After majoring in Computer Science, I went on to grad school in it because, after having suffered the company of fast-talking, self-important, acronym-spewing, male nerds for four years, my confidence in my grasp of the field had been shaken. Yes, the graduate education deepened my knowledge, but it also showed me that I already understood the relevant concepts much better than I had previously thought; I just didn’t speak the secret hardware shorthand that keeps the girls out of the club.
In the years on the job since, I’ve lost count of the number of prima donna software engineers that have dominated design meetings by holding forth on their superior ideas. I had to learn to yell and interrupt to get heard. It was really an uncomfortable thing for me to do to someone—I considered it rude and disrespectful—and I resented being pushed to those measures.
Also, it’s not within my constitution or my upbringing. My father is one of those think-out-loud guys. Like me now, he needs a captive audience to get his ideas fully formed and articulated. (Thank you, blog readers.) As a kid, I quickly learned that you don’t interrupt Dad. The lecture will continue anyway, just with an angrier, more urgent tone of voice. Like most guys, he wouldn’t have considered his behavior sexist. In fact, because he showed me in so many other ways that he believed in me, I’m damn sure he would be seriously disheartened to realize its long term effect was that I would evermore get sick-to-my-stomach nervous and go dumb (both verbally and mentally) in face-to-face conflicts with male authority figures.
Nowadays, I can get in people’s faces when necessary. (Hooray for therapy.) But the cultural norm that dictates the need for that maneuver is still unappealing and exhausting. I’m still not quick at verbal debate. I still don’t want to publicly show someone up. That I’m less afraid of being doing these things doesn’t diminish their suck on my energy reserves. Quotidian turf wars are just not worth the effort. And, frankly, I’ve lived long enough now to see that it’s not my failing that I can’t constantly play the game their way.
Unfortunately, this interrupting habit has wormed its way into my social relationships, and I’m not proud of it. I let myself become unthinking in its use, and my life now doesn’t actually require it much. At work, I’ve got cred with my peers; I’m more relaxed in my self-confidence; and my team is no longer comprised of prima donnas. Rather than hammering at so many conversations as if they were all nails, I’m working hard to unlearn the habit of interrupting to get the upper hand or even just to get heard.