I went to a wonderful lunch party yesterday with one of my students, her husband, sister and friends. It was an amazing collection of people. After a delicious lunch with home-grown soup and salad (try growing a soup and see how that goes for you!!! <G>) we all indulged in a little show and tell. As the first person started to speak, I noticed that two four-letter words were already creeping insidiously into the conversation.
These two quite often do. They are pernicious wolves masquerading as lambs. They subversively undermine the words that follow them. They negate skill and creativity. They are words we use subconsciously, self-deprecatingly, almost false modestly, which don’t help us in the slightest. Neither word is inherently bad. Both have other meanings which have positive meanings. But in this context, those two words are poison!!
The first word is ‘just’.
The positive take on ‘just’ is “imminently, directly” and as such is very positive – you’re going to take action in the immediate future…. That’s great!
However, in everyday parlance, especially amongst women (and Brits tend to be realllllly good at this!!), I’ve noticed, ‘just’ denigrates every achievement that it is used in conjunction with. (Ooch – ouch! Terrible grammar – sorry!!)
“This is just something I made” meaning ‘this took me hours and hours of painstaking work” translates into reality as “this isn’t worth your notice, I’m not a serious artist, I play at this, it’s a hobby, don’t take it seriously”.
And we use it unconsciously all the time! Having heard it used a couple of times in connection with some exquisite machine embroidery, I had to stop the proceedings and ask for the two words to be removed from our vocabularies for the duration of the show and tell. From that point on, we were all consciously aware of when it was used, how often it was used, and how it affected not only the person saying it, but those listening as well.
The other word that has a similar effect is ‘only’.
“It’s only a small piece”, could mean “I’ve got larger pieces at home, but this is all I could carry”, but it often translates as “I can’t do anything larger/more intricate/ more polished”. ‘Only’ can be a call-to-action word when it is used to imply scarcity – “There are only 3 more places left on this seminar” or “Only 5 more hours to get your order in before the sale ends”….. You get the idea. Let’s leave ‘only’ as a call-to-action, and not as a negative, somewhat pathetic word implying lack of skill, willpower, talent, creativity.
I’m on a crusade!! Will you join me in doing what we can to eliminate these two words from their negative connotations? Will you be aware of how often you use these words in the course of your conversation? Will you see if you can find alternative, more accurate ways to describe what you do? What we mean when we use these words is quite often so different to how they are interpreted. Surely we owe it to ourselves to ensure that our audience, whether it is one person, or a conference, understands what we are saying without the gnawing effects of those two gremlins.
How about saying, “There are …. stages I go through to create this work”, rather than “I just do this, and then this, and then this”.
Can we re-frame our language to eradicate ‘just’ and ‘only’ used in these contexts? Yes, I think so.
I have largely managed it. And one thing I have noticed from doing it – my self-confidence has grown, and I’m prouder of my achievements in my weaving. I am no longer apologising without knowing it. I am no longer denigrating myself and my accomplishments in front of others. If they don’t like what I do, fair enough. If they don’t appreciate what efforts go into the work, that’s up to me to educate, entertain and encourage their interest.
I am no longer going to sabotage – yes, sabotage! – my own talents and skills. There are enough people out there waiting to knock down people who want to succeed. Don’t let you be your own worst enemy!!