I noticed something at work a couple of weeks ago. I was composing an email to a client who had been absolutely horrible to me about something over which I had no control. Prior to this, we’d been friendly toward each other and I didn’t want to go back to that after she had reduced me to tears; I didn’t want to be rude, but I wasn’t about to make like nothing had happened (even though she didn’t witness the crying – I’d have never forgive myself that).
So there I sat, trying to write this email. After greeting with “Good morning,” I began with “I just wanted to confirm…” and stopped myself. The “just” bothered me – it seemed like an apology. I went back, erased that word, and finished the message.
After that, I began to notice how often I typed “just” in my emails and started questioning why I did it so much; I used it in speech quite a bit, too. It always sounded like an apology, as if I was sorry to disturb them by doing my job to keep their projects moving. It sounded like I lacked confidence, that maybe I believed that I was less than them. It sounded like I was concerned with being nice, because I didn’t want to be labeled a bitch. I began to pay greater attention to emails I received from my (male) boss and male co-workers. They never used “just.” They were to the point, professional, and never harsh – all without using that word once. Emails from women, however, often had similar “sorry to bother you” tones; maybe “just” wasn’t their thing, but they definitely had their things.
I began to make a conscious effort to omit “just” from all of my email (and in conversation when I catch myself). As is my habit, I re-read each message before sending, and the differences between these and my emails from just a few weeks earlier were like night and day. The non-just messages sounded professional, more confident, and decidedly un-bitchy. I even began thinking more confidently – I would never have thought that such a small, common word could chip away at my self-confidence as much as it did.
I’ve read what seems like a million pages of self-help for the middle-aged professional woman tips in magazines and on the web. No matter how much “positive self-talk” I tried when in a confidence rut, it never worked and I just figured that it was because I sucked at life. Turns out, I didn’t suck at life, I “just” had to realize what the seemingly-innocuous word was wearing my psyche thin.