Those of my friends who are Kate Bush fans will understand the irony of this blog title against its topic.

This week I have been “asked” to believe myself less than. That I need to accept I am washed up and not as skilled or talented as I have allowed myself to believe. I am to quietly put my head back down, get back in my lane and pretend I haven’t really seen what I am capable of….that it’s not real.

It’s actually age discrimination which I must pretend not to know. Trust me, I don’t want to know it any more than anyone else wants it illuminated. It has put me into a place of deep humiliation. A part of my brain, heart and gut all know to the core there is nothing wrong with me, that it truly is my age. But that little girl that is always tethered to me is whispering to listen to them. “Accept your limitations. Accept you have peaked. Accept that you don’t have as much to offer as you get people. Accept you are not special. You have overestimated your talent and you are short. You are limited.” They know something about me I just can’t admit to myself. That’s my fear.

I can’t explain what this juxtaposition does to my mind. The educated feminist in me knows I might even be better than my estimates while the mild mannered feminine knows not to speak that. It’s impolite to point out your own goodness. I know I am not wrong. I so completely, rationally know it. And yet, I am still questioning it.

The idea that I must keep my head down and shame myself to fit in going forward is not what I would advise my own daughter to do, if I even had one. The real Christine is not made to keep her head down, to allow the constraints of society to tell her who she is supposed to be. She is vigilant. She is an activist. She is emotionally fearless. She is a fighter. She literally just decided a couple weeks ago to go back to her roots and just freaking be who she has always wanted to be.

She also has a mortgage which is not the kind of anchor she normally respects. She views anchors as a tie to what matters in life, family, friends and being grounded. An anchor is to keep something precious safe. It is not to one’s detriment. It is a temporary placeholder. It is not to become a permanence, a lock, a death. You don’t anchor boats just to gaze at them and never use them. You anchor them so you always have the freedom to set sail, experience unseen horizons and come back when your soul is satiated for the day.

I can’t be asked to believe gaslighting. I am too smart and too self righteous. I have spent the past 20 years trying to build self confidence and self esteem in the absence of resources other than myself. When I was diagnosed in my 20s with depression, for a little while I succumbed to disabled thinking in that I must accept this disability would hold me back and I had to be ok with that. I can remember standing in my parents’ kitchen in our Marlborough house pleading with my parents to to stop having expectations of me….that I couldn’t meet them. My brain was damaged and it had to be enough that I remain employed and alive. Ask for nothing more.

What I don’t remember was the moment I changed my mind. I just know I went on to get 2 degrees, buy a house, lose 80 pounds, not give a shit about men’s position in my life and travel. All things I had never believed could be possible for someone like me. Even surviving the Marathon bombing and developing PTSD didn’t stop my resolve. It changed my coping skills. It changed my brain chemistry. It actively sought self medication for awhile. It caused reckless, thoughtless choices at times. But it never stopped me believing in myself. Not once.

I know that to be a woman in the working world requires a level of grit and strategy men simply don’t have to consider. It doesn’t make all of them bad or misogynistic. They simply can’t imagine something they have and never will experience. For years, I played it polite and just expected I would be rewarded for being outstanding because I didn’t think it needed to be pointed it out. I was far differentiated from my peer group just walking into the building each day. It was without question. But every year would pass with nothing while I watched men and millennials go “look at me, look at me” and they would get recognition, money, promotion.

This year, I have adopted some mentoring. Both male and strong female….the strong females being the ones who learned demure didn’t pay the bills. I followed their strategy of making clear what I was expecting and then asking what I needed to do for it to happen. I was given a list and I accomplished everything on it and more. Every conversation I have had this year to advocate for myself is directly out of the male playbook. Every male who has used the same strategy has gotten what they asked for. It was more than one man who suggested I take their approach because they knew it was foolproof.

It’s foolproof if you have a ballsack, not a vagina. And, the added dilemma is the age thing. All the money is now to be filtered at the “potential” of unproven millennials. Please don’t misinterpret this as a frustrated Gen X rage against millennials. I hate the way they drive and don’t look up from their phones when they walk. But I do actually respect them and see their value proposition quite a bit. I admire their confidence and unshaken belief in themselves. They don’t even wait to prove their talent to believe they have it. They just buy into themselves and go for what they want without fear. That’s incredible power and pretty amazing parenting. If they don’t like something, they walk away from it. They don’t worry too much about where the next paycheck will come from. They just firmly believe another paycheck will come. And they are right. Granted,they have a little more cushioning and can quit a job they don’t like because their roots are still planted at their parents’ house. Or, they live with boyfriends or roommates but some part of their expense structure is supported by their parents. Its that their parents want them to be happy. They will support this to great lengths. Is that actually wrong? I’m not so sure.

