Imagine this conversation–you’ve probably already heard it (or participated in it) a few hundred times. One person says to another, “So, what do you do for a living?”
The response might be straightforward: “I’m a teacher,” “I’m an accountant,” “I’m an engineer.” But sometimes we can’t explain our livelihood in one word, and especially when we’re talking to women, we might hear things like…
“Oh, I’m just a mom.”
“I’m actually just a student right now…”
“I just work part-time right now.”
Have you ever noticed anything about the way we describe ourselves? Do you spot a pattern in these responses? Maybe “just” a tiny tendency to slip one innocuous-sounding little word in there over and over again?
The other day in class at the B Present studio, this word came up: “just.” We had completed the full range of motion for some move or another, and the instructor said, “Now just pulse, pulse, pulse…” She then laughed at her own choice of words–“Oh, JUST pulse! No big deal!”–because when you’re actually pulsing away, there’s nothing about it that feels like “just” anything!
It’s a casual little word that we throw into our daily conversation without thinking much about it, and normally it’s pretty harmless. It’s a filler word–a verbal hedge, in the same category as “I mean” and “like” and“well.” It doesn’t really matter, does it?
It might matter more than you think, because “just” is a way to lessen the impact of our words. Our responses to the “what do you do for a living?” question is only one example, but we actually use this word constantly and mindlessly to undercut the message that comes after it.
“I was just thinking…”
“I just wondered…”
“It just seems like…”
Earlier this year, this little four-letter word came into the spotlight when a former Google executive wrote an essay about women and the word “just.” According to her observations, women in the workplace tend to use the word “just” up to six times more often than men do. It’s as if we have an irrepressible urge to soften the impact of our words, lest we be perceived as too brash, too demanding, or too opinionated.
The same could be said about our urge to qualify our statements when we’re speaking of ourselves. There’s a well-documented confidence gap between women and men–that is, compared to their male counterparts, women tend to be less self-confident and underestimate their own abilities. Women also seem to worry more about appearing to be overconfident, meaning that even when we actually are self-assured, we’re less likely to be comfortable saying so. In fact, we habitually downplay our accomplishments, our appearance, and our abilities to avoid looking like we’re full of ourselves. Subconsciously throwing the word “just” into our statements is one way that we perpetually undersell the value of our words, thoughts, and abilities.
“Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening.”
The words you speak about others have the power to either encourage or hurt them; likewise, the words you speak about yourself matter. We challenge you to try removing the word “just”–or whatever your minimizing word of choice may be–from your vocabulary when describing yourself for one month. Be conscious of the urge to downplay your own significance. It’s okay to have self-improvement goals and self-worth at the same time.
When we are “just pulsing” or “just holding,” those pulses and holds are hard work. They matter, and so do you. Whoever you are, and whatever you’re doing, you are significant. You are not “just” anything.
You are you–and it’s enough. No ifs, ands, or justs about it.