Hi there. I'm 23 years old. I'm a geek. I'm successful. I'm a girl. And I don't like articles about women in technology.
But here I am, anyway, writing one. In part because the lady leading up the project is amazing and so I'd believe in anything she wanted to spearhead, and in part because I'm a thinking (read: opinionated) person and I've grown tired of watching the women in technology "conversation" go on the way it has.
The people who fuel that "conversation" are nothing but well-intentioned, I'm sure. But far more often than not, their good intentions get turned around, twisted, and come out all wrong. I think most mean to ask themselves deep questions such as, "Why is our industry dysfunctional?," "Why does my life kinda suck?" but end up, with something smaller, something that few would challenge: Where are all the women?
This is a topic that manages to avoid the real issues at hand completely, either accidentally or by design. This topic, instead, polarizes the industry and creates a counterproductive echo chamber of arguments and accusations, whining and invective. It's hard, they say, being a woman in a man's world. There must be somebody to blame. There must be a list of things that we can change to make IT woman-friendly. If only we could get more women, things would be better around here.
I don't blame these folks too much, though. The other questions are big and scary, and the answers are often correspondingly big and scary and may not reflect too kindly on those that ask them. It's human nature to try to avoid them. But, scary or not, there comes a point in your life where you must decide to tackle the big questions—and endure the sometimes-painful spotlight they throw on your life—or stick to the kiddie pool end of things, making waves but not really swimming.
Today, I'm inviting you to change your way of looking at the world. Today, right now, I'd like to share with you exactly how and why I've been successful when, supposedly, the odds have been stacked against me and my secondary sex characteristics. It's not romantic, I'll admit, but it works.
Drum roll, please. The secret to my success that I'd like to share with you is...
Take complete responsibility for your life, because nobody else will.
You can stop laughing now. No, really, that's it. I'm serious.
I truly believe that personal responsibility is one of the biggest goals towards which we should all strive. I believe that you only really grow up when you voluntarily take full responsibility for your own actions and outcomes, good and bad—and kvetching about women in technology is the antithesis of personal responsibility. No matter how you slice it, the arguments of something must be done; help must be given; someone must change!; or women fail because of something men do all feature the underlying assumption that someone else has power over you or insert-allegedly-marginalized-group-here. After all, a person must have power over you to grant you special treatment or quash your efforts. And that's just not right. I don't even mean that it's not morally right—it's just not accurate.
You have almost absolute power over your life's experiences because you have the gift of choice. You can choose to remember that a single circumstance is not an entire life; you can choose how you think about yourself and how you justify your successes and failures. You can choose to do the hard thing, the right thing, to level up. (Or you can choose to feel sorry for yourself and make your world small.) Even better, you are granted this opportunity a million times a day. If you screw up one day, or one hour, you can know there's another opportunity to take responsibility coming up very soon. We humans are basically choice-manufacturing machines.
Nevertheless, every day I see people—men and women—blame their "failures" on external circumstances that, they conveniently claim, are entirely outside their control: sexism, nepotism, inborn talent, luck, physical attractiveness (or lack thereof). They write off the success of others with the same excuses. These folks are shortchanging themselves to save emotional face. They're giving away their power to take meaningful action to improve their lives by refusing to claim any responsibility for it themselves. They're not victims of anyone or anything but themselves.
I won't lie to you: the path to real responsibility isn't all sunshine and unicorns. Being responsible requires complete honesty, and you may have to admit things about yourself that you've spent a lot of energy denying. And then you have to do something about it. And to do something about it productively, you must cultivate an attitude of humor and love towards your flawed human self—and believe me when I say it's far from easy. But it's the only way forward.
By this point, I know I've gone on way too long and probably waxed far too philosophical for most of you. But I'd like to leave you with a final, parting shot: Opportunities rarely just come to you—or anyone. If it seems to you like they come to me (or "talented" people), I can tell you that it's an illusion; if opportunities seem to slide to me more easily, it's only because I've left them a slick trail of sweat and tears and blood. The sum total of a person isn't a visible thing. You can't sense the lonely nights I spent in my basement with nothing but Photoshop and a burning desire to suck less, the hours spent obsessively editing articles, the forced socializing I undertook to overcome my shyness, or the humiliation I decided to risk to learn to speak well in public.
So I may be very good at what I do, and I may be financially and professionally successful, but it's not because I've got some special talent. At the end of the day, what I'm really good at is taking responsibility for myself, and all the rest has come from that. And none of it has anything to do with the fact that I was born a girl.
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