EXACTLY what the world needs.
***Words I typed and deleted in this post: smaller, less, unimportant, insignificant and barely. I found better words, more empowering words.