In a world where aggression, or at least assertiveness is rewarded, it's no wonder it took me 25 or 30 years to figure out that being harsh and witty and cutting isn't any badge of honor. In high school I thought that being a "Real" woman was to be all the "good" stuff, smart, pretty, sexy, gentle, sweet and yet capable of pulling up The Bitch when required.
It may have been my first embrace of paradox, a theme that has defined my life.
I grew up believing that somehow being both good and "bad" (or horrible) protected me - it was the only way I knew actually. It qualified me for being "better" if I could be ferocious. Intensity was my hallmark.
This misconception came not just from popular culture. Way before the devil wore Prada, my grandmother (a secretary) was telling executives at Coke to screw themselves. Another grandmother had many adventures under her belt, including telling off a police officer or two. Her husband was known to have gotten tangled in gunfights (in Mexico no less) in his younger days, pistol whipped her ex-husband for threatening her - again, and once punched out a patron at their country club for insulting a woman.
Oh I had ample role models for toughness. Grandad Al's mother, Madeleine, was a suffragette, once thrown in jail for protesting bus seating (decades before civil rights became movement) and another time created a scene at a grocery store for a poor woman who needed milk for her children.
My dad was known for fighting in the Navy (never his fault
They were a pugnacious bunch, my people.
Now, with the benefit of less to prove, I've found that meaness doesn't really, well, mean that much. In fact, if anything those people I have encountered with the highest likelihood of being hateful, aggresive, bitchy, or unreasonable are simply revealing a chasm of need and insecurity. But at least you know where you stand with neandrathals.
It's still the people who "play nice" but look for a chance to run in around your ankles, like a dangerous stray, and get your achilles - those are the curs to watch. Of course some have daggers and are much more dangerous types.
Southern women have a reputation for being like this - well deserved, I must add, if stereotypical and more refined than street bitches. We laugh about "Bless your heart" being a clear indictment, a label of incompetence, but it's true. The only more direct (and damning) southernism is "He's a mess."
So while I abhor the overly aggressive tactics of people - especially women - who think that business demands biting to "win", manipulation is just as revolting.
That said, the goal I had to leave St Louis for a great job was not a bad idea. It was the only path that made sense to me at the time. Why? Because although there could have been a job at another firm, (one had asked me to let them know if I was thinking about changing jobs) I wasn't interested in staying in that sort of place, in a firm.
It had finally dawned on me that attorneys as a group will always see themselves as "special" by merit of their profession. Litigators are perhaps the worst. So being a support person to those who tend to abuse power just got old.
The politics in firms are notoriously rough waters. Low appreciation, high pressure, good benefits, but low pay, good hours offered, but long hours actually demanded. And lots of headaches and posturing. Someone once described those of us who leave firms as refugees. I was struck by how true that is.
Many talented attorneys end up in corporate, so that is one idea now. Something about climbing the food chain.
And I have to say some of my favorite people are lawyers. I almost married one many years ago (very decent guy). I have attorney friends from all the places I've worked, which is nice.
But I've decided to consult for firms, corporations, judicials - litigation readiness and support setup. It will be interesting to start my own business again. I'll find my bread and butter niche and then have fun with the cool stuff.
Done it before. It's good to be stepping out again. I'm a good plow horse, even if I miss the parade harness. I won't miss the whip or scant sugar cubes for outstanding effort.
Being a better woman means I can stand up to people who need a firm hand, and can keep my goal of kindness front and center. Play hard but fair.
There is something both terrifying and exhilarating about going out on your own. But it's time - was always my favorite gig, being out there. With a dash of multitasking on the side.