I respect the work ethic of my parents’ generation. The “tough love” that forced us all to figure out how to take care of everything ourselves…the knowledge if we got lost in the woods, we’d have to eat weird shit, find water, make shelter and make our own way out. It’s good to have survival skills so well embedded…especially if you also had to come out of the woods uncoupled with no “forever love” support system and second income to be able to fall back on in hard times…like when your wife is being discriminated against because of her age and wishes she could raise her middle finger while walking away from her job.

I think this is going to become more of a “thing.” I am not being asked to just do enough to get by and will be left alone to collect my paycheck and continue my standard of living without raise or promotion. I am being asked to do more and put my foot on the gas everyday. There is no comfort zone I can fade into like the baby boomers once could do until it came time to collect their pension regardless of work performance. I have to give more, be greater, be more innovative than yesterday….which I actually can do all of. But I also must do it while believing myself of lower performance and capability than a 25 year old.

It’s got me thinking about why so many women have begun going into entrepreneurship and that there are business groups out there sponsoring them to do it. I used to think female side hustle probably had more to do with the constraints of blending family with career and running something on the side of school pickups was their way of making it work. Their challenges are different from mine and yet almost exactly the same. They are asked to take a step back from who they once believed they might be because their value as wife and mother became bigger than career. Businesses allow this too…except for the ones who exploit some of them by promoting them during the childbearing years to make a great advertising sound bite for their company’s advertising of modernity in the workplace. ” Come work for us. We didn’t have to change our maternity policy but we did it because we value you. We know your kid schedule is inconvenient to our daily workflow but we will promote you so we can say we respect the family and being a mom doesn’t mean holding you back at work.” Not if you are under 40. It’s a trick, though. When you hit 40…child filled or not…you have no value. You will wash up to the same shore they gave me a beach chair to sit on. You will get your beach chair too.

I think more and more, women going into business for themselves is about retaining their value….fighting the belief they have come become less than….that aging causes freshness to rot. They are so resolute in what they have to offer, they take tremendous personal and financial to risk to start their own businesses over the “safety” of staying in a job which requires them to become stale even when they aren’t. I think that level of risk is a dreadfully unfair way to make women reclaim their talents and self worth. But the climate is bad enough, they are doing it anyway. I truly believe we are going to see more of it. Ageism is no longer about the 60 year old pre-retiree. It’s about the brutal combination of not being a millennial and not being a man. Heavy on the millennial because no one wants to admit there is any entanglement of sexism which goes with it. But there totally is. Men my age are the ones in the positions asking me to be quiet and not make a fuss about what I bring to the table.

They seem unaware how this impacts their daughters. They believe their daughters are just better enough that it won’t happen to them. They don’t “wash up.” They have been educated and skilled to not have that happen. Guess what? My parents thought the same thing about me too. They never saw me being impacted by ageism or sexism. They believed they gave me to tools and intelligence to be the exception. Most parents of daughters think their daughter will be the exception…that you have somehow prepped them differently and more expertly than your peers whose daughters are hitting the wall. Not so. The exceptions are lucky. Nothing else. Ageism and sexism don’t tend to pick and choose unless you are related to, sleeping with the right people or have figured out how to play the patriarchal “cool girl” whose role is to reinforce male power and privilege. The “cool girl” often does get rewards but make no mistake…it’s not because those men believe you merit it entirely on your own. It’s because you mirror back to them the power they so desperately want to maintain. You are a Patriarchy pawn. You are not a partner. Even with the nicest, most well intentioned men. They are still discriminating and will scream they are not. It’s embedded in them just like unconscious bias has grown in so many of us based on which environment we grew up in.

My plight is not new or unique. Women of color, men of color have been dealing with it a lot longer. It’s their fight which has brought us far enough for an often privileged white girl like me to be able to soapbox my own discovery of lack of equality, lack of equity. It’s new for us because we actually believed this stuff had stopped happening in the 70s. It just found trickier ways to be hidden. Sort of like being told I am more than welcome to interview for the job I am already doing which is a process never done before. Sure…like I would actually get the promotion if I have to interview for it. That’s a just a cute “innovative” way of making me believe I have no value and that I “lost” the job on my own….not because I am 45 and you have earmarked it for your favorite peacock millennial.

Smart me wants to say “bullshit.” But, I have no savings to quit and fall back on because I am not getting paid to do the job I am doing. Can’t we meet in the middle here? Pay me what I’m worth so I can actually find a way out of your hair at some point? Right now, we are just perpetuating the abuse for everyone involved….going around in circles trying never to say the thing which just needs to be said. It’s about age. Plain and simple. It’s not going to go away either. Enjoy all your advancement now, girls. 40 happens to everyone at some point.