Here’s Why I’m Not Self-Motivated By #metoo or Other Movements

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Why I’m Not Self-Motivated By Movements

For various reasons, some of which I discuss in "Why Cliques and Affinity Groups Should Be Avoided", I'm not a feminist and will likely never be out there marching and waving banners and such.

I've always fought my personal discriminatory battles (be it sexism, racism, or any other -isms) with what I call direct “hand-to-hand combat.”

Meaning I’ve fiercely defended my values, well-being, and pride the times they've been threatened, without need for outward support to validate my actions.

Real change happens when enough individuals say "not me, not today" and are willing to take measured risks against adverse circumstances in their lives in order to defend the standards they’ve set for themselves.

These everyday people will never get praise or ever be known for their sacrifices but are doing more to advance equality than a #metoo hashtag, Black Lives Matter t-shirt, or open letter filled with the names of people who seem to only find their voice when their signature is in the company of 100 others.

I don’t deny the societal or historical significance of these movements at all, but we should remember that the proof is in the doing not just the tweeting, talking, or texting. It’s only what you stand up to in real life that ultimately impacts change.

Movements tend to overlay a far too glamorous filter on their causes so I appreciate when the truth is exposed about all the good, bad, and ugly that comes from fighting discrimination on a personal level. I feel enthralled when someone is willing to get vulnerable by revealing the mess they had to overcome and not only how they succeeded but where they failed.

So I’ll share one of my stories.

I remember working in finance at J.P. Morgan many years ago in the same office as a white male Vice President who seemed to be a bully dead set on riling me up.

One time he rudely burst into a meeting I was having with one of my Managing Directors and started carrying on about how J.P. Morgan the company shouldn’t have to apologize or pay reparations because it’s predecessor banks owned and traded slaves.  

Another time, during a team evaluation of potential intern candidates, when we started discussing an impressive African-American female student he casually inquired: so are we taking affirmative action into consideration or not? As if she had no chance otherwise.  

Finally, one day I watched every single person on our team (except the female assistants) get up and walk out together for lunch. Turns out this man invited everyone to lunch except me — the only African-American and woman on the team (who wasn’t an assistant).

I was actually amused at the pure pettiness of it all — a Vice President somehow feeling threatened enough by a young junior-level woman to go through such lengths to try and agitate her — but I couldn’t keep ignoring his blatant provocations because I didn’t want to set the wrong precedent. He needed to know that I was not the one.

I pulled up and printed out J.P. Morgan’s corporate anti-discrimination policy and taped up copies across the office. When everyone came back confused about what was going on I explained why they were being displayed.

The VP, and culprit, came to my desk and demanded that I take them down and I calmly refused with a smirk. He walked away and they remained taped up all day long. It caused a bit of a stir but that silly, insignificant man didn’t bother me with his nonsense anymore after that.

As far as I know my willingness to push back against him didn’t harm my performance ranking but who knows. In the moment I could care less and was prepared for the worse. It was the epitome of a career limiting move and I would have let it go up in flames if it came to that. 

But it didn't because he backed off and I let it go. In fact, you may be wondering: shouldn’t I have launched a lawsuit or pitched my story to the news? To be honest, I didn’t even think of doing anything like that.  It’s ok that I didn’t get rich or 15-minutes of fame off of this.

Moreover, who knew if all the energy in pursuing that would have paid off favorably? Look how many times women, minorities, or other persons of little power are demonized for speaking out publicly. I wanted none of that drama in my otherwise stress-free life.

You can probably tell from a few of my articles, such as Why I Don't Want to Be a Leader, that I take a Stoic view on heroism. I don't want to save the world and prefer to live a peaceful, unassuming life. 

I didn’t need my story to reach millions or my face plastered across the news as some sort of poster child for other black professional women. Specifically because what I went through was almost nothing compared to the horror stories that others have faced.

I did what felt right for me in the situation. And it’s been enough to occasionally share my story with friends, family, and colleagues over the years to encourage and empower them as they navigate similar situations.

But the bigger point is that self-motivation — the mobilizing of inner courage to impact desired change — isn't developed instantly with an internet campaign or otherwise. I had built up a lot of confidence in myself over years, starting as a child, in order to have the wherewithal to strike back. And no one was in my corner cheerleading or supporting me in that moment. 

I know women who are forced to stay at home to rear the kids, or are absolutely exhausted juggling work and children, or are being passed up for promotions without even the courtesy of a decent excuse, or have to deal with inappropriate sexual advances in the office, or are in bad relationships because they can't phantom being single, or are single with low self-esteem because of the view society takes on unmarried, childless women. 

The #metoo movement has not and will not change their reality. Most of these women continue to quietly accept their circumstances not having the energy or interest in fighting the system. 

But a few of them will say "this is enough" and risk reputation, relationships, career, and financial stability to stand their ground. 

They are no more or less honorable than the women who choose not to go against the grain, but it is that level of repeated courage and personal risk that will be required if we are to leave a gender-balanced society to the next generation.  Chiming in with your two cents via a half-hearted tweet here or there is not enough.  

But here's what you can do: 

  1. Check your expectations about what movements alone can do — particularly those based on trending hashtags and witty slogans because they so easily die out. Movements are the pulse of society but without action they're just hype.
  2. Decide what your contribution will be. How will you support the cause in your own life? What are you willing to personally put on the line to see the change you desire?
  3. Find someone to support if you aren't prepared to significantly contribute but still care about the cause. Those willing to make the sacrifice need cheerleaders because it's hard pushing against societal norms and often requires great personal cost. 

So, movements don’t move me but personal conviction does. I’m self-motivated by the individual stories of struggle and the success (or even failures) that result. Keeping with that, I want to close by sharing two articles that did inspire me this week.

One features Ellen Pompeo, the Grey’s Anatomy star, and her journey to being one of the most successful and highest paid women in television. It’s baffling that she’s not considered an A-lister, nevertheless her quiet fight to get what she deserves resonates. I’m glad she broke her silence to share a raw and uncut perspective we don’t often hear out of Hollywood.

The other features Margaret Atwood getting candid about why she isn’t making money off of the Handmaid’s Tale TV series and other musings on money and women. I appreciate her willingness to reveal personal information about this major financial shortcoming and leave you with her quote:

#metoo is a symptom of something bigger. The same way having a temperature when you’re sick is a symptom. When you have a temperature, you think, there’s something wrong with me. What shall I do? That’s what #metoo is. It’s a wake-up call, not the solution. Structural support for women was allowed to lapse. We were told all we had to do was wear more Chanel and smile a lot and lean in.
— Margaret Atwood
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