“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
— Jane Austen, “Pride and Prejudice”
Austen’s line was written ironically — a man who has it all is solely focused on finding a wife? Ummm, no. In “Pride and Prejudice,” marriage was only wanted when those involved understood why they wanted it. No plan, just a fortuitous accident. In the story, Jane’s wealthy man, Mr. Darcy, began by spending most of his time in want of an exit strategy from the marital candidates thrust upon him.
Like Mr. Darcy and his eventual bride, Elizabeth, the realization of why I did something made all the difference in accepting it.
“Making a deposit.” I had been familiar with the bank teller for several years, so sass was socially acceptable. (Maybe.) “Into my own account, the one in my own name.” Which was as braggy-stupid a comment as it reads, but I’m not always in full control of the things that come out of my mouth.
She looked over the deposit slip.
“I remember when you opened this account a few years ago,” then she surprised me with excellent recall, “with your birthday money.”
“Not birthday money today, an old-school, paper paycheck.”
I should have stopped there, but no, my next line came out by habit. “Not that it’s very big, but compared to the money I didn’t make as a stay-at-home-mom, it’s huge.”
A wise smile grew across her face. “We take every opportunity to put ourselves down, don’t we?”
This exchange tells us a couple things: First off, I’m a chronic-oversharer of personal information. More importantly, the teller’s comment created a freshly realized observation that began to reveal itself over and over again:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of a pride point will be the first to be prejudiced against themselves.”
— Susan Vollenweider, last week
I have long voiced no regret for the choice I made to end my career when my first child was born. I was as proud of my stay-at-home-mom work as I was of the management career I had left, maybe more. Did that pride stop the prejudice I had against myself for not having a paycheck? No, it did not.
“What do you do?”
“I’m just a stay-at-home-mom.”
At the bank I realized that even though my work situation had changed, my habit of thoughtlessly putting myself down had not.
But it wasn’t hard to see that I was not alone. I saw my friends, confident and successful women, as their own harshest critics.
“I feel responsible for the poor choices of my grown son.”
“I lost 25 pounds…but — OMG — still so fat.”
“Private email Reply All’d — who does that? This girl. Again.”
Why do we do it?
Maybe we don’t want to flaunt our egos without a hefty counterbalance of self-depreciation.
Maybe we want to point out our shortcomings before someone else can.
Maybe we want to share a low moment to give those who care about us a chance to support us.
Maybe we want to be a role model for surviving failure.
Maybe we simply want to lighten a moment with a joke.
But maybe we should take to heart the lessons we spend so much energy teaching our children: Belief in themselves. Confidence. Pride in doing their best and an understanding of how to do better.
That day I realized a want of holding those lessons dear. I realized that there is a place for voicing my personal shortcomings but I that need to understand why I am voicing them.
Just like Jane Austen accidentally taught me.
Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. To listen to the women’s history podcast that she co-hosts or to read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com